A new report on mining technology has revealed resounding optimism across the mining, oil and gas industry, with 97 per cent of the mining leaders interviewed saying they are very optimistic about their prospects, and a quarter expecting sales revenue to grow between 20-50 per cent in the next 12 months.

The Equinix Mining Technology Report found this growth is primarily driven by strong market demand fuelled by urbanisation despite challenges faced over the last two years, including economic slowdowns, increased operational complexity, greater health and safety considerations, and pandemic-induced business disruptions.

To capitalise on this growth, more than 90 per cent of mining leaders are increasing their IT investment in the next 12 months, focusing on data analytics, artificial intelligence and integrated automation. They are also exploring greater collaboration through partnerships and joint ventures to meet demand for Australian minerals, and the adoption of hybrid and multicloud services will play a critical role in enabling this increased collaboration. For example, collaborative data environments that make it easy to transfer information to and from mine sites.

Additionally, there is a commitment to continue the transition to a high-tech industry, with increased investment planned in technology and innovation to address Australia’s productivity crisis and Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) goals. Mining leaders see their investment in technology will help them reach their sustainability, growth and productivity goals, reporting that these are the big-ticket opportunities. For 74 per cent of survey respondents, sustainability is the most important business priority.

However, there are several ongoing challenges in using technology to meet ESG goals. In particular, respondents noted that insufficient preparation for extensive automation, the need for transparent reporting, issues with implementation and logistics, and lack of technology support could be possible barriers.

Digital infrastructure will play an important role in the future mine, with automation, AI, IoT and other advanced technologies considered essential to both enhance operations on-site and move certain functions off-site. Technology will also play a critical role in other ways, such as the use of digital twins and data analytics in hypothesis testing, prediction and exploration as well as improving supply chain efficiency.

With mining sites and locations distributed globally, the increasing need for remote connectivity and global exchange of information is a trend expected to continue and ramp up.

Despite high levels of investment, miners are also challenged by workforce issues – recruiting and retaining talent. Other top challenges facing the industry include IT/OT security, the pandemic and CAPEX.

Mining leaders also expect market demand and organic growth (34.6 per cent) to be the biggest drivers of growth for the year, followed by acquisition, partnership and joint venture (25 per cent). Productivity-led growth (10.6 per cent) was also reported as key to the future, enabled by increased investment in technology.

Tania Constable, CEO, Minerals Council of Australia, said, “Australian mining has a good story to tell. It’s about our industry continuing to be world-leading and a major contributor to global societal change, playing a significant role in the transformation that is occurring across the world. It’s a story that brings forward technology and innovation, and emphasis the quality of our products.

“We are a reliable supplier of minerals to the world, and we that in a sustainable way. Technology must be at the forefront of our thinking because it plays a key role in today’s safety considerations, the need for greater sustainability, the fact that we need to decarbonise as a society at a domestic level, but also internationally.”

Michelle Ash, CEO, Dassault Systèmes GEOVIA, “In Australia’s mining sector, companies are really working collaboratively to address some of the most important issues in mining. Decarbonisation is obviously a key one. Automation too. There’s also been acceleration in terms of remote working and the use of remote operating centres, which has enabled us to dramatically increase diversity in the industry.

“There has also been an explosion in terms of use of data, collection of data and analytics. In my view, mining in the future is not going to have people at the coalface. Equipment will be automated; instead we’ll have people in offices, in workshops, so they can work in a much safer, healthier environment.”

Jon Wylie, Global President of Natural Resources Proudfoot, said, “We’re seeing a general growth or increase in activity. One of the drivers of this is an improved economic outlook and increased economic activity. Looking at the adoption of technology, the industry is relatively conversative, but it is very pragmatic as well and does accept and want to utilise best-in-class new solutions.

“There seems to be a perception that in order to have a fully robust technological solution we need to have all the infrastructure. I think we’re going to find that there are opportunities to have mixed or hybrid solutions, such as augmented intelligence or augmented operations.

“In addition, as we dive into IoT, digital twins and other collaborative technologies, we will get much more visibility around how preventative maintenance, procurement and all those things work together.”

Guy Danskine, Managing Director, Equinix Australia, said, “Our inaugural mining research report has revealed some fascinating insights on what is happening now and in the immediate future. It is evident the future mine will be digitally enabled, with increasing adoption of automation, artificial intelligence, internet of things and other advanced technologies. This future mine will generate massive surges in data volumes, which will necessitate investing in the right digital infrastructure.”

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