COVID-19 increased the speed of the smartization of mining, but there are two serious obstacles to the spread of the digital revolution in the mining industry. The first challenge of transformation in this sector is the lack of a highly skilled workforce. There are very few people who are qualified to work in mining and help operational managers in the development of intelligent mining. On the other hand, access to weak infrastructures of smart mining in some countries is the most important factor that limits the growth of the market and makes it impossible to implement the goals.

Examining the current trends in digital mining shows that the use of smart mining equipment requires trained personnel to obtain maximum efficiency, so that while increasing income, it is possible to reduce the occurrence of accidents on site. Therefore, the unavailability of skilled labor and platforms for implementing the digital revolution are two factors that can hinder the growth of the market.

On the other hand, the implementation of strict regulations such as global zero carbon laws for environmental protection and other government laws to control emissions and air pollution have imposed restrictions on the mining sector, which are expected to force the activists of this field around the world to use innovative procedures, which creates great profitable opportunities in the smart mining market.

Examining the global trends of smart mining shows that this style of activity in the mining industry is not only the use of the digital revolution, but a new way of communicating with workers and experts in this industry, the optimal use of energy resources, and the use of new forms of decision-making and skills. The warning of the Global Deloitte Institute shows that the lack of proper understanding of the various dimensions of smart mining in different countries can bring consequences such as the incomplete absorption of this innovation and the misdirection of the mining sector in this process.

The experience of Kazakhstan in using smart mining by active companies shows that it is possible to prevent miners’ deaths through smart mining. The global estimates show that the share of this particular method of mining will reach over 23 billion dollars in the horizon of 2027, which is twice the current value. The annual growth of this sector will probably increase after the end of the pandemic fever and exceed 16% per year. This intensive orientation toward the use of intelligent methods in mining will help increase the safety of work in mines, the possibility of economizing exploration and exploitation projects at lower rates, and the chance of accessing mineral veins will increase.

But the two main development paths of the digital mining market are the provision of services and the sale of equipment, which are divided into different areas. For example, in the service part, we see three different areas that various companies have formed in this ecosystem in recent years, and they include support and maintenance (engineering services), system integration (deployment services), and consulting services. In the equipment part, however, the process is different and the scope of work is wider.

The sectors that have been added to the field of mining and mineral industries as a result of the digital revolution are generally located on two general levels. Smart mining comes up with new solutions for surface mines and surface exploitation, as well as deep mining, respectively. According to another type of classification, the smart mining market is classified from the point of view of automated equipment and parts. Automatic equipment includes all kinds of mechanical shovels, unloading machines, drilling and crushing tools, robotic trucks, and other Automatic equipment. From an information perspective, the market is classified into three levels: hardware, software and solutions, and services. The hardware component itself is divided into various types of sensors, RFID tags, smart systems, and other types of innovations.

In the software and solutions part, the smart mining market is categorized into logistics software, data, and operations management software, safety and security systems, smart connectivity solutions, data analysis solutions, remote management solutions, and asset management solutions. The services part also has specific dimensions.

Currently, based on initial estimates, the automated equipment sector has the largest portion of digital mining development, and its market is expanding at a surprising pace. Further reviews of the financial documents of companies active in this market show that from 2025, the growth of digital mining will double in intensity, and as a result of this operation, the financial dimensions of this sector will expand and will benefit the artisans active in this field.


Top countries in smart mining

Few countries are moving the boundaries in the field of smart and digital mining. The four regions of Asia-Pacific, North America, Northern Europe, and Russia are the most important centers of smart mining development. However, out of all these regions, the market growth trend and the use of smart mining technologies are growing faster in Asia-Pacific. According to the initial forecasts, a small group of actors in the two regions of Latin America and the Middle East are likely to increase their investment volume in the field of smart mining in the coming years.


Among the companies that have the upper hand in the field of intelligent mining in the world are Caterpillar, Komatsu Mining Corporation, Intellisense, International Business Machines (IBM), Atlas Copco, Hitachi, Hexacon, Robert Bosch GmbH, Outotec Oyj, Rockwell Automation, Symboticware, and Cisco Systems. According to Deloitte’s estimate, their market portion in the smart mining sector will reach more than 13 billion dollars in the next 5 years.

For instance, one of the successful activities of Cisco in Kazakhstan was focusing on the safety of work in mines, it launched intelligent life protection models in cooperation with a national operator. Gekko System and Rockwell Automation recently developed analytical models based on digital technologies and created a suitable capability for different countries in the world that were looking for specific types of stones with the desired purity. Many competitors active in this market have planned the launch of new product lines as their key development strategy and are looking for technological improvement to expand the portfolio of smart mining products.

For example, between July 2019 and the end of 2021, ABB launched the ABB Capability Operations Management System for the ability to instantly integrate operations in underground and open-pit mines, which has been very well received in Australia and Canada. The result of this new system is to create coordination between dynamic situations in the weekly production plans in the mine. The process in this system directs the various components of the mine, including human power, equipment, and information, in such a way that production is maximized, efficiency is improved, and productivity reaches the desired point.

Another example of this approach is the intelligent automation designed by companies such as Sandvik, which allows drilling and exploration operators to monitor automated loaders and drilling arms, are working inside the mine, without being present in the mining space from a safe and air-conditioned room. On the other hand, the development of modular mining methods through artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques helps to achieve the maximum possible level of investment return in the mining industry.

In some companies and several countries, the use of this approach has led to an annual productivity growth between 5 and 34%. This procedure, which makes the path of deep mining automatic and intelligent, accompanies the miner to overcome the challenges of the mining environment and makes drilling and deep exploitation properly controllable. In general, surface mining has devoted more than half of the global smart mining market portion to itself since 2019. This trend is still ascending in 2020 and 2021 and its growth prospects are double digits until 2030.

This issue is due to the diverse activities that are taking place from the path of large-scale surface mining at the global level. In this area, a new category shows that the automatic equipment section has generated high revenue in the global market. This is due to the high adoption of autonomous mining equipment as well as the official recognition of the benefits offered by this equipment. Tools that have been purchased by many companies in the last two years and many countries have adopted smart mining technologies. However, the equipment section is expected to experience rapid growth through 2027 due to continuous technological advancements in hardware and software components.


Progressive areas in smart mining

Mines dominated by Rio Tinto in Australia, along with parts of Nevada’s mineral veins, are the two main poles of mining investment in the world, which will probably be the pioneers in the use of smart mining in a decade. In this process, it is vital to find and remove the metals needed for the transition of the world from the current era and to reach zero carbon status.

Evidence from an official report on the Mining Technology website shows that North America is the world’s largest buyer of mining robots and has strengthened this process in the early months of 2022. After North America, it is Western and Northern Europe that is leading in this field. Mexico, as one of the active countries in the mining industry, has intensified the process of hiring operators to guide mining robots in recent months. There are many other signs among prominent mining players that indicate their orientation toward smart trends. For example, since 2016, the process of using big data in mining projects of companies such as Caterpillar and Metallurgica has intensified and doubled.

Confirming this news, Global Data announced that although this process is not a sign of miners’ success in replacing old methods by new ones, it does indicate an increase in investment in smart processes. The use of metadata in mining companies in North America has intensified in the fourth quarter of 2021 at a time when official reports indicate a decline in investment in the Internet of Things in the US mining industry.

Of course, this trend has decreased compared to the third quarter, but it is completely ascending compared to the previous year, and it indicates a jump in the costs of research and development departments of large miners in the Internet of Things (IoT). This evidence, along with the increase in mining patents based on the Internet of Things, indicates the intensity of this type of technology in the field of mining, exploration, and exploitation. According to the “Economy World” survey, two companies, Honeywell International and Caterpillar, are among the leaders in investing in mining innovations based on the Internet of Things in the world.

Digital mining is also strengthened from a political point of view. South Korea and Australia’s problems with Japan have caused the sunny country to be excluded from new activities in the Australian mining industry. At the same time, the new contract between South Korea and Australia, focusing on the exploration, exploitation, and processing of new metals required by green revolution technologies, is one of the processes that will lead to a serious strengthening of smart mining in an important part of the world, namely Australia. According to this cooperation, billions of dollars of new capital will be injected into Australia’s mining sector in line with the exploration of lithium, cobalt, etc., and South Korea will provide most of this capital and receive its output.

The World Bank report shows that the growing demand for clean energy technologies will require the exploitation of more than 3 billion tons of minerals and metals. These metals, which are essential for the establishment of wind, solar, and geothermal power plants, as well as energy storage, make it possible to achieve a sustainable future for the Earth and achieve the goal of reducing the world temperature to 2 degrees Celsius. Therefore, the transition of the world economy to this green age is highly dependent on the prevalence of digital mining.


Future challenges of intelligent mining

The Market Research report shows that the mining industry is currently suffering from serious problems in the field of knowledge of the work process, which to a large extent can be solved through smart mining and the trends of the digital revolution.

Increasing awareness about the severe effects of the mine environment on workers, which include exposure to ultraviolet rays and breathing dust, bearing the noise, and accepting the chemical risks of working deep in the ground or instabilities in the ground, the health of the human forces of this industry has faced serious risks. This issue, which has historically affected key manufacturers, has created difficult conditions for innovations in this industry.

From the global analyst’s point of view, “advanced smart exploitation solutions” is one of the key motivators of the mining industry, which can transform the economy of this field completely. Relying on automated fleets, using remote control equipment, and applying air conditioning solutions to improve safe working conditions can improve operational productivity. Deloitte recommends that at the same time as the market grows, miners should focus on increasing safety and health in mines, have a more open attitude to accept new solutions based on the Internet of Things and increase the use of automated equipment. How to deal with unpredictable events is part of the problems faced by miners in all parts of the world.

The development of the use of GPS, metadata, and statistical analysis has led to the formation of systems in the mining industry that predict the location, speed, and path of all vehicles by designing intelligent algorithms and, while monitoring the mine, analyzing the active devices in the vicinity. Another function of this system is to notify the operator and senior managers of the necessary warnings and alarms in case of dangerous or potentially dangerous conditions.


Lessons for investment

Perhaps the most important lesson that the big companies active in the mining industry learned from the developments in the world in the last 5 years was that the flow of smart mining is not just a technological game. Referring to the numerous successes of leading investors in smart mining, Deloitte states that for companies that are lagging behind the flow, it is necessary to change direction to make a real change and understand the value of joining this flow in their operating models, decision-making methods, the process of attracting and training talents, interacting with their stakeholders and optimizing resources. This research institute recommends that companies interested in this field, besides investing in smart mining, should take seriously the employment of interested and creative people in the mentioned fields.

At the same time, the promotion of data infrastructure both at the level of countries and at the level of companies should be put more seriously on the agenda. Although the cost of developing and updating basic infrastructure, strengthening Wi-Fi and connection quality, and adopting operational technology and appropriate platforms is high, it will expose mines to entering higher circles of innovation. Therefore, companies should know that smart mining is not only about using technology in exploration and exploitation but also about how technology is facilitated by technology and how the organization works. Understanding this issue can lead to better use of the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, machine learning, data analysis, and robotics in different ways of working in mining.

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