Mining is one of the most critical industries in the world and drives the very civilisation as we know it. It’s the source of resources for pretty much every enduring thing we’ve built as a society.
Despite its importance, the industry has attracted significant infamy, particularly in recent years. Unsafe environment for workers, ecological damage, high-profile disaster events and other factors have contributed mainly to the negative spotlight.
However, recent advancements in AR, VR and digital twin technologies have the potential to address these factors and transform mining into a responsible, safe and even cost-effective operation.
AR, VR and Digital Twins
As the name suggests, a Digital Twin is a digital replica of a real-world asset, process, map, system, or place. Video gamers would know that digital twins are hardly a new thing, and several games replicate city blocks or even entire cities for the entertainment of players.
However, augmented reality and virtual reality technologies are making digital twins drastically more immersive. IoT sensors on physical assets can relay real-time information to AR and VR devices to give the users every minute detail about the asset. They provide users with the feeling of “being there”, which is so crucial for making creative, spur-of-the-moment decisions. One can attribute these decisions to the skills or years of experience of humans.
In other words, AR and VR-powered digital twins are allowing people to “be there”, without actually being there.
Now, why is that Important?
Simply put, these technologies ARE revolutionising the mining industry.
Mining is unequivocally a dangerous job. Mistakes can prove costly, both to property and life. New miners joining the workforce or those using the latest mining technology for the first time are often prone to mistakes. VR and AR-powered digital twins can get the miners up to speed on the latest technologies, processes and best practices by giving them almost a real-world experience.
Digital twins are more than mere 3D images. One can use them as simulations of their physical counterparts. Mining businesses can subject them to a variety of conditions to understand the behaviour of the corresponding tangible asset under those conditions. Consequently, they can detect potential mining disasters, possible breakdowns and other issues before they even happen.
Subsequent preventive maintenance can help them avoid such maintenance issues and the expensive downtime (or even disastrous incidents) resulting from them.
Typically located in remote areas, miners go where the mines are. And, this relocation comes with a cost – high salaries.
Businesses can deploy AR and VR-powered digital twins in corporate offices in cities, or perhaps even allow their employees to use them from their homes. Several mining jobs can be transformed into remote jobs this way. Such positions would become increasingly more attractive, and labour would become less expensive. The attractiveness of these positions would be a result of miners not having to relocate or expose themselves to extreme risks
It’s challenging to identify inefficiencies in mining operations with traditional methods. Digital twins, on the other hand, can simplify this task.
For instance, one can replicate the hauling routes of truck operators in the digital twin and then use algorithms to optimise the routes. The algorithms can be fed a wealth of information. For instance sensors, infrastructure, accident hotspots, wind behaviour, driver proficiency and so on, even to make real-time optimisation decisions.
There are several advantages of AR and VR-driven digital twins over traditional technologies. Firstly, they provide a safe and protected environment for the user to test the corresponding physical systems. Secondly, they have no risk of harm to the tangible asset due to testing. Thirdly, they provide real-time information availability from physical systems. And, lastly, they create a highly immersive environment that blurs the line between the real and virtual world.
These advantages have made digital twins one of the top 10 defining innovations of this era. With mining businesses scurrying to extract maximum value out of this new tech, companies that ignore it run the risk of being left behind.