Investments in safety-related mining technology are on the rise

GlobalData’s recent global survey of technology adoption at mine sites suggests increased investment in site safety and mine planning and management software.

The research also points to investments in mine communications and predictive maintenance, but it’s safety-related technologies — such as drones, collision avoidance and fatigue detection — that show the most movement, according to the data and analytics company.

The survey of 150 senior mining personnel found that the share that invested in drones increased from 44% to 74% over the past five years, collision avoidance from 62% to 72% and fatigue detection from 53% to 72% .

Fatigue detection was also high on the agenda for future spending, with 38% saying they plan to invest in the next two years, while 40% would spend on predictive maintenance and 39% on management software.

There were also some interesting regional findings from the survey. For example, when it comes to drones, 56% of mines use them for safety purposes in Australia, compared to just 36% in Africa.

About 30% of respondents said they had fully implemented collision avoidance technology, with the largest share in Australasia. The largest share that expects to invest in the next two years is in North and South America (37%).

Mining Digital spoke exclusively with David Kurtz, Research & Analysis Director at GlobalData, to elaborate on the findings.

When it comes to where investments are made, is that naturally driven by the technology itself? For example, five years ago, would drones have been less available, more expensive and of lower quality?

Yes that is true. There is pressure to ensure a return on investment in all technology spending, and for many miners investing has become more viable as costs have come down. Many mining companies are risk averse, with the industry slower to adopt new technologies initially compared to others such as financial services or retail, and mines with only a few years to go may not see the benefit of new investment. However, as the cost of technologies has come down and new mines are beginning to operate where the use of these technologies can be embedded from the start, adoption has increased.

What are the main regional differences you see in terms of who are the adopters and who are the stragglers?

Over the years, mines in Australia have generally led the way in investment and tend to invest more in drones, predictive maintenance and autonomous equipment compared to other regions. As for other regions, it varied depending on technology – mines in Asia, for example, are lagging behind in areas like autonomous equipment and remote control.

How would you rate the overall adoption of technology in mining?

It is progressing well, especially where it can impact key areas such as productivity and safety. We’ve seen an increasing share of mines expand their investment in predictive maintenance, collision avoidance and fatigue detection, for example. Some areas, such as autonomous equipment, will be invested much more selectively in the short to medium term because they are more suited to certain operations.

What do you think is the biggest opportunity in the next two years?

We expect an increasing number of miners to invest in predictive maintenance, even only partially, as they have gradually moved from reactive to planned to proactive maintenance and then to predictive maintenance. It has become much more accessible due to the falling cost of sensors, improved computing power and bandwidth, and general technological advancements. Avoiding machine breakdowns can save hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.

There is a lot of talk about AI, how do mines apply that technology and what benefits can it bring?

Investing in autonomous equipment has a wide range of benefits, which is an example of how AI is being used. Figures from OEMs and mining companies include 15-30% productivity improvements, 80% fewer accidents, 15-25% lower operating costs and 15% longer machine life.

Technology can be a great leveler, do you see smaller mines being able to close the gap to bigger majors in terms of efficiency that they’re currently struggling with?

Of course. When we first started surveying mines in 2018, on average non-majors had not invested in the various technologies we asked about 51% of the time. By 2023, this had fallen to 35%. In contrast, for majors it has dropped from 35% to 26% – so majors are still investing more time, but the non-majors are improving well. Looking at where mines said they were either “fully invested” or “significantly invested”, the average share for all technologies increased from 15% to 33% for non-majors between 2018 and 2023. increased from 29% to 42%, mainly helped by falling costs and a faster payback period.

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