Mining Technology, a news site, recently analysed hiring patterns in the mining industry using data gathered by data analytics company GlobalData, which follows the hiring patterns of thousands of businesses globally. In a publication on 5 August, Mining Technology announced GlobalData had found that rates of hiring for industrial automation jobs were the highest they’ve been in a year, with more companies in the mining sector demanding these skills. In addition, more industrial automation job vacancies were filled in Q2 of 2022 than in Q1.

To be precise, between July 2021 and July 2022, hiring for these jobs by companies involved in operations and technologies for the mining industry increased by 12%. Meanwhile, in the same timeframe, new job postings for such positions have risen by 2%.

Mining Technology also found through GlobalData’s figures that posted job advertisements were live online for a shorter time in Q2 of 2022 than in the same period of the previous year.

Why is there a rise in industrial automation job hiring in the mining sector?

The skills of the future – Industrial automation as a key disruptive force and job creator in the years to come

GlobalData has pointed out industrial automation as a major technological disruptor in corporations and businesses in the future, and companies should be focusing and investing more in industrial automation to prepare for the change that is to come – change to the business environment, jobs, and hiring.

The mining sector is already being disrupted by industrial automation technologies; operations at every stage of the mining chain are increasingly automated. Technologies are taking over certain tasks once performed by humans, especially dangerous jobs in open pits or underground mine tunnels that were once done manually by miners.

There’s no doubt automation is in mining’s future as it is rolled out to more mines, and skills relating to designing, engineering, and managing automation technologies will be in high demand. Although jobs closer to the rockface may be phased out, new jobs that previously did not exist will emerge, and there will also be a higher number of certain existing jobs.

Automation in mining means higher productivity and improved safety

The main reason automation is having such an impact in the mining industry is that it greatly improves mine safety – autonomous driverless vehicles are able to replace humans in pits and underground mines, for instance – and increases a mine’s efficiency, and leads to greater productivity. This means higher material output for the mine as well as more capital and savings on costs. The safety and productivity of mines will also become enhanced as advances in autonomous robotics continue.

At present, legitimate commercial mines are the safest they’ve ever been, with far fewer fatalities and many measures in place to make them less hazardous to be in. However, absolute safety is never guaranteed, with cave-ins and explosions still a possibility and hazards such as dangerous temperatures still present. Automation technologies, such adds a whole new level to mineworkers’ safety by removing human presence from the inside of a mine entirely – no more need for operators to take equipment through mine tunnels themselves and place themselves at any risk.

When it comes to efficiency in mine operations, autonomous technology is a winner, both in terms of creating greater material output and in terms of training personnel. Autonomous equipment has capabilities beyond those operated by humans such as greater precision – such as in drilling, for example – and the ability to go deeper underground to extract materials from deep ores.

Going deeper

As resources closer to the Earth’s surface become scarcer, underground mines will have to go deeper to access materials further underground. Autonomous technologies will become useful and eventually necessary to reach these new depths which would otherwise not be able to be reached by humans or remotely-operated machinery.

There are already examples of autonomous technologies in mines around the world.

Rio Tinto’s mine in Pilbara, Australia, is home to the world’s first driverless heavy freight train network which delivers iron ore from the mine and is completely autonomous. In another example, construction equipment company Caterpillar has rolled out a suite of autonomous heavy machinery, such as driverless bulldozers, loaders, and more.

In Mali, Syama Gold Mine, owned by Resolute, is reportedly fully automated. The mine almost only uses autonomous vehicles and drilling machinery.

According to the miner’s CEO John Welborn, these autonomous technologies are far more efficient and the results are far superior to manually-operated technologies. For example, he says, the mine’s autonomous long-hole drill rigs can “sense where the rock is, and then they autonomously drill out an absolutely perfect drill pattern in terms of depth [and] angle, which results in a significantly improved blasting outcome.”

This is further evidence that autonomous technologies are able to raise mine productivity and efficiency, suggesting more mines will adopt them in the future.

This indicates that there is likely to be a further increase in industrial automation jobs in the years to come.

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