Transforming the mining industry through data and digital innovation, part 1: Putting minds in our mines

By Alim Somani | Friday, March 22, 2024

The mine-to-market value chain is extensive, encompassing exploration, extraction, processing, and logistics, but it's also fragmented and often disconnected. Remote locations and varying expertise levels contribute to inefficiencies in data management and decision-making processes.

In this two-part blog series, we'll explore some of the challenges facing the mining and metals industry that can be overcome by promising advances and applications of digital technologies and the use of data. By embracing data-driven innovation, fostering collaboration with startups, and harnessing advanced technologies, we’ll discover ways the industry can secure a more sustainable and prosperous future.

The crucial role of people and processes

Unlike most other sectors, the mining and metals industry operates in remote and often harsh environments, posing unique challenges for integrating advanced technologies.

These challenges are more related to people and processes than technology; a lack of collaboration between different roles within the mine-to-market value chain leads to data and knowledge silos. For example, mine operators focused on ore extraction may not be adequately connected with process engineers, which can result in misaligned key performance indicators (KPIs) and suboptimal decisions.

To address these challenges, it’s crucial to change the perspective on what’s measured and collected. While there is a common belief that the mining and metals industry suffers from a lack of data, the issue is not data scarcity but rather the way data is collected, harnessed, and transformed into actionable insights. In essence, it’s not merely about accumulating more data; it’s about the extraction, interpretation, and utilization of knowledge to make better and faster business decisions while creating value.

To achieve this, the industry must embrace a system-focused approach to maximize its entire value chain rather than optimization for individual asset performance. This requires breaking data silos and bridging the information gap by integrating process knowledge with engineering, data analysis, and digital techniques. This involves creating and utilizing systems that facilitate the flow of critical information between different roles and processes.

It’s essential to explore how a user-centric approach can catalyze innovation in the mining and metals sector. Understanding the unique needs and challenges faced by mining and metals professionals is vital. Effective solutions need a multi-disciplinary approach that considers how value is generated (and wasted) by the individual assets in the value chain, how the assets work together along the value chain, the tasks performed by the operators, and sophisticated data extraction and processing techniques.

Unlocking the potential of startups

Startups play an active role in driving innovation in the mining industry, and Hatch is supporting and partnering with these emerging companies to address long-standing challenges in the sector. The objective is to identify and nurture digital talents that can focus on mining-specific problems and leverage their expertise to create a more advanced and sustainable mining world. Expanding and nurturing the specific areas where startups are making an impact will be pivotal in creating significant transformation.

As the global demand for critical minerals escalates amidst the race to secure supplies and strengthen supply chains, Western governments are increasingly turning to digital technologies as a pivotal solution to maintain competitiveness in their mining operations. Faced with the dual challenge of adhering to stricter environmental standards and managing higher labor costs and standards, these governments recognize the transformative potential of digital innovation. By leveraging advanced digital tools—ranging from automation and robotics to data analytics and environmental monitoring technologies—Western countries aim to enhance operational efficiency, reduce environmental impact, and ensure sustainable practices. This strategic embrace of digitalization is not just about maintaining economic viability but also about setting new benchmarks for responsible and efficient mining practices on a global scale.

On the global stage, startups are solutioning to use technology to transform the raw materials industry so that it has a safe, reliable, and secure method of tracking minerals. While we continue to debate the merits of these new technologies remaining proprietary or utilizing them in shared market spaces, digital data collection is creating crucial gains and improvements in nearly every area of mining activity.

What’s next

The mining and metals industry is on the brink of something exciting. The convergence of data-driven innovation, collaboration with startups, and the integration of advanced technologies can reshape the sector. It’s time to embrace a new era of mining that leverages data and digital solutions to not only meet the industry’s immediate challenges, but to take proprietary and process knowledge to take a true product-oriented approach in order to secure a prosperous and sustainable future in mining.

To achieve this, we’re working together with stakeholders to bridge knowledge and data gaps and pave the way for the mining industry of tomorrow. Listen to our podcast here and contact us to find out more about how we can leverage your digital assets within your mining operations.