There aren’t many days that pass without an article that addresses the ever-changing global mining market. Many large miners have been in flux recently, incurring very large write downs and/or changing senior leadership. Let’s not equate these changes with the general health of the mining industry; rather, they are the culmination of years of mergers and acquisitions and some not so tight capital management. As stated by the Financial Times, there is a renewed focus on returns within mining, a main component of which is improving operations of existing assets.
Automation and technology will likely play a large role in improving existing sites. Mining, like many industries, is steadily seeing a changeover in its workforce as experienced workers retire. Couple this with the remote locations where many mining sites sit and you have growing need for outside assistance. This is manifesting itself in more mining equipment suppliers seeing their revenue mix move to services.
Along with developing the need for local services, the industry is showing increased interest in remote capabilities, including diagnosing what is wrong with equipment from afar, as well as operating equipment remotely. Rio Tinto has a program called “Mine of the Future” which has the company implementing some very interesting technologies at their Pilbara mine in Western Australia. These include a drill rig platform with remote operations in Perth and autonomous haul trucks.
With an eye to the future and a shrinking labor pool, more and more miners will be looking into these remote solutions. Gone are the days when a supplier’s relationship was only to deliver equipment and provide spare parts when needed. Those that continue this model will likely be passed over by companies willing to make the investment in services and remote capabilities.