For all my excitement about the Big Iron on display at MINEXPO 2021, my biggest takeaway from the event is that software is rapidly taking over from hardware as the key to future growth and innovation in the mining industry as it looks to boost the operational efficiency, strengthen onsite safety, and mitigate the environmental impact of its activities.
The most vivid example of this trend that I saw at the show was a live demonstration by Komatsu of a vehicle located in Arizona being operated remotely by a driver on the show floor. Not only does this technology enhance the safety and wellbeing of drivers by allowing them to operate the machine in the quiet, air-conditioned comfort of their virtual cabin. It also increases productivity and ROI by enabling the measurement of load sizes and other critical data that can be analyzed on the cloud to identify further efficiencies in the excavation process.
Another key benefit of the technology is the potential it has to facilitate driver recruitment and retention by providing a more amenable working environment well away from the dust, noise, and heavy vibration of the vehicle cabin. Immersive training using the data garnered from the vehicle’s sensors and the cameras tracking the driver’s movements can not only help new recruits get up to speed much faster than traditional methods; it also makes it easier for more experienced drivers to stay at the top of their game while enabling managers and medical professionals to identify possible physical and mental health issues before they become serious.
The transition to remote and ultimately fully autonomous mining vehicles is still in its early stages. But judging by my experiences at MINEXPO the adoption of software, cloud, AI, and related digital transformation technologies by the mining industry is accelerating at an ever-rapid rate. It’s going to be fascinating to see how much progress the industry has made when we attend its next major global event, CONEXPO-CON/AGG 2023.