Mining dollars, sensors and software

Richard Roberts

‘IT and software have been integral to efforts to lift mining capital returns for at least 30 years’

A few years ago former BHP technology and program manager John Kirkman penned an article trying to make sense of mining’s digital interoperability struggles, partly “so I could explain to my mum what I’ve been doing for the last 10 years or so”.

If there have been times when he’s seriously questioned the wisdom of building a consulting engineering enterprise around a more technologically connected mining industry, Kirkman is at last seeing progress.

His Perth-based firm, Enterprise Transformation Partners, has four times more work on that it had a year ago. He has double the number of people and thinks the headcount could rise to 20 by the end of 2024.

ETP is deep down in the trenches with various mine operators, such as gold major Gold Fields, eager to get better at integrating, even optimising, dirt and data mining.

Gold Fields is also among the companies leading industry efforts to fast-track electrification and automation of current mining machinery and processes.

A new report said to be based on a global survey of miners, suppliers, government, investors and researchers in 50 countries that got more than 700 responses suggests the industry’s creeping digital adoption of the past 15 years could accelerate with a shift from a “fuels-based operating model to an electricity-based” one, helping deliver “the long promise of digitally dense and automated mining operations”.

“The degree of integration and optimisation once everything is connected on a single power system is technically unattainable in a fuels-based system,” the State of Play report says.

Parallel advancement of critical underlying geological, mine planning and scheduling, and mineral output data integration and optimisation, is clearly key to unlocking the promise of Mining 4.0.

“Many processes remain relatively poorly controlled,” says mining software veteran Peter Johnson, the executive chairman of Australia’s Maptek.

“The ability to automate processes and extend that automation across systems of processes is where the industry needs to head.

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