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Key questions about IoT in mining: Q&A with GlobalData thematic analyst

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Martina Raveni is an associate analyst for Thematic Intelligence at GlobalData. She has a background in earth sciences and expertise in technology applications across mining, oil & gas as well as ESG.

What are the most exciting developments in IoT for the mining industry today?

Martina Raveni: Over time, the mining industry has experienced significant changes. Technological advancements within the IoT space have revolutionised mining operations, encouraged by reduced network latency, increased computing power, and the falling price of sensors.

IoT applications include weather and environmental monitoring stations, drones for aerial surveys, radar and seismic sensors to understand geological formations, or geological data collection for feasibility assessments and mine planning. Alongside monitoring and data gathering, interesting developments are the use of IoT-controlled drilling and blasting equipment, autonomous trucks, automated sorting technology, and IoT-optimised energy management solutions for processing.

Which areas of the mining industry do you think will benefit most from IoT solutions?

Martina Raveni: Safety is one of them. Mining is known for hazardous operations and IoT technology helps to monitor that all processes are proceeding smoothly and safely. Something may go wrong, like a seismic event where rocks have collapsed, and mines have to shut down production. In such a scenario, IoT technology comes into play, for example by sending sensors-equipped drones to map the area, assess how much damage there was, and whether it's safe to go in without any employees risking their life.

Also, if there are not a lot of people on site operating, mining companies can reduce cooling and ventilation of the mine, optimising energy consumption.

During prospecting and production in GPS-denied areas, IoT technology can be very useful. IoT applications can also boost production, as it is used to extract the ore in the most efficient way possible.

Do you think adoption of IoT technologies will grow significantly in the next two to three years?

Martina Raveni: I think it is going to be more and more widely used. IoT is a disruptive technology for the mining industry and IoT-related initiatives are top investment priorities for the foreseeable future. Mines are on the pathway to becoming an autonomous system as we’ve been starting to see autonomous robots underground, capturing data and fixed sensors monitoring the environment. All the drilling, excavating, and blasting collect data which are streamed and stored in a cloud and then analyzed. The insights derived from it are used to make decisions in the autonomous mines. To realize this, mining companies need all the IoT capabilities to process all data and make the right decisions. I don’t think we will see a fully autonomous mine in the next 2-3 years, but we will see progress towards that idea.

Are you seeing any barriers to implementation of IoT in mining?

Martina Raveni: IoT is an umbrella term involving the use of connected sensors and actuators to control and monitor the environment, the things that move within it, and the people that act within it. These technologies are very important for mining companies. Therefore, most of mining players are investing, some more than others, in this technology.

In regions like Australia and Canada we see more advanced mechanised mines. In other regions, like Africa, there is a mix. Also, some smaller mine operators would not afford the more sophisticated technology like the biggest players, whatever size the mine is.

Which companies are the leading adopters of IoT in mining right now?

Martina Raveni: Mining leaders overlap with the main IoT technology adopters, considering the importance of incorporating this range of technology within mine operations. Leaders include Anglo American, BHP, Fortescue Metals, Rio Tinto and Vale. Examples could be using cloud services and a mixed-reality headset device to assist miners, autonomous drilling, arrays of sensors attached to fixed and mobile equipment to predict and prevent engine breakdowns and other downtime events, dust suppression vehicles, and drones to monitor wagons carrying ore to improve efficiency and for enhanced safety.

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.