Case studies

Applications of artificial intelligence in the mining industry

Credit: Bert van Dijk/Getty images.

Powered by

BHP Billiton’s AI drowsiness cap reduces vehicular accidents

BPH Billiton is an Australian mining company focusing on metals and natural gas. The company has been losing lives and money due to instances of drowsiness and fatigue among its machine drivers. This problem has plagued many dangerous workplaces, with fatigue being the contributing factor for many of the world's largest industrial accidents such as Chernobyl, the Exxon Valdez oil spill, and the BP Texas refinery explosion.

In mining, it is estimated that as many as 65% of truck driving accidents in open pit mines are fatigue-related. This is likely caused by the impact of sleep on motor skills and cognitive abilities such as problem-solving and short-term memory.

As a result, BPH has started to use AI technology to reduce the danger of these accidents while also improving the quality and productivity of its workers. The Australian company has begun using special caps to log the brainwaves of drivers to monitor signs of them drifting to sleep. These drivers are operating 400-ton vehicles at a copper mine in Chile, and so far 1,500 workers have been tested in 150 trucks.

The brainwaves are monitored through a six-inch strip that is fitted inside the helmet of employees. “It sits on your forehead and it actually can measure your brainwaves and look at… patterns that show fatigue over time,” stated the Technology Officer of BHP, Diane Jurgens. “It will notify our drivers but also, just as importantly, it's integrated with our back office and the supervisors that can also get notified so they can intervene.” The system before was simply sensors fitted to a truck’s cab that can detect whether a driver’s eyes had closed, so it is a vast improvement.

Although the scheme was only started in 2022, BHP has experienced zero accidents due to driver drowsiness with Diane Jurgens describing it as “a much better technology… which could save BHP millions in the future.”

XCMG Machinery is using AI to improve the safety of its products

In 2023, Chinese company XCMG Machinery unveiled a series of new mining equipment products. The new products are designed to enhance the efficiency and safety of mining operations, reduce operating costs, and increase the productivity of mining activities.

These vehicles will be using AI to ‘see’ their surroundings, and this is accomplished using cameras, RADAR, and LIDAR. With the help of these sensors and cameras, installed in different parts of the machine, the AI draws information from which to make decisions.

The series of mining equipment products include XDR80TE-AT autonomous electric dump truck, XE690DK mining excavator, and XDE240 mining dump truck. XCMG state that these mining machinery series can provide a more comprehensive solution for mining operations, covering activities from exploration to extraction, transportation, and processing.

The products are equipped with smart control systems, real-time monitoring, and advanced sensors that enable mining operations to be more precise, safe, and efficient. It utilises advanced technology to improve the efficiency, safety, and environmental impact of mining operations. The unmanned XDR80TE-AT electric mining truck eliminates the operating cab and supports two modes, namely, remote control and fully autonomous AI control.

It comprises visual and acoustic sensors, laser radar, millimetre-wave radar, and cameras. The XDE240 mining dump truck has advanced environment sensors, navigation, and positioning expertise.

XCMG's new mining equipment products have the potential to transform the mining industry by providing a comprehensive and technologically advanced solution for mining operations. The new products are expected to increase the efficiency, productivity, and safety of mining activities while reducing the environmental impact and operating costs.

The integration of advanced technologies such as AI, real-time monitoring, and sensors in the new products will enable mining operations to be more precise, efficient, and sustainable. This could lead to increased profitability and competitiveness for mining companies that adopt XCMG's new equipment products. Moreover, the new products could remove some problems associated with traditional mining equipment, such as high maintenance costs, low efficiency, and environmental concerns.

Champion mining AI-based drilling system with Caterpillar

Caterpillar and Canadian mining company Champion have collaborated to develop an AI-based advanced drilling system. It uses a remote-controlled and fully autonomous electric drilling fleet to create a ‘drill-to-mill’ system. The system automates the entire process from drilling to loading and hauling to mill.

This has been done to reduce safety concerns around mines, while also increasing productivity and reducing waste. The AI-integrated system leverages real-time data and analytics. It assesses the status of machines, technologies, and materials that enables it to time accurate operational decisions. The system is also consistent with the execution of the mining value chain.

Moreover, data connectivity and advanced analytics improve the mining workflows between mines and plants. It is focused on delivering improved milling performance by optimising mill feed while adapting to dynamic operational conditions. Caterpillar also provides aftermarket support to customers while Champion provides its workforce in the offering.

Due to harsh conditions, mining has lagged other sectors in the adoption of automation. However, automation has already entered mining in the form of ultra-long distance conveying and super-sized processing plant technologies. Caterpillar and Champion have come together to offer end-to-end autonomous drilling that covers various activities. The collaboration aims to optimise Bloom Lake Mine’s operational productivity and reduce energy consumption.

GlobalData, the leading provider of industry intelligence, provided the underlying data, research, and analysis used to produce this article.

GlobalData’s Thematic Intelligence uses proprietary data, research, and analysis to provide a forward-looking perspective on the key themes that will shape the future of the world’s largest industries and the organisations within them.