Mines Of The Future: Remote Controlled, On Demand And Fewer Workers

Mines Of The Future: Remote Controlled, On Demand And Fewer Workers

Mining as you know it is disappearing.

Drones that fly above mines to capture real-time data, robots and remote-controlled trucks will feature heavily in mines of the future, said Nick Holland, CEO of Gold Fields, according to a report in MineWeb.

It’s already happening.

Equipment manufacturers are making more mechanized products and remotely operated equipment, Holland said, referring to Rio Tinto, the British-Australian mining company that recently unveiled the world’s first remotely operated trucks.

“The trucks run 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, without a driver. So, if you didn’t think it would happen… it’s already happening,” Holland told MineWeb.

Gold Fields is a South African gold mining firm, one of the world’s largest, and is listed on the Johannesburg and New York stock exchanges.

Advanced analytics and new software technology will be used to do more with less, said Gold Fields CEO Holland. Mining companies will have to be flexible and able to mine on demand, producing less during downturns. To some extent the technology is already available.

The control room is going to be the focal point in any mine operation and mine workers are going to have to be very different, Holland said.

“The skills we need will be vastly different and will require partnership with governments, universities and training colleges to redefine curricula. We will employ far fewer people and will need to find a new model to provide benefits to communities,” Holland said.

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“We will have to adapt our human resources. Operators are going to be operating automated machinery probably remotely. And they’re going to have to be trained. Gone are the days when you’re going to have 3 000 people in corporate offices.”

South Africa is not ready, said Fred Cawood, director of the Wits School of Mining Institute. Mining engineering programs currently focus on software application but in the future they’ll be about developing the software that allows machines to communicate with each other and with people.

But there are bigger issues than universities changing their curricula, Cawood said. People working in South Africa’s mining industry are protected by trade unions.

“The mines will first have to come to an understanding with the unions given the potential job losses that there are going to be. What do we do with the people losing their jobs?”

Cawood said one solution is to manufacture the machinery needed for for mechanized mines of the future in South Africa. “We could develop a secondary industry, and those jobs could be transferred from the mining industry to the manufacturing sector,” he said.