Technology and Innovation in Gold Mining
IMARU CASANOVA: Technology innovation has become a lot more of a central topic, I feel, for the gold sector in recent times. I think gold mining companies, especially the large companies, have always been involved in technological innovation. But I think as investors, we're getting a much closer look at what the companies are actually doing and I would say, not just the large companies which have been leading these efforts historically, but also the smaller and mid-tier companies are very much now making room for technology.
I would say when you think about technology and innovation, you need to sort of break it down in two sections. There is the innovation when it comes to technologies that are specific to the gold mining industry, in processing, in mining technologies. Things that are done only in the gold mining sector and then you have technology and innovation when it comes to applying existing technologies to this sector. There's work being done in exploration technologies, in mine processing technologies, metallurgy, ore blasting, ore transport, and ore fragmentation and other areas such as water treatment and tailings management.
What technology is likely to be the most widespread in the industry?
I would say the single most advanced technology, the one that we can see becoming more broadly adopted in this sector within the shorter to immediate term would be automation. Remote controlling, automation or semi-automation of equipment such as drilling equipment, ore movement equipment, trucks … It should come as no surprise to us since we have cars that drive themselves now on our road. But it's exciting to think of a mine where more of this is happening. Which obviously has advantages from a productivity and a cost perspective, but also from a safety perspective. How has innovation impacted existing operations?
In terms of existing technology that is now being applied to the gold industry, and I like to refer to this as digitization of the gold industry, we know now it is now possible and it is economic to basically grab data from any piece of equipment or any part of the process. You don't have to wait until you have a new piece of equipment that brings the data sensor that allows you to grab that data. You can very cheaply now retrofit the sensors and data grabbers into basically any part of your operation to collect data and that's a huge difference. It’s kind of the internet of things. Now the next phase, and I think most companies are basically doing this, they are grabbing the information where they can.
So I think that's the next challenge now for the industry, is to apply this data in a way that you can optimize the operation. You can find ways to streamline processes to increase productivity and ultimately also to make it a safer operation and to reduce impact in the environment.
What does the future of mining look like?
Ultimately, the idea is to have a fully-integrated mine, a smart or intelligent mine if you might. Where all the different processes are talking to each other, so that the key components of the value chain are driving the decision making and I think we're getting there. It might take some time, but it's very encouraging to see the progress that the companies are making so far.