Every four years, businesses from all over the world gather for MINExpo, the largest mining conference and trade show in the world. Economies and technologies can change dramatically in four years, which makes every MINExpo vastly different from the last.
Held in Las Vegas last week, 2016’s edition of the conference revealed a mining industry in the midst of a paradigm shift. The recent commodities market downturn dramatically reduced profit margins, creating competitive pressure to increase operational efficiency and maximize the value of existing assets.
This competition has led to market consolidation and technological innovation. For decades, this big iron industry has created larger and larger vehicles and equipment, built gargantuan to extract as much volume as possible. But smaller margins and tighter competition have made it harder to afford new machines in recent years. Site managers are looking for opportunities to maximize the value of the machines they already have, pursuing efficiency over raw production capacity. Smaller companies that can’t keep up are being acquired and retrofitted by larger organizations with stronger financials. This consolidation is leading to the most sophisticated IT infrastructure in the industry penetrating deeper into the market.
These trends were visibly present on the MINExpo floor. Big yellow iron was front and center. But there were attendees from all over the world present to learn about the technology that will turn big iron into smart iron. Sensors and automation were at the forefront of the conversation, and drones played a key role. The most advanced companies are already proving that serious improvements in productivity and safety can be made by deploying these technologies, from drones in the air to lasers embedded in underground trucks. Sensors provide site managers with better data, helping monitor site activity and optimizing operations, and automation is increasing safety on sites by keeping humans out of harm’s way.
Though these are challenging times for the market, many leaders at the event demonstrated an optimism for the future of the industry. Equipment dealers are stepping up to the innovation plate and delivering comprehensive plans for job site digitization backed up by technology. Caterpillar, the largest manufacturer of mining equipment in the world, is working with companies like Airware to bring new technologies into the job site.
This is an industry in transition. There will be winners, and there will be losers. But for those who are up to the challenge, this is an opportunity. The mining industry, historically slow to change, is waking up to its own potential. MINExpo showed that the potential is as big as the iron.
If you’d like to learn more about how drones and data can make a mining site more competitive, click here.