Robots will chisel an alien mining landscape
‘The industry will be unrecognisable’ in five to seven years, says Tony O’Neill, technical director at Anglo
London — Some mines in the next decade will run without humans and instead rely on robots, virtual models and sensors, according to Anglo American.
Anglo was betting on technology, such as computerised drills with "chiselling ability as good as a human", to increase productivity, cut costs and reduce environmental impact, Tony O’Neill, technical director at Anglo, said at the Mines and Money conference in London.
"The industry that everybody currently knows will be unrecognisable" in five to seven years, O’Neill said. With mining processes automated, Anglo’s "employee of the future" would only need to focus on managing the company’s relations with governments and communities that live near its mines, he said.
Anglo operates some of the world’s most valuable copper deposits and employs 87,000 workers from SA to Chile.
Bots, or software that could execute instructions, would be increasingly important in underground mining, O’Neill said. Small and self-learning, the technology requires less infrastructure than current methods, and commercial application is five to seven years away.
Anglo is not the first to invest in automation. In Australia’s Pilbara iron ore region, BHP Billiton has begun work aimed at implementing autonomous trains along its 1,300km rail network.
Barrick Gold is a year into the gold mining industry’s most ambitious experiment to modernise digging, using thousands of sensors at and around the Cortez mine in Nevada.
Other technology used real-time, virtual models of physical processes as preventative measures and could be deployed to monitor the mine, processing and distribution, O’Neill said.
The systems, borrowed from the aerospace industry, could increase productivity about 20% and lower costs 15%, O’Neill said.