Sudbury

Automation becoming more prevalent in mining, says executive

Mining companies are starting to transform how they operate, namely by embracing automation in underground work, according to a senior executive at Barrick Gold.

Automation is the key to the future of innovation in the industry, experts say

An autonomous haulage system, or trucks that are operated remotely, are part of the innovation that is going on in the mining sector. At a mining conference held in Sudbury this week, Barrick Gold's Sr. Vice President of Transformation and Innovation says one of their goals is to get people out from underground and onto the surface. (Komatsu)

Mining companies are starting to transform how they operate, namely by embracing automation in underground work, according to a senior executive at Barrick Gold.

Michelle Ash, the senior vice president of transformation and innovation for the Toronto-based mining company spoke at the mining innovation summit in Sudbury, Ont., which wrapped up Tuesday.

The wear and tear on the componentry is significantly less," she said of the use of automated equipment underground.

"We've seen that in our Hemlo Mine, where trucks have gone in for their major rebuild at 20,000 hours and ... everything is almost pristine."

A number of components didn't even need to be replaced, she added.

The summit brought together experts from across North America — in fields including academia, the mining industry, entrepreneurs and government, as well as representatives from Indigenous communities — to discuss ways of supporting research and development in Ontario's mining sector.

Getting people to the surface

Ash said she was astounded by the number of mining companies and suppliers that are talking about some form of digitization of their processes or technology.

She added that one of her company's goals is to get people out from underground and onto the surface.

Not only will that make the work environment safer, but embracing digital technology can make the work faster, cleaner and more efficient, she said.

"Using the power of computing, not only to augment our people's abilities —  so their decision making, their insight, and their ability to communicate and understand  —  but also to transform our processes," Ash said.

"Speed them up, reduce the resources required or, in some cases, eliminate them."

Mike Gravelle, the Minister of Northern Development and Mines was a speaker at the summit, as was Laurentian University president Dominic Giroux.

Northern development and mines minister Michael Gravelle stands with Douglas Morrison, the president and CEO of the Centre of Excellence in Mining. The province announced $2.5 million dollars in funding for CEMI on Tuesday. (Ministry of Northern Development and Mines)

Gravelle was also there to announce $2.5 million for the Centre for Excellence in Mining Innovation's ongoing work with ultra-deep mining projects.

The investment aims to help companies develop technologies to enhance the safety, efficiency and sustainability of their operations.

"We know that there are going to be great opportunities as a result of innovation," he said on Tuesday. "The absolute best in the skills trade are still very much in demand in the mining sector in the mines that are in place right now."

Gravelle added that the mining industry has faced a lot of challenges but continues to move forward.

Sudbury is home to nine research institutes focused on mining innovation.

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