Mining industry’s efforts around IT has become more focused

The use of information technology in the mining industry has historically been inconsistent, but recently it has not only seen the rise of the CIO, but also the emergence of the CTO as IT has increasingly converged with operational technology.

“The role of the CIO in mining is changing,” Kirby Johnson, a consulting partner in the mining advisory services team within Wipro Ltd.’s natural resources group, where he is responsible for developing the mining business improvement and optimization consulting practice. From 1965 to 2010, the IT department was led by an IT manager, he said, but in the last six years the CIO has emerged as the technology leader in mining. “We are now seeing the emergence of the CTO in mining organization. This reflects the ongoing convergence of IT and OT. Increasingly, ICT is enabling every part of the mining value chain, from geology, to mining, milling and logistics.”

Wipro consulting partner Kirby Johnson
Wipro consulting partner Kirby Johnson

This convergence of IT and OT is causing a major shift in the skills required for mining technology adoption, said Johnson. “Traditional mining professionals including geologist, engineers, and metallurgists now need to be digital literate.” However, non-traditional skills are also required to integrate and operate advanced mining technology systems, he said. “This is driving the emergence of the ‘Mining Technology Professional’, a new blend of mining and technology skills.”

WiPro is an IT consultancy based in India, with offices around the world including Canada. The company is one of the speakers at the annual Global Mining IT & Communication Summit, being held this year in Toronto from Nov. 2-3.  IT World Canada is a conference media sponsor.

Johnson said IT in mining has developed from a “cottage industry”’ approach, with disparate systems and haphazard application, to a more unified approach that includes the adoption of emerging technologies such as drones. “The implementation of drone technology is proceeding extremely quickly and comprehensively,” he said. “Drones are an example of relatively low cost equipment with a very wide range of uses in mining.”

Traditionally, mining has focused on OT, but in addition to drones, it is expanding its horizons, said Johnson. “Cognitive applications are starting to emerge in mining,” he said. “We are seeing the first few use cases in the natural resources sector, focused on project management of large capital programs and geological data interpretation from drilling.”

Mining is also learning from other industries, such as the upstream oil and gas industry, which has more than 15 years of experience with what is dubbed “integrated operations.” This has been enabled by digital technology, said Johnson. Mining is also learning from manufacturing, particularly the robotic car manufacturing, he added, and rapidly embracing automation of equipment and automation of processes.

Other major technology trends in the industry include the increasing use of analytics to understand equipment performance, the adoption of cloud computing and the increasing use of connected sensors and equipment through the adoption Internet of Things (IoT) technology, said Johnson.

Mining has also been able to address some challenges with drones, he said. “The use of drones is revolutionizing survey and geology. “Drones enable a far safer, faster, and more systematic coverage of the mining operation than ever before.” They can also go to places that are dangerous for people, said Johnson, including near vertical mining faces, which can be as high as 15 metres with broken rock, on top of stockpiles, and even underground. “Drones collect very large volumes of data very cheaply and quickly.” This data can be used for geology, such as grade and rock type mapping, and for survey purposes, such as location and progress of mining and volumes of stockpiles.

Of course, mining has challenges that other industries don’t. “Mining is a capital-intensive industry,” said Johnson. “That means technology needs to be very tuned to maximizing the value of the existing operations. Each mine has its own unique DNA that is a function of the fixed and mobile operating assets.”  So not only does technology need to make the mining operations safer, cost less and more productive, it also must meet specific needs of the mine.

But other industries can learn from mining, said Johnson. “Mining companies have learned a lot about automation of a major capital intensive industry.” An example would be the remote operations centre run by Rio Tinto in Australi. It is the largest robotics deployment to date, he said, running 69 driverless trucks outside Perth airport, as well as driverless trains and port operations. “These operations are moving billions of dollars’ worth of iron ore every year, so the scale is unprecedented anywhere.”

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Gary Hilson
Gary Hilson
Gary Hilson is a Toronto-based freelance writer who has written thousands of words for print and pixel in publications across North America. His areas of interest and expertise include software, enterprise and networking technology, memory systems, green energy, sustainable transportation, and research and education. His articles have been published by EE Times, SolarEnergy.Net, Network Computing, InformationWeek, Computing Canada, Computer Dealer News, Toronto Business Times and the Ottawa Citizen, among others.

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