Mining automation is already changing the landscape of large mining operations around the world. We have conductorless trains, driverless trucks and sites operated on mobile phone networks. A 2017 AlphaBeta report (commissioned by Google) suggests that automation could unlock $2.2 trillion in economic benefits for Australia by 2030.

According to estimates by accountancy firm EY, some companies in China have seen productivity rise by as much as 20-percent per annum since 2013 as they adopted new automation technologies. However, the International Institute for Sustainable Development posits that these increased efficiencies can have side effects if not managed correctly.

It’s worth mentioning that automating an inefficient process only automates inefficiency. We need to assess the expected outcomes, as well as the process itself, to inform a faster, safer and cheaper method. Being willing to explore beyond the ‘tried and tested’ method is the way to compound the effects of a competitive edge.

Many rural towns have been built alongside a history of mining, so it makes sense for resource companies to consider the effects on the wider community when automating. Even remote camps have symbiotic benefits with central hubs, with their operations supporting depots, maintenance, utilities and air travel. The availability of down-hole jobs have and will always have an impact on the surface.

The topic of automation often elicits concerns about unemployment and future job prospects. However, mining automation doesn’t invariably mean replacing employees; it’s about using data creatively to repurpose and retrain personnel while moving them out of harm’s way. At the highly automated Garpenberg mine in Sweden, thousands of sensors are used to track workers of all skill levels to boost safety, allowing more efficient ventilation, blasting and ore loading.

New positions are already arising within the industry, as well. To respond to the need for retraining – and cater to the next generation of miners – mining automation courses are being implemented in TAFE colleges and high schools from 2019. For one, industry-focused training is being developed in partnership between Rio Tinto, WA Government and South Metro TAFE. Cortex Intelligence Systems is also providing training platforms for industrial programming.

WA Education and Training Minister, Sue Ellery, said,“Automation, technology and innovation will transform a range of industries and create new opportunities, and we need to be ahead of the curve to ensure our workforce can take advantage of that”.

Mining automation will only increase over the coming years and decades, which means companies need to plan wisely for the changes and look how it will affect stakeholders across the industry, and wider community. Cortex Intelligence Systems is excited to play a significant role in the future of mining and in educating mining professionals to make a safer and more efficient industry.