The recent MINExpo 2021, the sector’s largest event, brought together the mining community from across the globe to focus on today’s most important issues and challenges. With this the first expo in five years—and the first post-pandemic—the event offered a unique glimpse into the current state of mining.
Drawing on observations from the wide range of equipment, technologies and services on display at the exhibition, as well as takeaways from the various panel and industry presentations, several trends emerged at this year’s event. Outlined below, these trends point to areas where technology and innovation are having the most impact —as well as to areas where more progress and focus is needed.
Trend 1: The sustainability imperative is emerging as a key narrative with many suppliers anchoring to it
Not surprisingly, the solutions and services highlighted at the expo mirror one of the most critical issues of our day—sustainability. As an increasingly important strategic consideration for mining companies, the industry is working to better articulate its sustainability story. Mining companies are beginning to set ambitious emissions reduction targets and will need to identify the technologies to help achieve those goals. As such, nearly every major original equipment manufacturer (OEM) introduced equipment or solutions aligned to meeting sustainability goals and objectives.
There was a particular emphasis on energy-focused solutions and technologies. Electrification, fuel switching, power generation and renewable energy were all demonstrated with the solutions featured by the large OEMs and the ecosystem of suppliers. Solutions also focused on hybrid approaches that can help ease the transfer to electrification as well as promote energy efficiency.
Trend 2: OEMs ever increasing their focus on platforms and partnerships
Across the board, OEMs are rapidly developing digital platform solutions to augment traditional equipment and service offerings. These digital platforms are enabling planning, management, monitoring, control, safety, and analytics. From the automation of an individual machine to the integration of mixed fleets, there is a focus on both quality, volume and performance indicators that can be used in predictive maintenance, real-time monitoring to improve situational awareness, and analytics for operational insights and improvement.
While some OEMs remain equipment-specific, most are vying for dominance in this space and going all in on providing digital operational platforms enabling holistic management and in future full automation across the mining value chain. Marketing their platforms as open, several suppliers are already partnering with large technology players to better provide holistic offerings that include infrastructure and services such as networking and Internet of Things (IoT) security.
Trend 3: Achieving zero-harm remains a key goal, but there is still a way to go
Equipment suppliers continue to support progress towards zero-harm with technologies such as remote operations of equipment and drones or robots performing dangerous activities. However, the key action of removing people from harm within mines and plants is still challenging.
Even with the innovations available, the last mile of safety faces several hurdles from challenges such as failed adoption, shortcomings in infrastructure, interoperability between solutions or tools, and high solution cost. For example, personal safety devices such as smart helmets and wearables are widely available, but current pricing models and infrastructure issues, such as ubiquitous communication networks within mines, are preventing widespread adoption.
Trend 4: The supplier ecosystem remains fragmented across the mining value chain
With more than 1,300 exhibitors at the expo, it was made very clear that there is a plethora of suppliers. As such, apart from several recent acquisitions and partnerships among OEMs and larger solution providers, the supplier base remains fragmented.
There a few reasons for this. Using off-the-shelf hardware, a range of new entrants have emerged that are “copy-catting” the solutions of larger providers but at a significantly reduced cost. Their solutions can also be more cost effective given that they provide only key capabilities—such as visibility into the fleet performance through real-time tracking—versus the more sophisticated features that larger providers’ solutions offer, such as load haul optimization, which often go unused. New entrants with niche offerings that are focused only on specific activities within the mining value chain are also cropping up more and more.
Trend 5: Many newer technologies remain at the fringe of the industry
As could be seen on the MINExpo floor, innovation in mining is as strong as ever. However, the widespread adoption of new technologies seems to remain limited. Drones, robotics, wearables, and augmented reality have made significant advancements with proven applications and use cases for several years now and yet don’t seem to be getting full traction.
It’s not that mining companies aren’t acquiring these technologies. Rather, the question is whether they are truly becoming embedded in day-to-day mining operations and whether the envisioned value is delivered. When it comes to new technologies, companies may need to re-engage in a dialog as to their targeted value and consider whether the business case needs redefining in order to drive wider adoption or perhaps if some technologies are not moving the needle as much as expected on efficiency, cost reduction, safety, and productivity an assessment might be required to understand the root causes that needs to rectified to achieve these benefits.
Sustainability, innovation, digital platforms, and partnerships—all of these are important themes and will be playing major roles in defining the future of mining. True, some areas such as zero-harm, supplier fragmentation, interoperability and tech adoption still needs attention and focus to be achieved or addressed. But as evidenced at MINExpo 2021, the sector continues to benefit from innovative technology, driving productivity, safety and building competitive advantage towards a more sustainable future.
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Andrew is both the Global, and Canadian Leader of the Mining & Metals practice as well as the Global Leader for the sector. In his Global roles, Andrew leads a team from around the world and has the responsibility to set the strategic direction and go-to-market strategy for the global practice. With 20 years of industry and consulting experience, Andrew has a passion for client service, having worked across many major Mining & Metals geographies including Canada, Chile, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Brazil, Germany, India, South Africa, UK, and the US. Andrew’s areas of expertise include corporate and competitive strategy engagements, digital and innovation systems and large organizational transformation programs.