On the path to digitalization—how the mining industry is adapting to change

By Jeanne Els | December 13, 2021

New high-grade ore deposits are getting harder to access. Mines are getting deeper, in increasingly inaccessible locations, requiring more complex operations. And further, companies are having to recruit from a workforce that’s less accepting of remote work sites. Faced with an aging workforce, the industry is finding it challenging to recruit new, young talent who sometimes perceive mining as less innovative and “tech savvy” than other sectors.

Simultaneously, shareholders are demanding improved productivity, stronger environmental compliance, and better safety outcomes. With a greater global focus on climate change and sustainability, there’s an ever-increasing need to improve the traditional image of the resource industry. We need to educate the public on how, through technology, mining is improving its global footprint, supporting efforts to combat climate change, and contributing valuable resources that help make electrification and decarbonization possible. The industry needs new and diverse skills to take advantage of increased digitalization and contribute positively to this changing world. To compete for this talent with companies in the technology space, we need to positively change the perception of mining.

In our new era at Hatch, we committed to creating a better world through positive change. In this context, we can help our clients overcome some of these challenges through digitalization.
—Jeanne Els

The exciting reality is that digital technologies can help address things like remoteness, safety, productivity, and environmental compliance. And, by addressing these challenges in partnership, our clients can concurrently improve their operations, stakeholder image, and brand performance.

A complex, changing world

We’ve recently faced unprecedented challenges—from the impacts of climate change to a global pandemic. Communities and organizations have had to adapt— operating remotely, ramping up safety protocols, and focusing on maintaining their employees’ well-being.

There’s an increased need for an accelerated adoption of digitalization globally to reduce the reliance on people being physically present. There’s also a need for better visibility across disrupted supply chains. These themes aren’t new, but the business imperative exists like never before. The good news is, we have the technology to make it happen!

Over the next few years, we will be helping our clients:

  • Strengthen the digital foundations for our clients to support broad adoption of digital technologies
  • Remove people from “the line of fire” through the implementation of autonomous technologies
  • Implement robotics or drones to perform dangerous tasks, such as lancing open a furnace or inspecting a precipitation tower
  • Use augmented and virtual reality technologies for training and virtual site walk-throughs, and enabling remote work
  • Use online, integrated simulation and optimization supply chain tools to assist operators with making the right decisions across very complex systems
  • Use data to create models across processes to predict outcomes and ultimately optimize the process

Our digital transformation

For the history of our company, Hatch has been on the journey towards digitalization. We haven’t arrived yet―it’s a marathon, not a sprint—but we’ve made significant progress across our business.

With our digital project delivery tools, we’re implementing a cloud-based, agnostic, central data environment that’s fundamentally changing the way data flows between design tools and project delivery tools. This transition to truly data-centric project delivery will provide our clients with access to dynamic, real-time information and the ability to create key performance indicators that extend well beyond the insights available from traditional,
static measures.

Data-centric architecture will allow us to directly connect the project to the operation, and seamlessly transition data into the operational systems as the digital asset matures over the life of the project. This architecture provides the foundation for the digital twin.

What have we learned so far?

  • Be bold. The benefits of digital integration far outweigh the risks. We use these technologies in our everyday lives and, in many cases, would struggle to live without them. Why should our business operations be any different?
  • The software isn’t the solution, people and process are. The technology’s there to make what’s already working more effective.
  • We work in very complex environments. To create a successful digital transformation, business value must be front of mind―and this step’s often missed. Deep technical skills across all relevant engineering disciplines are also required.
  • The data must have context within your operation, otherwise it’s useless. Also, historical performance is not an indication of best performance.

In this new digitally-enabled world, the mining industry is adapting its skills mix and work processes to further drive innovation. We are making positive progress to reduce environmental impacts through technology. There is a great opportunity to use these shifts to change old perceptions. Mining is innovative and focused on a better world.