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Industry could fast-track automation amid COVID-19 fallout

Depending on how long this COVID-19 pandemic crisis lasts, the mining industry could see big moves into autonomous mining technologies in the not-too-distant future, says SAP Africa mining advisor Shabir Ahmed.
Industry could fast-track automation amid COVID-19 fallout Industry could fast-track automation amid COVID-19 fallout Industry could fast-track automation amid COVID-19 fallout Industry could fast-track automation amid COVID-19 fallout Industry could fast-track automation amid COVID-19 fallout

Rio Tinto has been a leader in mining's mobile fleet automation shift

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While the outbreak of COVID-19 has made the immediate future of some mines uncertain, the appeal of technologies and approaches that decrease site workforce numbers and travel is no doubt growing as the industry seeks to chart a more sustainable course.

"The uptake of automated mine solutions including self-driving haul trucks and remote operations centers has been slow but steady," said Ahmed in a sector commentary.

"Whilst it is not possible to predict how COVID-19 will further disrupt the mining industry, what is certain is that the mining industry must reconfigure and prepare itself to operate under a new normal, one in which it can operate and sustain itself under the new constraints and challenges that such pandemics bring with them."

Ahmed pointed to one of the earliest movers into automation as an example of how the coronavirus outbreak could force miners to modernise around the globe.

Mining giant Rio Tinto's Mine of the Future initiative in 2008 really got first-generation automated mine fleets moving. Today many of its Pilbara mining, ore handling, processing and logistics operations are remotely supervised and operated from a large central control centre more than 1,200km away in Western Australia state capital, Perth. Today, about one-third of the mine haul truck fleet at Rio Tinto's Pilbara mines is automated.

Another, fresher example is Resolute Mining's Syama underground gold operation in Mali, which Resolute claims is the world's first fully-automated mine. Designed in partnership with Sweden's Sandvik, the mine operates with automated trucks, loaders and drills. Resolute says the mine can operate 24 hours a day, with all operations overseen from a site operations centre.