This industry comprises establishments primarily engaged in manufacturing oil and gas field and underground mining machinery and equipment.
How Rio has made the world’s biggest iron ore business into a machine
Rio Tinto’s Gudai-Darri mine is one of three new wave DSO mines in operation across WA’s Pilbara alongside BHP’s South Flank and Fortescue’s Eliwana, while FMG also recently opened its Iron Bridge magnetite mine. At 43Mtpa, Gudai-Darri is among the most advanced in the world. Its diggers and loaders are manned, but its Caterpillar trucks are fully automated, run out of an operations centre in Perth with code to direct their passage across the 5km by 3km Kara pit. Of its 430 haul trucks across 17 mines, 361 are automated. For the first time, Caterpillar has also delivered autonomous water carts. The company says the unmanned vehicles deliver productivity and safety benefits. It is looking to enhance automation and bring a tech focus into other areas of the site.
This robot (or row-bit if you’re Futurama’s Dr Zoidberg) is being trained to use a thermal sensor to test idlers along the 5-7km of conveyor belt taking iron ore from Gudai-Darri’s crusher to its stockpiles. There are around 3000 idlers (spinning bits of metal that propel the conveyor along) for every km of belt. From early next year Rio’s engineers hope to have the robot automated, perpetually running a process manual assessors only complete in full every 12 weeks. By catching symptoms of failing idlers early, the company hopes to reduce the 60 hours of downtime each eight months from unplanned maintenance shutdowns at the fixed plant attributed to idler failure.
Notorious DLE: The lithium extraction technologies gunning for the crown
Instead of concentrating lithium by evaporating brine in large pools, DLE technologies aim to extract about 90% or more lithium through different methods, the most common of these being sorption (also known as adsorption), ion exchange, and solvent extraction. But investors still have a lot to learn when it comes to DLE, with the term commonly used to capture technologies that are still in the R&D phase.
“The lithium market is still really small, we’re up to 1 million tonnes of global lithium production, and it takes longer to build these projects than it does a hard rock mine. But a lot more are being built so there will be an exponential rise in the production from these projects in years to come.”
Optimizing Mineral Processing Plant Performance
Some commonly used methods in mineral processing are X-ray fluorescence, which is a well-established industry standard and is sometimes used for online analysis and process control in mineral processing plants.
However, X-ray fluorescence has its limitations as it is not well-suited to the measurement of light elements in complex mixtures such as slurries. Some approaches for mineral processing that overcome some of the limitations of X-ray fluorescence is prompt gamma neutron activation analysis (PGNAA) and pulsed fast neutron thermal activation (PFTNA). PGNAA uses an isotope as its neutron source, whereas PFTNA uses an electrically generated neutron source.
PGNAA is ideal for cross-belt analysis in mineral processing plants as no sample preparation is required for analysis of the material, and the technique can be multiplex, so multiple conveyors can be analyzed simultaneously.
⛏️ International investors pile into BHP-backed mining tech start-up, Plotlogic
BHP-backed mining tech start-up Plotlogic has banked a $US28 ($43 million) series B funding round, co-led by Galvanise Climate Solutions, a US-based investment firm founded by former Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer and SE Ventures, the venture arm of French energy and automation giant Schneider Electric.
Founded in 2018 by ex-mining executive Andrew Job while doing his PhD at the University of Queensland, Plotlogic uses advanced sensors and artificial intelligence to determine the quality of minerals and metals. Mr Job said Plotlogic’s revenue had increased 10-fold over the past 10 months and the technology was being used by the likes of BHP, Brazilian miner Vale, South32 and leading lithium company Pilbara Minerals to help increase output and reduce waste.
Plotlogic’s OreSense technology combines LIDAR (laser-based light detection and ranging, hyper-spectral imaging) and machine-learning algorithms to deliver a more accurate view of an orebody.
Innovating Metallurgical Equipment Design to Meet Flotation Plant Layout Challenges
One of the key design principles that holds true is that minimizing the equipment’s hydraulic head requirements can potentially minimize the number of pumps needed in a plant. This not only reduces energy demand, but also lowers operational and maintenance costs. Additionally, by minimizing the head requirement, one can free up space for additional process functions needed in the plant.
An example of this principle in action is the design of large flow rate sampling equipment. Traditional sampling systems for flow rates of 35,000 cubic meters or more often require splitting the final tails into two samples, which results in complex reconciliation and recombination processes. However, samplers that can operate at flow rates of up to 40,000 cubic meters an hour and incorporate all sampling stages at one floor level not only simplifies the process, but also saves height in the tails of the plant, reducing the overall cost of construction.
🚃 Missouri start-up gets $200,000 grant to accelerate US autonomous railcar technology
Intramotev, a Missouri based technology startup working on developing autonomous, zero-emission rail solutions, has been awarded a $200,000 grant from Michigan’s Office of Future Mobility and Electrification to support the deployment of three of its TugVolt self-propelled railcars at a mining site in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in late 2023.
The civic investment will catalyze the first deployment anywhere in the world of self-propelled, battery-electric railcars for commercial use in a freight rail operation, Intramotev said, adding that it will also begin to fulfill the company’s goal that initial applications of its technology will include captive routes between mines and processing facilities, as well as intra-plant and ports.
This AI Hunts for Hidden Hoards of Battery Metals
The mining industry’s rate of successful exploration—meaning the number of big deposit discoveries found per dollar invested—has been declining for decades. At KoBold, we sometimes talk about “Eroom’s law of mining.” As its reversed name suggests, it’s like the opposite of Moore’s law. In accordance with Eroom’s law of mining, the number of ore deposits discovered per dollar of capital invested has decreased by a factor of 8 over the last 30 years. (The original Eroom’s law refers to a similar trend in the cost of new pharmaceutical discoveries.)
Our exploration program in northern Quebec provides a good case study. We began by using machine learning to predict where we were most likely to find nickel in concentrations significant enough to be worth mining. We train our models using any available data on a region’s underlying physics and geology, and supplement the results with expert insights from our geologists. In Quebec, the models pointed us to land less than 20 km from currently operating mines.
Over the course of the summer in Quebec, we drilled 10 exploration holes, each more than a kilometer away from the last. Each drilling location was determined by combining the results from our predictive models with the expert judgment of our geologists. In each instance, the collected data indicated we’d find conductive bodies in the right geologic setting—possible minable ore deposits, in other words—below the surface. Ultimately, we hit nickel-sulfide mineralization in 8 of the 10 drill holes, which equates to easily 10 times better than the industry average for similarly isolated drill holes.
Improving Conveyor Belt Safety For Mining Worksites
In 2020 alone, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) reported 29 fatalities in the mining industry in the United States. Additionally, the MSHA reports that the rate of non-fatal injuries in mining was 2.9 per 100 full-time workers in 2020–indicating the importance of ensuring proper safety measures are in place to prevent accidents and injuries in mining operations.
While essential to many large-scale mining operations, conveyor belts are involved in many mining site safety incidents. Conveyor belt accidents often highlight a lack of training, an absence of proper PPE, or a failure to implement the right safety measure to protect the employees who operate, maintain, or work alongside of these belts.
Lockout Tagout (LOTO) is a safety procedure used to protect workers from hazardous energy machinery and equipment, such as conveyor belts. Wireless emergency stops are a valuable safety feature that can make bulk material handling on conveyor belts in mining safer. These stops allow workers to shut down the conveyor belt quickly and safely from a distance if an emergency arises. Unlike traditional emergency stops that require physical contact with the machinery, wireless emergency stops can be activated remotely, providing an additional layer of safety if something unexpected occurs.
⛏️ Inside Albemarle’s Kings Mountain North Carolina lithium mine
Albemarle Corporation, which supplies lithium to Tesla and other automakers and operates the only active lithium mine in the US at the Silver Peak mine in Nevada, owns the ~1,100-acre site that includes the former mine in Kings Mountain, along with a lithium hydroxide plant and R&D facility. The Charlotte-based specialty chemicals company doubled its lithium conversion capacity in 2022, and over the next few years it plans to build a facility capable of processing 100,000 tonnes of lithium and other battery materials somewhere in the Southeast.
But even with skyrocketing demand from the influential US auto industry, federal support, and a site that previously provided lithium for decades, Albemarle could still be five to 10 years away from production in North Carolina—and that’s if things go smoothly for the company
Caterpillar Announces Collaboration with Luck Stone to Scale Autonomous Solutions to the Aggregates Industry
Caterpillar Inc. (NYSE: CAT) announced a collaboration with Luck Stone, the nation’s largest family-owned and operated producer of crushed stone, sand and gravel, to deploy Caterpillar’s autonomous solution to Luck Stone’s Bull Run Plant in Chantilly, Virginia. This will be Caterpillar’s first autonomous deployment in the aggregates industry and will expand the company’s autonomous truck fleet to include the 100-ton-class (90-tonne-class) Cat® 777.
Looking to accelerate autonomous solutions beyond mining, Caterpillar will implement its existing Cat® MineStar™ Command for Hauling system at the Bull Run quarry, on a fleet of 777G trucks. This will allow Caterpillar to gain greater insights on quarry operations in order to tailor the next generation of autonomous solutions specific to quarry and aggregate applications. This project supports the acceleration of autonomous technology for operations with fewer mobile assets to allow a step change in safety and productivity, as currently experienced at large mining operations.
How mining companies reach the operational excellence gold standard
While the ten largest companies in the manufacturing and business services industries have seen their productivity index grow by around 15 percent and 25 percent respectively over the past 25 years, the ten largest companies in the mining industry have seen only marginal growth of around 1 percent over the same period.
The mining industry also has several unique features that may help explain why a culture of operational excellence has not yet been widely adopted. Productivity in the sector is often constrained by physical factors, such as ore quality. The industry also has a heavy focus on technical elements and capital levers rather than organizational culture and processes, while its dispersed and fragmented nature creates barriers to sharing best practices.
Miners Are Relying More on Robots. Now They Need Workers to Operate Them.
In this remote corner of western Australia, surrounded by clusters of low-lying scrub and red rocky outcrop, the world’s second-biggest mining company has built its most technologically advanced mine. For Rio Tinto, PLC finding the workers to run the new high-tech operation is a challenge.
Automation helped miners to become more efficient and avoid disruptions triggered by the pandemic, when sudden border closures marooned workers who used to jet in from afar for their shifts. But the companies’ investments are doing little to solve a broader labor crisis affecting an industry that still needs a large staff to keep their operations running smoothly.
Moving mining forward: Reducing downtime during mill relining
A new perspective on the mining industry
Certain geologies and structures ultimately have different vulnerabilities. Entering known data into a simulated environment or kind of digital twin, can help figure out the unknowns, assisting miners to decide where and how to apply their efforts. This is essential for remotely managed or autonomous vehicles that can achieve low waste, and efficient extractions in harsh or dangerous locations. Autonomous vehicles can actually extend operation hours, increasing productivity as well as reducing the use of energy hungry and personnel centred equipment. In an IoT network these may increasingly incorporate ‘intelligent’ or ‘smart’ devices that not only store or transmit but process data – as in a ‘smart factory’. “We’re seeing opportunities with sustainability oriented projects in Canada and Europe,” Sym-Smith says.
Minexx’s software platform uses blockchain digital distributed ledger, payments, biometric and IoT technologies to create much-needed trust and transparency around quality and methods of production. This helps clients manage aspects of know your customer (KYC) and anti-money laundering regulations as well, giving them and the artisanal miners access to markets and better prices. “Once data is on the blockchain, you can’t change it. Then essentially you give the manufacturer the key,” Scaramanga says.
KoBold Metals Raises $192.5 Million to Use AI to Find Battery Minerals
KoBold aims to change the mind-set of an industry that has long relied heavily on sampling soil and sediment and drilling holes in the ground to determine whether areas contain valuable minerals. While the company still leans on those techniques, it hopes to limit the chances of failure by drawing on machine learning and other scientific computing techniques.
In September , KoBold formed an exploration alliance with BHP, the world’s largest mining company by market value. It is one of a number of partnerships it has with resources companies world-wide.
Accelerating mining safety and smart mines with limitless connectivity
Digitalization can have a tremendous impact on safety, giving mine operators a clearer picture of the full breadth of operations, monitoring critical factors like air quality and tunnel strength. An optimized mine, especially one with the latest in 5G-enabled private networks, can give miners those crucial seconds that can save lives.
As private wireless networks, including the latest generation in 5G, help revolutionize mission critical industries across the country, mining stands out as a place where connectivity can foster major improvements, from safety to efficiency and productivity to better sustainability. Mine operations can be optimized by collecting and analyzing tracking data on the precise location and performance of vehicles, equipment and personnel.
An App for Bulk Material Handling and Analysis in Cement Manufacturing
Cement analyzers provide real-time online elemental analysis of an entire raw material process stream using technologies like Prompt Gamma Neutron Activation Analysis (PGNAA) and Pulsed Fast Thermal Neutron Activation (PFTNA) technology. These analyzers can aid in consistent stockpile quality, reduced chemistry variability, decreased kiln upsets and kiln fuel costs, extended quarry life, and minimized use of highest cost materials.
Reducing Energy Costs by 8% by Optimizing Autogenous Mills
The grinding process alone accounts for 80% of the energy consumption. It consists of pulverizing limestone blocks to obtain the calcium carbonate used as a mineral filler in paper pulp.
Mills are the plant’s main equipment:
- 5 x 355 kW autogenous mills operating without prior crushing;
- 20 electric mills of various powers between 250 and 355 kW.
The case presented concerns only the autogenous mills, which are the most energy-consuming.
Mining 4.0 with SampleManager LIMS
The mining industry presents unique and complex challenges when it comes to data management. Responding to international regulations, integrating technologies used in different business units, controlling accurate inventory data and reliably managing mineral information are critical needs.
Companies in the mining industry need to efficiently manage all the variables that come into play, especially considering that it is a long production chain made up of diverse units that are physically separated from each other. Integrating the laboratory data with the rest of the production chain is key to improving operations and unlocking growth.
Why resources companies are looking to evented APIs
Resources companies that want to get the most value from their data will process it the instant that it is created. The longer that data is left unprocessed, the more it diminishes in value. Operational excellence can be driven by evented APIs that can produce, detect, consume, and react to events occurring within the technology ecosystem.
Evented APIs can be applied to our example use case to deliver an autonomous feedback loop that incorporates smarter decision making in real-time.
Using AI to Find Essential Battery Materials
KoBold’s AI-driven approach begins with its data platform, which stores all available forms of information about a particular area, including soil samples, satellite-based hyperspectral imaging, and century-old handwritten drilling reports. The company then applies machine learning methods to make predictions about the location of compositional anomalies—that is, unusually high concentrations of ore bodies in the Earth’s subsurface.
How did one of the world's largest robots end up here?
The autonomous train, consisting of three locomotives and carrying around 28,000 tonnes of iron ore, travelled over 280 kilometres from our mining operations in Tom Price to the port of Cape Lambert. It was monitored remotely by operators from our Operations Centre in Perth more than 1,500 kilometres away. Our AutoHaul™ team at the Operations Centre in Perth continued to hone the technology, running thousands of hours of tests. The AutoHaul™ project was made fully operational in June 2019, making it the world’s first fully autonomous, long distance, heavy-haul rail network.
“The time-saving benefit is enormous because the train network is a core part of the mining operation. If we can prevent those stoppages, we can keep the network ticking over, allowing more ore to be transported to the ports and shipped off more efficiently,” says Lido. “The other major benefit is safety,” he continues. “We are removing the need to transport drivers 1.5 million kilometres each year to and from trains as they change their shift. This high-risk activity is something that driverless trains will largely reduce.”