Two years into COVID, we look back to predict ways of moving forward
The shape of mining into 2022 and beyond
Almost two years ago, news of the COVID-19 virus first broke. Since then, not only has the pandemic exposed people to a blur of challenges, unexpected change and pain, but it has also exposed inherent weaknesses across various sectors and industries. Mining has been no different – particularly with digital transformation.
Before the pandemic, whilst some mining houses had begun their digital journey, many were years behind; almost all activity and decision making was site-based, with not enough focus on data for decision making or remote monitoring. For the thousands of mines worldwide, COVID forced a culture of innovation, with a possibly lasting impact.
For our first blog of 2022, we reflect on the impact of COVID on mining, and make predictions on what we think will follow.
1. Remote Working is Here to Stay
Many operations have allowed any workers who can work remotely, to do so. So while there are clearly still staff at the coal face, it’s now quite common to find geologists, maintenance planners and mining engineers working from home – for at least part of the time.
This has generated two interesting (and what we believe to be positive) results:
- It’s now easier to hire and retain highly competent individuals, who can work from home: close to family, friends and facilities not available to a remote mine.
- There’s an opportunity for consolidation of resources working out of city-based or semi-remote centralised hubs. For example, if a maintenance planner is working remotely for one site, why can’t that individual also support a sister site?
2. Increasing Demand for Data Visualisation
For years, many mines around the world made do with end-of-shift PDF reports and manual Excel reporting, with the odd dashboard thrown in. Access to more up-to-date information often involved wandering down the corridor to speak to dispatchers; or worse, driving to the lookout point to see what was happening.
This completely changed with COVID. Once mines were forced to start carrying out their operations remotely, within a matter of days the demand for real time data visualisations, analytical tools and cloud based solutions (not reliant on creaking VPN connections) soared.
As we move into 2022, we foresee solid growth in demand for new, more intuitive and powerful dashboards. The days of clunky PDF reports have definitely come to an end.
3. Increased Application of Technology, Less Resistance and More Creative Thinking
With operators self-isolating, productivity impacted and the desire to improve safety through social distancing, we believe that the final justification for autonomous mining has now been made for many operations. For mines operating in jurisdictions with low levels of labour or high costs, moving to autonomy makes perfect sense.
As everyone suddenly had to move off-site, in many instances it has literally become impossible to avoid technology. Anything involving the physical presence of individuals, from marking out drill patterns to planning component change-outs has become monumentally difficult without using some basic tech. We are therefore seeing huge chunks of the traditional resistance fall away. On the flip side, it’s also been rewarding to see operations applying out-of-the-box creative thinking to solve problems.
Finally, asset health has taken on a new level of importance. With sites operating with skeleton crews (or exhausted crews stuck on-site for weeks), a remote team providing advanced, proactive diagnostic support has been invaluable for many operations. Across all of the mines we work with, there has been renewed demand and focus on doing much more with the vast volumes of data that mobile equipment generates.
4. Increased Demand for Mining Technology Knowledge
All the enthusiasm, change and disruption has placed a huge demand for more and more appropriately qualified and motivated individuals. Here at MTS, we are reacting to this by adding a mixture of highly experienced individuals and developing a new team of more recently graduated mining engineers, data scientists and developers. We’ve found that this has really led to some exciting ideas, and results, over the past year.
The Bottom Line
The pandemic has changed our sector forever, and Digital transformation is now fast apace.
Here are our key takeaways:
- Demand for data and appropriate visualisations is just going to grow and grow
- Old school, anti-technology resistance is dying away
- There is an increasing need for mining technology specialists to help with the transformation
Two years into COVID, the mining industry seems to have adapted to become more resilient and innovative, and it’s really quite unlikely that we are going to be moving backward anytime soon.
At MTS, we wish everyone a safe, prosperous and creative 2022. Let’s move forward together!