The days of rapid expansion in mining are over for the current market cycle, according to a recent article in Financial Times magazine. Mining reporter James Wilson says that cost cutting and productivity improvements now rule the day. But, he says, the mining industry has already taken the easy steps by laying off staff and contractors and cutting budgets for exploration.
Now, miners are having to work harder to find additional gains. Wilson talked to a number of mining industry players to find out what they're doing to achieve those gains and discovered that technology, especially information and connectivity technologies, are leading the way.
Reducing Slack In Mining Systems
One of the players Wilson interviewed is Grant McCabe, team leader for “next generation mining” at BCG, a strategy consulting business based in Australia. McCabe says, “There is enormous slack in many mining systems. The industry has not been run with manufacturing discipline. Companies know they have to run a lot more productively and get more out of the current footprint.”
Many mining operations are using advanced equipment systems—including autonomous trucks, driverless trains and even drones—to boost productivity. But smarter mining also means using technology to produce data that helps miners measure their performance and adjust where they may be falling short.
"Big Data" Makes the Difference
Mike Elliott of market research company Ernst & Young says: “The most substantial contribution to mine productivity may well be the ability to deal with big data around the operation—analyze it, process it and react quickly enough to make a difference.”
Accurate data on what material is emerging from a mine can also make miners’ marketing more effective. Rachael Bartels, head of the global mining practice at management consulting firm Accenture says, “You can optimize your output from pit to port and beyond.”
Bartels recognizes that there are still questions about the degree to which miners can industrialize and integrate information technologies. “Our advice is to focus on what activities can be done in common across operations," she says. "That is where miners will gain most benefit.”
Technology Sets a New Standard
Equipment manufacturers, such as Caterpillar, are getting into the mining technology game in a big way, too, the article notes. They're helping miners adopt new technologies while working to bring the costs of data systems down to make them even more practical.
Richard Helm, a partner in BCG’s Sydney office, says, “Things are really maturing and once the technology is in there it will set a new base for the industry."
Read the full article on the Financial Times’ website (log in required).