Harris Gomez Group has been working with Mining Equipment, Technology and Services (METS) businesses in Latin America for 16 years. During that time, the solutions offered by METS has evolved dramatically. In previous years, the focus was put on automation improvements with many of those technologies now being deployed into mines regularly. Today, we are seeing solutions related to emerging digital technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT), and new biological technologies.

Automation in Chile:

From improvements in processes through software and advanced data processing technology to the application of robotics in autonomous vehicles, drones, and mining machinery, automation represents an attractive opportunity for the industry.

Some examples from Chile include:

  • Chile's state mining company Codelco – the world's largest copper exporter, has had 18 autonomous trucks in operation at its open-pit Gabriela Mistral mine in the Antofagasta Region since 2008. These vehicles are able to increase a mine's operational efficiency by reducing costs in the long term and operating for more hours whilst also having a lower rate of accidents that means greater safety and protection at the mine.
  • Airobotics, an Israeli company that develops completely autonomous drones, which are able to draw maps and carry out volumetric measurements and topographic surveys that are connected to data processing software, announced an alliance with Chile's Rockblast. The first Chilean mine to implement this technology will be Minera Centinela, an Antofagasta Minerals operation in the Antofagasta Region. It will use the Airobotics Optimus drone, capable of carrying out multi-purpose functions without interfering with activities on the ground.
  • ABB provides Minera Escondida with remote diagnostics covering the five GMD systems operating in the mine. These remote services help customer prevent and reduce failure times while maximizing availability and reliability of the grinding assets.
  • Smartcap, an Australian company, first tested their driver fatigue technology in Chile with BHP and it proved to be successful. Smartcap provides a baseball cap with an electronic strip, about six inches wide, that sits on the driver's forehead and measures brainwaves looking for changes that show fatigue. The sensors in the cap communicate wirelessly with a small unit in the truck's cabin warning the driver and supervisors.

There are many ways that mines can automate the various aspects of their operations. Chilean mines have adopted new technology over the last 10 years but there is still a fair way to go in terms of implementing the full spectrum of solutions available. Chilean miners previously tended to be quite conservative when trying new solutions as they did not necessarily have the human capital, nor the will to implement projects to their fullest potential.

This is changing and we are seeing our client's sales cycle become shorter as there is a willingness from those working in operations to the head office to look at new solutions. Even from an implementation standpoint, the full spectrum of benefits promised by automation is now increasingly being captured given the buy-in from all those involved and the improvements in skills within the mining companies themselves.

The Next Wave of Technology:

Emerging digital technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), and new biological technologies promise to revolutionize the industry. Among them: drones that perform in situ scanning, genetically manipulated bacteria or nanobots that mine at the molecular level, deep-sea robots that mine underwater, big data and algorithms that enable end-to-end tracking and communications as well as real-time supply and demand management, water-neutral processing that eliminates the need for water and slurry ponds.

Some example includes:

  • Acoustic Zoom Inc. boasts revolutionary seismic exploration and exploitation techniques using sonar applications. The New Brunswick-based company uses 3D seismic imaging and beam-forming and beam-steering techniques to enable high-resolution imaging of geological structures.
  • EnviroLeach Technologies Inc. has developed the world's only safe, cost-effective and sustainable alternative to cyanide, used in the mining industry to separate gold and silver particles from ore. The company is based in Burnaby and employs roughly 10 at its head office, which is home to administrative offices, a lab, and a pilot plant.
  • MinseSense, a Vancouver based company, provides a complete hardware and software system, enabled by proprietary algorithms, that measures and reports ore grade and ore characteristics. These systems are integrated into the front end of the mining process at the shovel and belts.

The mining industry has the challenge of dealing with volatility from both its operations and from metals prices. The industry has not always been the fastest at adapting to new realities but it has proven that it is willing to change by taking advantage of new technology related to digitalization, modular production and automation, remote operation, and the use of autonomous vehicles.

For METS companies with new technologies to introduce, the question then arises, how do we capitalize on changes in the industry in order to grow our sales? The answer to that is not an easy one. What we do know is that having a presence in Latin America, one of the fastest growing mining markets in the world is a key part of answering that question.

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