Technology in Australia's mining – where are we now, where are we going?

The mining sector always faces a wide range of significantly varying challenges. Safety and security are always paramount since mining sites are often located in some of the riskiest places on earth. Remote sites cut off from mainstream areas and services, mines deep underground where the landscape can become more dangerous in an instant, new sites in new locations with all-new challenges and risks – all have to be managed successfully.

Mining in Australia is one of the most significant vertical sectors in the country and considered one of the vital ‘five pillars’ of the economy. And technology has always played a major part in helping the mining sector push forwards, with the adoption of new advancements having a big effect on safety, productivity, security, communications, employee welfare and more. In recent year’s Australia’s mining sector has enjoyed great growth, with the ten years from 2003 to 2013 seeing six-fold growth in revenues and reaching $154 billion US by 2014.

The couple of years since have seen something of a slowdown, with a rising demand for production capacity creating a knock-on effect of rising production and labour costs, typically caused by companies expanding operations into more dangerous mining locations to meet the increase in demand. This in turn created a need to reduce costs – a far from ideal scenario when operating in remote and dangerous locations and when employee and site safety are two of your paramount concerns. So cost reduction initiatives were put in place but 80 per cent of them failed. Accidents increased, up three-fold between 2013 and 2014. So what can technology do to help make sites safer and reinvigorate the Australian mining sector?

Making remote sites safer

To put it bluntly, technology helps make remote sites safer. For many years now we have been investing in tools and techniques designed to improve mining sites, bringing fast, reliable connectivity to them to ensure secure data transmission and also focusing on smart, connected devices and data analytics. This three-pronged approach is designed to bring safer and more productive operations to mining companies however remote their sites. The Internet of Things (IoT) and machine to machine communications (M2M) are still in their relative infancy as technologies, but for mining operations they are a great development.

When I say smart devices, I’m not talking only about smartphones. In the mining industry this means M2M sensors placed on pieces of equipment all over a site, it means huge driverless trucks and other vehicles that move ore about the site without putting human drivers at risk. It means vehicle telemetry data that is analysed in real-tie to make sure vehicles are taking the safest possible routes. It can also be used to provide workers with health monitoring devices that track and transmit data about their physical conditions, also in real-time, and raise alerts in the event of accidents or incidents. Technology has enabled all these advances.

Getting the most out of the IoT

So technology is enabling another key area in Australia’s mining industry – efficiency. As the price of commodities in the sector has fallen, mining companies have had to shift focus away from capital expenditure and onto efficiency. Attaching sensors on equipment and vehicles and utilizing today’s IoT-linked data analytics tools helps mining companies make operations more efficient and increase productivity, making remote sites more cost-effective and reducing downtime of assets.

Ultimately it is about embracing new technologies to keep a long-established industry fresh and inventive. Previously physical and manual ways of doing things can now be done using IoT and M2M. For example where previously mining companies would have had a physical team presence at every mine site, today’s technology enables a central management team to monitor multiple locations. Traditional worker safety processes and procedures have been surpassed by smart solutions that monitor worker health and security on site in real-time. Sensors and data analytics in remote locations can now drive predictive maintenance and fault avoidance in mine assets, where before manual management and labour-intensive upkeep was required. Automated haulage systems and driverless trains can now make sites both safer and more efficient.

For the right solutions you need the right expertise

Mining companies know how to work remote mining sites. Orange knows how to power them forward with all this state of the art technology. Mobile working, applications that enhance business performance, fast, reliable connectivity wherever it is needed and the flexibility of cloud infrastructure are all vital to empowering these next generation mining tools and practices. At Orange we have worked with some of the world’s largest mining conglomerates for more than 20 years and we know what technologies, relationships and skills are required to keep mining operations moving forward.

To learn more about how Orange helps the world’s biggest mining conglomerates grow and thrive, please click here:

Kevin Griffen
Kevin Griffen is Managing Director, Australasia for Orange Business. He has over 30 years' experience in the IT and communications industry and is currently responsible for strategic development across Australasia. Outside of work, Kevin is a keen supporter of women in sports and has coached a number of soccer teams to success.