According to a newly released report from BDO Australia, by 2020, robots will replace more than 50% of miners, reducing mining accidents by 75%. It is estimated that half of the miners will themselves be retrained to run the technology controlling the robots.

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Robots are predicted to replace more than 50% of miners by 2020

The report, BDO’s Energy 2020 Vision: The Near Future of Mining, consists of predictions made by BDO’s natural resources experts from around the world.

According to BDO’s experts, “Mining is in the early stages of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, or Industry 4.0, and further digitisation is just around the corner.”

As part of this shift, The International Institute for Sustainable Development estimates that driverless technology will increases mining output by 15 to 20%, while decreasing fuel and maintenance costs by 10 to 15% and 8% respectively.

BDO experts predict that by 2020, global mining companies leveraging Internet-connected sensors and automated drillers in mines will decrease their per ton digging costs by more than 30%.

Robots

BDO predicts that robots will be at the forefront of most mineral extraction by 2020, with most in the workforce requiring to be retrained to run the technology controlling the robots.

Autonomous technology, however, is not a foreign concept to the global mining sector. Self-driving trucks and autonomous muckers and drillers are employed on site at almost all large mining operations. Drones are also utilised more for topography mapping and capturing images of inaccessible areas of the mine. Remote vein miners (RVMs) are being developed to eliminate the need to drill and blast to excavate rock—potentially reducing rock stress that can lead to seismic events.

With the shift towards robotics already taking place, albeit slowly, a full transition does not mean the end of a human mining workforce. Rather, it indicates an inevitable move towards a demand for reskilling.

Traditional operational positions such as drilling, blasting, and driving won’t escape downsizing, but will be replaced by demand for remote operators and maintenance personnel to create the new version of the miner.

What BDO sees emerging are digital mining jobs such as engineers, software developers, and data processing and data analytics specialists, which will attract “the technologically savvy millennial workforce”.

Cybersecurity

Although advancements in technology had aided in more sustainable mining methods, the industry is still perceived as being “dirty”, raising many environmental concerns including water and soil contamination; carbon emissions; and impact on local flora and fauna.

BDO predicts that by 2020, pressure from environmental activists will increase. The modern-day activist, however, will not disrupt operations through physical protest, but through a keyboard.

The hacktavists – activtist hackers – are anticipated to issue “at least five Permanent Denial of Service (PDos) cyberattacks on mines around the world”, motivated by eliminating the environmental and social threats they pose.

PDoS attacks are the next generation of Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks – which temporarily disable operations – and aim for permanent destruction. In a PDoS attack, hackers’ goals include destroying physical equipment and structures, disabling services, and/or wiping out data. For global mining companies in the early stages of harnessing big data, losing seismic and reserves data would be damaging to their ongoing operations.

The key to mitigating the cyber threat will be information sharing. Companies like Goldcorp and a group of Canadian miners have moved to create a joint task force to increase knowledge sharing specific to the real and present cyber warfare dangers to mining assets.

After hackers penetrated Goldcorp’s IT network, stealing troves of data including sensitive financial information, Luis Canepari, Vice President of IT at Goldcorp acknowledged that the event was a “real eyeopener”.

“We were quite frank about what had happened and what we needed to do better”, he said.

“You can’t wrap yourself in a cocoon. Secrecy does not help.”

Cybersecurity risk mitigation plans for mining organisations should focus on: Operational technology; emerging technologies; M&A; third-party management.

Other factors predicted to impact mining include the pursuit of renewables as an energy source – estimated to account for a quarter of global electricity generation in the future; and the introduction of EU’s Conflict Minerals Regulation, effective in 2021.

The regulation is EU’s effort to stem trade in minerals that finance armed conflicts and terror groups, with mining companies expected to establish by 2020, supply chain due diligence for imports of tin, tantalum, tungsten and gold (3TG). The rule aims to ensure European industries use responsibly sourced minerals, stemming proceeds that finance armed conflict in high-risk areas.

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