Automation & 5G Are Driving The Future Of Mining

Key technologies are shaping the process of commodities mining.

A new vision for the future of mining is coming into focus. To achieve this vision there are several key technologies that need to be implemented. Two of these technologies are automation and high bandwidth communications. Both are being rapidly developed and deployed for the mining industry, yet it remains to be seen if these technologies will have positive or negative impacts on society.

“Technological progress has merely provided us with more efficient means for going backwards.” ― Aldous Huxley

The direction the mining industry is taking falls in line with what the World Economic Forum is calling The Fourth Industrial Revolution. As with all new technologies, there are potential opportunities and drawbacks to be managed in this process. A balanced view requires that we address both of these impacts. Although there are a number of other new technologies that are being implemented in mining, such as AI, Big Data and the IoT, two of the most interesting are Automation and High Bandwidth Data.

Automation

According to a new study, the market size for global mining automation is estimated to reach $3,155 million by 2025. In the last ten years, there has been a move to upgrade mining equipment to reduce CO2 emissions and reflect the increasing depth of mines. This trend has been amplified by the impacts of a global lockdown which is driving greater adoption of automated machinery.

All the major mining equipment manufacturers are competing to bring this new generation of products to market. Analysts believe in the future mining operations could use automated machinery from a variety of manufacturers across a standardised platform, in what could be known as “mixed fleet automation”.

There are numerous advantages that miners can leverage from automation. As with the manufacturing and transport industries, automated mining machinery can be continuously operated for greater productivity. To make economic sense the investment costs in automated machinery must extrapolate to less than the cost of paying human operators.

High Bandwidth Communications

The implementation of automated mining machinery is heavily reliant on high bandwidth communication systems. This data stream is being facilitated by the implementation of 5G technologies. A greatly increased bandwidth for data traffic delivers several key benefits:

Processing Power. Until recently, the computing processes for autonomous vehicles needed to take place within the vehicle itself. Due to the high rate of data transmission across 5G networks, processing can now happen on cloud servers. This negates the necessity to instal and maintain industrial computers inside automated vehicles.

Latency. The bandwidth of 5G is reducing transmission latency to under 30 ms. Such low latency allows operators to control vehicles remotely without experiencing lag. This not only improves safety but also triples the speed at which autonomous mining vehicles can operate.

Positioning. Precision positioning of vehicles and mining assets is improved with 5G networks. Proponents of 5G claim it offers greater accuracy over existing GPS systems, allowing asset positioning to within less than 1 meter. The accurate positioning of vehicles reduces risk and enhances productivity across mine sites.

We have identified two of the major technologies that will shape the future of the mining industry. As technology improves, it helps miners to remain competitive in an industry with diminishing supplies. However, there are social impacts that will result from the automation of the mining industry. It is likely that we will see these impacts initially addressed within the transportation industry, as automated vehicles erode workforces.

The World Economic Forum’s Future Of Jobs report estimates that 50% of all employees will require re-skilling by 2025. Much of this will take place in industries that have traditionally required manual labour to operate vehicles. Author and activist Naomi Klein believes that increasing automation is not warranted in a time of growing unemployment. She believes it will deepen the wealth, race and class divides that are already prevalent in many parts of the western world.

At The Enegra Group, we work directly with the mining industry, so analysis of trends is important to us. There are many advantages to be gained from automation but the resulting unemployment will need to be effectively managed. As the cost of employment in developing countries is far less than their western counterparts, the economic incentive for automation is not as strong. We, therefore, expect to see slower adoption of automation in developing countries, but that may change as economies of scale reduce the costs of automated equipment in the future. It will be necessary to ensure that progress is effectively managed to disperse benefits throughout communities.

Mining is at the forefront of some of the most advanced technologies today, what happens in mining will impact many other sectors of the economy. As we move towards the wider adoption of automation and 5G technology the mining industry is well-positioned to identify trends and lead the transformation of the industry.

Enegra Group Ltd (LL15959) is a commodity trading company focused on resources in Southeast Asia. Equity in Enegra has been tokenised via the EGX security token. For enquiries related to the purchase of EGX please contact support@enegragroup.com.