For the last few years there has been a quiet revolution going on in agriculture. One that may give clues as to what is about to happen in mining. Robots have arrived and they are changing everything!
Since mechanisation brought on by the industrial revolution, we have seen bigger fields handled by bigger machines in agriculture. It is all about economies of scale – a continuous march to dilute labour. Sound familiar? In the same time period, mines have grown in size and the equipment we use to extract resources have gotten bigger too.
Take a look at some Australian robot technology being developed for agriculture: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aLHM4SOlWwM.
Robots are changing the rules of that game. There is no labour to dilute. If the numerator goes to zero it doesn’t matter how big the denominator becomes – it’s still zero.
So what do the rules in mining look like in the robot world? Well instead of big, fast and few, it will be small, slow and many (swarming).
Small allows the automated machine to be highly selective and react to small changes, instead of dealing with averages. This maximises the grade quality and minimises wasted time and energy.
Slow means that the robot can be low cost in terms of upfront capex and ongoing maintenance.
Many is because each unit is far more affordable and we compensate for the slower speed by going parallel. We might see a similar output volume as a few, large machines, but with much higher grade and lower costs, therefore improving profitability.
This brave new future for mining is coming sooner than we think. In fact, we have already seen precursors to the revolution in the form of drones, automated trains and self-driven trucks on mine sites. The real question is, how will the truly enormous amounts of data created to fuel these systems be managed by mere humans? That’s what we’re working on here at GlassTerra.
Till next time,