Underground miners will be noticing a marked change in the technologies that are slowly trickling into their workplace. Only this week a mine foreman I work with could barely believe his eyes when he saw our survey team flying a drone in an open stope. “I never thought I’d see a drone in my life, let alone one flying underground” quipped the Gen X-er!
I wanted to conceptualise how job roles will change in the next two decades in the underground environment. As we collectively ride the digital wave what will the new mining specialisms be and what could the proactive miner start to explore to future proof their career?
Today I will cover the underground mining technical service team, the current roles, and what their scope of work may look like in approx. 15 years from now. These are of course all hypothetical, but it is something worth exploring ahead of time.
The management function will become increasingly about external contract management due to an increased number of service providers in the digital mine of the future. Whilst legalasitive, production and personnel inputs will still remain a focus, a more automated workplace will demand a realignment of skill sets for managers. A broad, disciplined approach to data, its analysis and ensuring consistency in underground network availability will become a key KPI.
The mining engineer of the future will work on rotation from a capital city mine operations center. Their plush head office desk will be close to their co-workers, who design using a digital twin of the mine that is updated in near real-time from sensors mounted to almost all underground machines. They only visit the site bi-monthly for 7 days rotations, to offer “site engineer” functionality between on-site personnel and their engineering office.
The mine geologist will also be primarily based at head office with periodic site visits to immerse themselves in the geological structures that have been exposed. Data will be collected at the drill rig, including assays and basic structural analysis. Face advances will be scanned by a jumbo-mounted LiDAR sensor that will map before any ground support is installed. AI and machine learning will assist with complex analysis of geological structures and trends, unlocking more value in the block and resource models.
Sensors built-in to rock bolts will fill the mine and geotechnical engineers will manage and analyse data received from across the working levels. AI learning will allow for scan data, that is collected whilst the loader is tramming, to highlight any areas of rock-mass movement. This would then trigger a further visual inspection and photo analysis via a tablet app, which would eventually be completed by an automated inspection drone system over firing times within the mine.
Data flows from the underground will become a job in its own right, and the spatial dataset will be validated and updated via a near real time working model of the mine. Surveyors will periodically complete extensions of the underground survey network, as well as precisely surveying IoT nodes mounted to the tunnels backs. These nodes will allow a GPS-like positional fix for all personnel and machinery operating underground.
The future of all sectors look set to change as we move to industry 4.0 and the mass adoption of new automated systems. Underground mining is no different and the software and hardware used by technical services teams will radically change their working expectations and outputs.
The current labour intensive collection and processing for both spatial and design datasets should dramatically reduce, as machines and remote sensors collect this whilst in situ. The focus will then be on database management and analysis of raw information in a timely manner.
The future, possibly not quite in the next 15 years, should deliver a modernised workplace with both site and city based options for mining technical service members. With scope for niche specialisms that dig deep on data to deliver better production rates and outcomes.
I LOVE EXPLORING, CONSIDERING AND DISCUSSING WHERE THE MINING SECTOR COULD BE HEADING – DO YOU HAVE ANY THOUGHTS?
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