Mining is one of the oldest and most dangerous professions on the planet. Due to the danger involved in mining, the industry as a whole has never been quick to embrace change. However, recent reports indicate that mobile technology innovations are helping to transform the current state of mining for the better. Mining mobile technologies are improving health and safety, while boosting productivity, by changing how people work in mines and particularly by improving communications.
Earlier this year, the Mining Global website forecast the growing collaborations between startups and mining companies. “Mining companies need to look for new ways to leverage new tech to remain innovative and agile in a changing market,” the mining resource stated. “Like other industries, the mining sector is beginning to look at ways to leverage and learn from new entrants in the field to remain competitive and cost-effective.”
A report from the Economist’s Intelligence Unit entitled ‘The Canary in the Mine’ touted the many benefits technological innovation can be present to the mining sector and how companies that have integrated mobile technologies are reaping the benefits. “The increasing use of devices such as handhelds, laptops and tablets is promoting the automation of work processes, speeding maintenance, aiding inspections and providing workers with step-by step procedures that are designed to maximize production and prevent accidents,” the report noted.
The report also concluded that 74 percent of mining executives believe the introduction of the technology has saved lives. 84 percent have seen an improvement in health and safety after adopting mobile technologies; they have also increased productivity by limiting the number of costly production stoppages and by speeding inspections and maintenance, proving mobile technologies do have a place in the mining sector.
Riva Richmond, the editor of the report, points out that mobile technologies have been shied away from in the past because the mining sector is such a dangerous environment. “But it is because it is so hazardous that they have so much to gain. Where they have been introduced, we have seen a safer and more productive workforce – and this is starting to win people over,” she wrote.
Last year, the Australian-based Resources Innovation through Information Technology (RIIT) organization held a 54-hour hackathon in an attempt to answer the real industry challenges of major mining firms. The hackathon was part of a larger initiative undertaken by RIIT aimed at helping to create 10 resource sector focused startups a year. Newton Labs was the winner of the 2014 hackathon. The startup designed an innovative prototype to detect large boulders in hard-rock mining operations, which can cost the industry millions in lost time.
Philip Thomas Mesman, an app developer and tech consultant in Oakville, Ontario and founder of PT Techconsulting, has been working with some resource companies to bring innovation to the mining sector. “It has been proven that companies that have invested in technologies, such as remote mining, autonomous equipment and driverless trucks and trains, have reduced expenses, while simultaneously driving up productivity,” Mesman said.
Mobile innovations aren’t only good for the bottom line, they are also helping to keep miners safe. “Above-ground mobile technology can alert supervisors and management of cave-ins, air supply breaches and other health concerns before any miners descend,” Philip Thomas Mesman added. “By connecting with underground sensors, mobile devices are also able to remotely alert operators to hazardous levels of gases and dust that can cause explosions or endanger the lives of miners.”
The tech consultant is also quick to point out how these applications can be enhanced and used in the years to come. “Some speculate the future of mining is to one day go galactic, and in that case mobile technologies will be especially necessary to monitor mines on other planets,” said Philip Thomas Mesman.