Transforming the mining industry through data and digital innovation, part 2: From digital twins to quantum computing

By Alim Somani | April 18, 2024

In the second part of our blog series, we delve deeper into the advanced technologies that hold the potential to transform the mining and metals industry. One of these groundbreaking technologies is the concept of digital twins. These digital replicas of physical assets, processes, and systems can revolutionize decision-making and optimization in the mining sector.

There are four types of digital twins—analytics, asset, process, and system twins—that help solve problems and offer unique insight. These twins each offer a unique perspective and opportunity to optimize mining operations, reduce costs, and enhance productivity; they can uncover value losses and unrealized potential within the mining value chain, making them a critical component of the industry's future. These four distinct manifestations of the twin capability are each tailored to address industry-specific challenges:

Analytics twin: A pivotal cornerstone, the analytics twin delves into data intricacies to extract actionable insights. Informed by data analysis, industries can make informed decisions, steering strategies toward optimal outcomes.

Asset twins: Rather than an entity synonymous with complexity, asset twins provide practical solutions. These virtual counterparts of physical assets delve into machinery behavior, facilitating proactive maintenance and prolonging asset life.

Process twins: Grounded in real-time data and sophisticated models, process twins optimize industrial processes. By targeting inefficiencies, this twin empowers industries to achieve higher levels of productivity and helps inform better decisions surrounding complex assets.

System twins: Navigating intricate systems, system twins orchestrate seamless interactions among components. This orchestration enhances system-wide performance and uncovers opportunities for holistic advancements.

The role of AI and quantum computing

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been a buzzword in many industries, but its application in mining and processing extends beyond marketing. By transforming the way daily operations are handled, mining professionals are turning to AI to make informed decisions by analyzing vast datasets and identifying patterns and anomalies:

  • Image recognition. AI-powered recognition systems can analyze images from mining operations, such as geological formations or equipment conditions, to identify potential issues and opportunities for improvement.
  • Process optimization. AI can optimize various processes, from ore extraction to logistics, by continuously analyzing data and making real-time adjustments for maximum efficiency and resource utilization.
  • Sensory recognition. Vision-based systems can now recognize events and interpret the differences in output. This improves productivity and decision-making.
  • Machine learning. There are a whole host of problems with processing assets and the number of variables such as ore grade, temperature, and conditions. Machine learning provides the ability to calibrate outcomes—an exciting thing to explore.
  • Safety and risk concerns. AI can analyze data from sensors, monitoring worker and equipment conditions to increase safety and reduce risks by identifying potential hazards and suggesting preventative measures.

Quantum computing, over time, also presents revolutionary potential. With design systems that can solve multiple problems in parallel, process unique quantum algorithms, and perform quantum annealing, in time this cutting-edge technology could take AI and data analysis to new heights with the potential to solve complex mining problems that were previously insurmountable, ultimately changing the way mining companies operate.

One example of this is the key role quantum computing can play in modeling geological conditions under the earth’s surface to ensure mines effectively extract materials. Quantum computers can take in far richer and greater data from a wider range of sources than classical computers and know how to search and apply that data effectively. They know how to interpret satellite imagery and on-the-ground data to produce a more accurate model of the earth than is currently possible, transforming mining in the following ways:

  • Efficient data processing. Quantum computers can process and interpret vast amounts of data more effectively than classical computers, providing precise insights into geological conditions.
  • Resource optimization. By minimizing wasted materials and equipment and reducing mine downtime, quantum computing can maximize resource flow, ultimately enhancing operational efficiency.
  • Digital autonomy. As mining processes become “smarter” and more connected, quantum computers can monitor and optimize every aspect of mining operations, ensuring digital autonomy and maximum efficiency.

Collaborative innovation in the mining industry

Collaboration is integral to the mining industry’s transformation. It’s not just about mining companies working together; it’s also about companies outside the mining sector contributing to the evolution and disrupting current leaders by applying innovative solutions:

  • Outside expertise. Companies from other sectors can provide domain expertise and digital knowledge, which can be instrumental in addressing mining-specific challenges.
  • Diversity of thought. Fresh perspectives can lead to innovative approaches and solutions that may have been overlooked within the industry.
  • New skillsets. Collaborators from diverse backgrounds bring a mix of skills and knowledge, enriching the mining industry’s problem-solving capabilities.

While the barriers to entry in mining are high, the changing narrative around the industry, with a focus on sustainability and electrification, is drawing attention from tech companies and investors. The mining industry is not merely about extracting resources but transforming the world, making it an exciting field for innovation. And with the right mix of domain expertise and digital know-how, there's an opportunity to drive substantial change.

Looking ahead: the confluence of technologies

The mining industry is at the cusp of a significant transformation. The convergence of AI, quantum computing, and digital twins presents unparalleled opportunities for the sector. With a focus on deep domain expertise and digital innovation, the mining industry can overcome its productivity gaps and continue to provide the resources that drive the modern world.

In this two-part blog series, we've explored the technical background of the mining industry, its challenges, and the promising technologies that can drive its evolution. By embracing data-driven innovation, collaborating with startups, and harnessing advanced technologies, the mining industry can secure a more sustainable and prosperous future. Listen to our podcast or contact us to find out more.