The need for social distance triggers automation in the mining sector
The Covid-19 pandemic has caused the closure of numerous mining operations around the world. Once restrictions are no longer in place, companies must adapt to a new way of working. They could incorporate concepts such as social distancing. This need may then become the decisive factor for a revolution in mining.
At the beginning of April, the coronavirus pandemic caused the social and economic crisis, which led to confinement measures. It forced the closure of at least 1,600 mining operations worldwide, according to GlobalData.
Although the mining companies have been very discreet in revealing how the closure has influenced their production, some figures being published allow us to get a global idea.
The South African Mining Council has seen a drop in production of between 8% and 10% this year. The country ranks ninth among the largest gold producers, and it is the leader in platinum production.
The Mexican Mining Chamber estimated that the country’s mining production would fall around 17% in 2020. Mexico is the world’s largest producer of silver and the tenth-largest in gold.
The companies’ most significant concern is that the mines would become new sources of transmission of the disease due to the proximity of the workers.
Polish coal miners and South African gold miners have registered almost two hundred new infections. The mines, as a result, had to close their operations. It then seems that these incidents prove that the danger has not passed yet and that it will be challenging to return to regular and safe operations.
Operating machinery remotely is taking physical distance to its extreme
The key to activity resumption may be automation and remote management of mining machinery. This is an aspiration that the mining industry has had for years. This was apparent in 2008 in the project “The mine of the future” by the Anglo-Australian Rio Tinto company.
The Covid-19 pandemic and the need to change the way people work in mines can help accelerate the process of implementing automation in mining activities.
Sven Lunsche, the vice president of corporate affairs at Gold Fields miner, points out that if these technologies were already in place, there would not be the need to close any mines due to the pandemic. Operating machinery remotely is taking physical distancing to its extreme. It assures workers that they can carry out their work away from their colleagues and the areas of highest risk.
Resolute Mining, the company operating the Syama gold mine, confirmed that operations had not been affected and that the production is in line with expectations.
Nick Holland, the CEO of Gold Fields, is a strong supporter of automation in mining. He stated that Covid-19 would help accelerate mechanization, automation, and digitization of the mining industry.
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