Easter has come and gone, and we still face Covid-19 relentlessly taking lives across the globe. With months of restrictions and talks of potential shutdowns could this pandemic see the acceleration of autonomous mining throughout QLD?
Autonomous mining solutions have slowly been gaining ground over recent years and as the results are analyzed they highlight significant increases in productivity and efficiency yet there are still several arguments to be made on both sides. However, with Covid-19 reducing numbers on site and forcing skeleton crews to work under restrictions, mining companies must now be looking for solutions that will protect against such issues in the future.
Especially in today’s climate, safety is the number one concern. With mining companies continuously working toward a zero-harm environment, safety is paramount for the future of the industry.
With autonomous mining reducing numbers on site and ultimately removing people from the most dangerous aspects of mining, there is a strong case that this benefits not only mining companies but it’s employees, by eliminating the possibility of almost all accidents and injuries. Also, in special circumstances such as the one we are in at present, you can protect against potential contamination and spread of diseases with less people coming into contact with each other.
With the current Covid-19 pandemic imposing an immediate threat on mining operations and companies throughout Australia, there will be a strong emphasis on preventing this in the future but with the unique challenges of mining comes the issue of making autonomous mining possible.
With the introduction of autonomous mining solutions, you are pushing machinery to adapt effectively to different ore bodies and terrain therefore, is it possible to have machinery operate in the way a human does?
This is crucial in order to mine safely and efficiently which is the concern many have with moving completely to autonomous mining. I believe we could see both humans and autonomous machinery working side-by-side for a number of years in order to hone the overall capabilities of autonomous machinery.
Another factor posing a threat is cost. With millions of dollars at stake and companies feeling the pinch from slowed operations, is it feasible for mid-tier companies to implement autonomous solutions in a fast and effective manner?
Autonomous mining sounds attractive but will be costly to implement across the board. With Covid-19 accelerating the need for autonomous mining, we could find companies losing out if they are unable to pony up the costs involved which will inevitably see them fall behind and even shut up shop.
Sure, autonomous mining solutions are intended to improve efficiency, safety, and productivity but what happens to the people who are replaced in the process?
With autonomous mining comes operations that can run 24/7, during shift changes, meal breaks, and those wonderful meetings we all have however, in replacing the human workforce you effectively reduce the number of jobs created from that operation. In doing so, you are hindering the benefits to communities when proposing new projects which is a vital factor considered by the government when looking to give the go-ahead to new, proposed projects.
The flip side to this is with new technology comes new opportunities for people to adapt and job descriptions to adjust. Although in 5 years there will be roles that won’t exist as we know them today, there is the chance that those people will have reinvented their skill set and operate in a different capacity.
I do believe that Covid-19 will bring about the acceleration of autonomous mining solutions. Not only because companies could benefit off the cost cutting, salary expenditure, and enhanced productivity but also because it could ensure the safety of mining operations and the creation of new and exciting opportunities for the mining workforce.
Although there are elements to be debated and specifics to be ironed out, I cannot see this inevitable shift slowing down amidst the current crisis surrounding the mining industry and its operations.