The mine sector may be lagging behind others in its embrace of digital technologies, but companies need to catch up to be sustainable, an industry leader said Thursday. “It’s clearly a different world we’re heading into,” said Rick Howes, CEO of Dundee Precious Metals, at a one-day conference on digital transformation. “We were focussing on the blue collar work; now we’re focussing on white collar work and how we use data.”
Howes was named an outstanding innovator in 2016 by the Mining Technology Hall of Fame for an operational performance project at his company’s Chelopech mine that uses new technologies to provide real-time production management.
If mines haven’t made as fast a leap into the digital future as manufacturers and other sectors, it’s largely because they are limited in their “strategic agility,” Howes told the conference audience. “Our ability to respond to change is very slow compared to other industries; it’s the nature of our business because of the way we invest in mines and mining technology, develop mines, build and operate them, and then shut them down.”
That cycle can last 30 to 40 years, he said, and requires a huge investment of capital. “It’s hard to transform the business once you’ve designed it and got it up and running,” he said. “And you are situated in remote areas, trying to get the skills and technology to transform your business.”
The mine industry evolved from a manual to a mechanized model, he said, and entered the world of automation far back as the 1990s. “But we weren’t really able to successfully take that advance and apply it in a consistent way across all of our mines.”
It’s not, however, that mine companies simply “are not very good at this,” he said. “It’s because the challenges we were faced with at the time were quite difficult … and it’s only now the solutions for that are starting to come about.”
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