Top 5 Technology Trends for Safer & Smarter Mining Operations in 2023

January 12, 2023 by Norman Dziengel
Read in 8 Minutes

In the coming year, mining operations can expect to undergo some significant improvements as they apply additional technologies to improve safety and increase automation.  The world continues to move towards a more technology-driven future, and mining is no exception. 

Here are our top 2023 predictions for safe, smart mining operations:

Trend #1: Location-Enabled Automation Gains Traction

Mining operations are set to become more efficient in 2023, thanks to the application of smart mining technology. Innovative mining technology employs location awareness, machine learning, robotics, and other technologies that will allow mining companies to automate many of their processes and shift semi-autonomous operations to fully autonomous. This will not only reduce costs but also increase safety. By using remote-controlled or autonomous mining trucks, excavators, and mining equipment, humans can sometimes be removed from dangerous tasks, thus avoiding accidents.

One example of a technology that enables more automation in mining is chirp. Chirp is a wireless communication technology complementing GPS and LiDAR to exchange data (messages, sensor data), determine locations, and measure distances — for example, between miners, mining equipment, and vehicles.

This technology enables mine operators to optimize operations and reduce the risk of accidents by improving communication and coordination. In combination with an IoT platform that sets the collected data into the context of the particular mine (e.g., automated ventilation on demand, shift plans, traffic control, access control, and haulage priorities), these technologies are expected to make mining operations more sustainable by reducing energy consumption and waste production. 

With all these advantages, it is no surprise that mining companies worldwide have already begun investing in the digital transformation of their mining operations. By the end of the year, we can expect a significant number of mines across the globe to be using location-aware smart mining technology as they strive toward greater safety, efficiency, and sustainability. 

Trend #2: Real-time Monitoring of Operational Assets Gives Safety and Productivity a Boost

Technology is becoming increasingly important for ensuring safety and efficiency in the mining industry, especially as mining operations become more complex. We predict that in 2023, mining operations will rely heavily on innovative technologies such as advanced wireless communication technologies, real-time location system (RTLS) sensors and tags, and automation systems to reduce risks and increase productivity. 

The mining industry is increasingly harnessing the power of industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) sensors to improve mining operations. IIoT sensors are digital instruments that measure, record, and transmit data from mining assets to upstream management/monitoring systems, which may be located on- or off-site. Mining companies can automate processes and quickly identify problems by collecting and utilizing the sensor input readings from mining equipment, the air, movements of vehicles and workers, etc. 

The key components mining system integrators need to deliver are reliable information about the “what is where, when” plus the individual status of the assets. The integration of radio frequency (RF) technologies delivering location, sensor, and communication data  24/7, like those offered by Inpixon,  is fundamental to creating a digital twin of the mine assets and activities.

In the coming year, we will see even greater adoption of location-aware IIoT sensors and digital twins, allowing for even more accurate monitoring of operational assets and predictive analytics to improve productivity, increase safety, and even to anticipate potential issues before they occur.

Trend # 3: Physical Security Leverages Location Awareness

Mining operations have exceptional challenges when it comes to access control. Most businesses simply don't have explosives or rare minerals on site!

Workers with authorization to enter sensitive areas can wear a cap lamp or vest with a location-enabled RF tag. Their location near an access-controlled door or portal can be passed to the access control system either as an extra authentication factor or to open the portal automatically. The same concept can be applied to authorized vehicles entering sensitive areas.

Utilizing location technology in this way can increase security and safety. It can also help prevent theft when high-value goods are tagged to send an alarm when leaving a geofenced zone. Additionally, theft investigations can be improved by providing an audit trail showing who was near sensitive materials when they went missing. 

Trend #4: Increased Focus on Collaborative Technology

As mining operations become increasingly complex and competitive, mining companies can look to technology combinations for solutions. There is an increasing focus on collaborative technologies to improve coordination between people and machines. By using different technologies, these challenges can be better met in the following ways:

  • The use of sensors and IoT technologies to monitor machines and equipment: By connecting vehicles and equipment with sensors, companies can monitor machines and equipment in real-time and automatically stop them if necessary to prevent accidents, for example.
  • The use of AI technologies to analyze data and predict material needs: By using AI-based systems, companies will be able to analyze data and make predictions, which in turn will lead to better decisions. Funding plans and forecasting material needs will also be simplified by AI technologies.
  • The use of chirp spread spectrum (CSS), a robust radio frequency technology, to: 1) augment GPS’s less accurate positioning in outdoor areas, and 2) to track underground assets and measure the distance between machines. CSS’s long-range and interference resilience make it an exceptional performer for outdoor and underground operations, location determination, and collision avoidance.
  • The use of LiDAR, a laser light-based technology, to add high-resolution environmental scans.  By using LiDAR to map indoor spaces, machines and workers get centimeter-specific information about the physical environment.

Overall, the use of collaborative technologies in mining is of great importance, as it enables people and machines to work better together and thus improve safety, efficiency, and productivity in the mining industry.

Trend #5: Adoption of AI and Analytics

The use of artificial intelligence (AI) and analytics in mining has increased significantly in recent years and will continue to play an important role. By using AI technologies, companies can analyze large amounts of data and make predictions, which in turn can lead to better decisions.

An example of the use of AI in mining is the prediction of material requirements. By analyzing data on mining volumes and material consumption, companies can more accurately predict how much material they will need. This can help achieve material savings and increase efficiency.

Analytics, even without AI, also plays an important role in mining. By analyzing data, companies can identify patterns and thus make better decisions. For example, by analyzing operational data, companies can identify problems early on and thus avoid downtime. 

As one example, AI-driven remote tunnel monitoring systems are becoming increasingly essential for underground mining surveillance. Knowing the condition and location of workers and assets in relation to the environmental parameters is critical to running mines effectively, safely, and productively.

A logical approach is to combine an IoT platform with an analytics layer that consumes the gathered mining data to enable accident prevention, congestion detection, and predictive maintenance. This can lower costs at both ends: at the mine or pit face – preventing non-functional equipment from blocking processes, and on the supply chain side – enabling long-term planning for buying material when available and at the lowest cost. 

Overall, the use of AI and analytics in mining is of great importance to increase efficiency and productivity and to make better decisions. In the future, the use of these technologies in mining will become even more important to meet the challenges of the industry.

Start 2023 off on the Right Foot

Adopting new technologies in an established industry can be challenging. But the hurdles we face must be overcome in 2023 if mining companies are to remain competitive and thrive in an increasingly digital age.

Smart mining operations aren't only the future; they're the present. From improving workforce safety and enhancing productivity and efficiency across the value chain, to reducing monitoring and installation costs, smart mines are already revolutionizing mining operations worldwide. Failing to innovate by continuing to use costly, manual processes puts your company at a disadvantage both in terms of competitive productivity and in matters of worker safety.

To see how your mining operation can maximize its success by leveraging modern technology solutions, contact Inpixon today.

Norman is the Product Manager at Inpixon, with over 5 years of experience at the company. Norman holds a PHD in Computer Science with a focus on wireless sensor networks. With experience in product marketing, product management, and design of ranging and RTLS products, he is a core member in refining and innovating Inpixon’s RTLS product portfolio.