What will the future of mining look like? Why does the industry need to change? How can mining embrace innovation? These were just some of the questions pondered when a panel of industry experts came together to discuss the need for change in the mining industry from an operator, solution, technology and investor perspective at IntelliSense.io’s recent ‘Inspirations20’ event.
In this keynote session, IntelliSense.io’s Founder and CEO, Sam G Bose, was joined by Damien Caby, Senior Vice President Oilfield & Mining Solutions, BASF; Ippei Akiyoshi, CVC Mineral Resources Group, Mitsubishi; and Cleve Lightfoot, Head of Innovation, BHP.
Central to this discussion was the notion that mining technology and processes have become outdated.
“We’re dealing with technology and processes that were developed about 100 years ago, that aren’t apt for what comes next,” BHP’s Lightfoot explained. “What we’ve done in between is we’ve made them bigger, better and more efficient and we’ve done a good job at that. What we haven’t focused on is how the context in which we operate has changed, and it’s changing more and more rapidly.”
When designing new technologies for the industry, IntelliSense.io’s Bose explained that demand for sustainability solutions has become a top priority.
“We’re seeing the next generation of miners who are entering the industry are becoming vocal components of this change to be able to mine in a more sustainable way,” he said. “They’re also looking for different systems which have access to information in real time, they can make decisions on data, and we’re also seeing this acting as a big driver for the industry to look at different ways to operate.”
Mitsubishi’s Akiyoshi supported this notion, adding investors are also increasingly interested in mining company’s environmental consciousness.
“Creating good economic value is not enough; to be in good shape, mining companies need to show that they are responsible and care about the environment,” he said.
Akiyoshi added: “I think mining has not been a consumer-oriented business in the past, but now the big, influential companies like Tesla and Apple are talking about the importance to think about where the materials in their products come from, and in what kind of operation that material is produced. In this case, we’re indirectly exposed to consumer’s consciousness and awareness of environmental value, so this has forced us to think more seriously about how to change.”
BASF’s Caby added that from an operational perspective, the demand for ethically-sourced and environmentally-conscious material is also heavily influencing the direction of the mining industry.
“We see that, both as a supplier to the mining sector and a supplier to the battery industry, there are tremendous changes in the nature, the quality of metals that are going to be required for the world, which in itself is a major driver for change,” he explained.
“I just don’t think we’re going to provide the nickel, the coper and cobalt for e-mobility the same way that 20 years ago the industry was able to react to the surge in demand for rare earths, and I think overall that’s the biggest driver of change.”
With the pressure to innovate or perish, panellists conceded it may appear difficult for mining companies to know where to start, but prioritising opportunities was key.
“We’re great at building big infrastructure projects, but we need to learn how to figure out how we take little bits and transform through little bits. So, accept the ambiguity, and the risk associated with these things through bites we can actually manage,” Lightfoot said.
Caby suggested that for mining operators unsure of how to start their innovation journey, the most pragmatic option may be to start with unlocking the value in their operational data.
“How do we start our journey of innovation? In our experience, it really starts with understanding of the situation of the mine and really diving into the situation of what’s the challenge, and that’s all really data based,” he said.
“That’s the reason behind our [Intelligent Mine] partnership with IntelliSense.io, that we can really accelerate that initiation and make it more effective by leveraging the power of digital. You can have much easier access to information, you can measure the impact of the improvements you make and correct the results for changes in feed and operating conditions, you can make simulations which really help address risk concerns.
“If you can run scenarios, if you can put boundaries, if you can try and see what can happen worse case on the computer compared to trying in real life, you really have a very powerful tool to enable innovation.”