Previous forecasts from Zion Market Research revealed that the market size of global mining automation will increase by a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 7.3% until the year 2030. Part of the catalysts for this rapid market growth is the advancements of smart technologies initiated around the globe to conserve energy, increase productivity, and promote safety in harsh mining environments.
The call for these innovations in mining automation comes from the escalating demand of the industrial sector for common base metals, thereby pushing the development of high-productivity technologies for mining exploration activities.
Technological trends in the global mining automation industry
One of the technological trends attracting investments in the global mining automation industry is the development of autonomous surveying technology through artificial intelligence (AI).
“The integration of autonomous surveying technology into a construction workflow has groundbreaking potential,” said Aviad Almagor, Vice President of Technology Innovation of Trimble, after the announcement of his company’s partnership with Exyn Technologies in Nevada, USA in November 2022.
The Trimble X7 already has high accuracy and speed when it comes to capturing the surrounding environment through 3D laser scanning. However, a brand-new potential can still be unleashed with the integration of smart technology from autonomous robots powered by ExynAI. These robots are equipped with sensors to avoid obstacles regardless of the complexity of the construction environment. Self-navigation without the need for a GPS is also one of the emphasized features of this innovation.
Another emerging development derived from augmented reality (AR) is being launched by Torsa in Antamina, Peru. The Collision Avoidance System (CAS) features centimetric precision for detecting hazards in the vehicle’s surroundings to improve the operator’s safety while fetching real-time data that could be useful for remote management centers to optimize current mining operations.
“In our fourth generation CAS system, we have incorporated a predictive algorithm to avoid false positives, because we know that this is key for someone who is driving many hours every single day,” explained Gabino de Diego, the new Business Development Director of Torsa. He also acknowledged the help of business intelligence modules which allowed users to replay footage of incidents to serve as a reliable basis for generating corrective measures.
Remote control solutions are also seen to influence major business decisions as the mining specialist, Epiroc, gains control over the Remote Control Technology (RCT) company in October 2022. This smart technology company based in Perth, Australia is expected to serve as a vital player in Epiroc’s goal to become one of the leading automation solutions providers around the world.
Helena Hedblom, CEO and President of Epiroc, welcomed Bob Muirhead, founder of RCT, as she announced that the latter will remain in an active management role upon joining her team. One of the expected contributions of RCT is to provide automation on either a single or mixed fleet of machines, regardless of manufacturer and type of equipment, effectively maximizing compatibility.
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However, the rise of these innovations comes with significant environmental responsibility. Fortunately, green initiatives are extensively discussed during the development of these mining automation technologies.
In November 2022, Epiroc introduced the Smart and Green Series to highlight the company’s efforts in designing zero-emission vehicles without compromising productivity. As tested, these battery-electric vehicles showed positive results in reducing carbon emissions, improving sustainability, and satisfying end-users.
Two of the sustainability-centred components of the Smart and Green Series are the use of fossil-free steel sourced from SSAB and green batteries developed from Northvolt. The materials of the mining equipment used in the series were claimed to, indeed, reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions. On the other hand, the high-energy density batteries used for the machine models were said to be certified to comply with international standards and designed with multiple safety features.
With all the mentioned progress, one of the leading market players for mining automation in the Asia-Pacific, Komatsu, has proved that there is still enough space for improvement. Toby Cressman, Senior Product Manager for Room and Pillar (R&P) Automation and Data Solutions, shared the company’s advancements in R&P mining.
“When it comes to market demand, we saw a much earlier push from the longwall side as customers were dependent on these high productivity systems. We have spent considerable time and focus on automating longwall faces over the years as they are critical to the success of our customers,” Cressman added. He explained that the R&P sector, specifically bolter automation, should be improved as well to catch up with the automation progress of longwall and hard-rock sectors which were already developed beforehand.
These cited innovations gradually capture the current business climate of the global mining automation industry. The developments brought about by these corporate acquisitions, technological advancements, and sustainability initiatives indicate the active efforts made to tread mining automation towards progress.
Recently, a new market share analysis released by Evolve Business Intelligence in November 2022, proved that there is an undeniably fast market growth of mining automation demonstrated by the efforts invested in smart technology. In fact, this new forecast revealed that the global market size will grow at a higher CAGR of 7.4% until 2032, compared to the previous estimates mentioned earlier. The mining automation market was also reported to be valued at US$ 4.6 billion back in 2021. However, the current developments in mining automation still hold a promising sign that the industry has the potential to generate a better market value in the following years.
There are still unreported variables that can have underlying effects on the mining automation industry such as post-pandemic impact, future government policies, and opportunity trends that will soon be revealed from market share analyses of annual reports.
Regardless, the modernization of mining automation has already opened possibilities for the future coexistence of autonomous machines and mining operators. Common plans among industry players include the goal of further improving the working conditions of mining operators by maximizing the use of smart technology.