AR and VR in Mining Industry : Transforming the Future

Uses , Possible AR Systems , Different Digital Platforms & Apps for the Mining Industry

According to the global analysis of the world mining industry in 2018 performed by an Australian firm PwC , the Mining industry has a market capitalisation of around 926 billion USD, which is 30% higher than that of in 2017. Other essential data are as follows:

  • Revenues increased by 23% to 600 billion USD
  • EBITDA rose 38% to 146 billion USD
  • Net profit up 126% to 61 billion USD
  • Employee costs increased by 5%
  • Female board representation increased to 19%

Minerals beneath the earth are treasures gifted by nature. On one side, the data mentioned above brings a smile, but it has a flip side too. If we carefully go through the 2018 Deloitte report regarding the challenges faced by the mining industry, it will help us understand the kinds of crises the mining industry is facing.

(Source: Deloitte)

  • Lack of digitalisation at mining sites.
  • “Status Quo” situation without new innovative ideas for the same.
  • Being infamous for the working conditions and exploitation of the miners.
  • Poor relations with the stakeholders.
  • Lack of research and development for training
  • Inefficient water management.
  • Incompatibility with the market needs.

The point to be noted here is that despite these challenges, the mining industry has shown tremendous growth. So, we can well imagine if these challenges are appropriately addressed, the growth of the particular sector will be beyond expectations. Most of the difficulties mentioned in the Deloitte reports can be solved by using the newer technological innovation termed as Augmented Reality (AR). It is the type of change that combines the digital world with the real world. To date, we have seen many applications of AR that find use in various fields. Let's now focus on the question of exactly how the AR will be helpful in the mining industry.

The Use of AR in the Mining Industry

The goal is to solve the problem of innovation and to reduce the hazardous condition for human beings. AR can help in defining the exact target areas for blasting as well as to improve training for new workers and sensing the real situation imaginarily. AR in mining will increase accuracy and safety. Ultimately, it would lead to a marked difference in productivity by making the mining smarter than what it is today. The mining industry has proper plans for exploration and includes exploring the minerals, selection of the site, drilling depth identification, handling the sand and clay, and transporting the extracted minerals, etc.

AR can help at every stage of the mining process. Let’s see AR systems’ applications step by step in various stages of it.

Possible AR Systems in Mining
  1. AR in Drilling Operations

    AR can help in the visual guidance of the drilling process to the new workers. Also, AR can be extended for providing real-time location and the orientation of the drill bit between the rock surfaces. It will facilitate the driller for faster reaction and needed adjustments to improve the drilling accuracy at 100%. AR will help in having the real-time data analysis of the stress generated in the drill bit to prevent the sudden rupture of a drill. Thereby ensuring the safety at the mining site.

  2. AR for Navigational Aid & Operator Assistance

    AR visuals could greatly benefit surface mining operations with poor visibility, due to high amounts of dust or rain, for safety purposes. AR applications could be made to allow the operators to see hazardous scenarios and objects. These objects could be of any type like road boundaries, approaching vehicles, or the distance to reserve the dumping site crusher. The beneficial virtual overlays could include information on a vehicle travelling speed, current load, remaining fuel capacity, estimated duration until next required fuel refill, and a GPS guidance system. Operator efficiency and average load per hour could also be monitored and displayed to encourage operators to improve their productivity.

    (Source: University of Pretoria report)

  3. Maintenance and Repair

    AR can be exclusively used for the routine PM (preventive maintenance) rather than stereotyping it and being taken for granted maintenance tasks. Maintaining various instruments working on the mining site is an essential part. With the help of AR, one could have the data of any machine or device on the table itself in digital form. This data can be used to analyse the current situation of the particular machine and hence deciding the maintenance to reduce the deterioration of it.

    (Source: Google)

Live video chats can be held with distant or off-site experts for consultation while working on a specific task. Furthermore, the expert could also be able to see what the AR user is seeing through a camera installed on an AR device while he/she is doing his work. The Virtual 3D holograms or 2D inputs that are being viewed by the user can then be operated by the said expert to discuss specific parts, areas, or items. The above figure shows an example of applying AR for maintenance in the military industry.

(Source: Google)

We've seen so far the use of augmented reality in the case of the mining industry. Besides the use of AR, VR, too, can perform for the betterment of the mining industry. VR is an entirely unknown universe. In other words, a world that goes beyond our imagination. Unlike AR, VR does not combine the real world with the digital one. Though, VR finds its place firmly in helping to solve the problems of mining industries. Let’s have a look.

VR in the Mining Industry

The very first and crucial part of the mining process is blasting. If it goes wrong, it may cause fatal injuries to the people working on the site as well as a loss of various properties too. To overcome this problem and to ensure the perfect blasting, VR is helpful.

VR can train one efficiently and ensures that trainees practice their skills. One is required to sit in a dark training room with a rock presented on a huge interactive canvas. An electronic spray would be used to create a measured mark on the blast points, and the trainees would be required to practice igniting the explosives in the correct sequence and in a default sequence that is almost real. While going through this, they can witness the cracking of rocks, their reaction as well as fracture. In case, some mistakes occurs, it can be emphasised with the help of markings.

One can try and visualise that they are in an office on a mining site, and a trainer asks you regarding the process of inspecting an excavator before your shift starts. You could be a novice to the industry and hardly have any experience as a mining operator. The instructor could be excellent, but maybe you were bored and lost interest after 20 minutes of being still in one place.

Let's imagine something different; you have put on a VR headset and are part of a virtual environment that is precisely similar to the mining site where you are supposed to be working. One can go through the machine along with the instructor, have a close look at it, use the handheld controllers, and discuss things that are difficult to understand. With this, the required details erupt along with vital points. An example of the Use of VR in the Mining Industry

The result and output of the EMIMSAR system was so positive that RAG, the German coal miner, immediately installed it. RAG, KOMAG (Polish Mining Automation Institute), along with DMT, worked for the development of the system. As of now, it is being used for loaders, maintenance planning on longwall equipment, belt conveyors, etc. These days immersive VR is more of a global trend rather than being confined to specific markets. The University of Pretoria , in collaboration with Kumba Iron Ore , opened a US $1.3 million VR centre with all the state of the art facilities.

The centre has 3-D stereoscopic theatre, a lecture hall with an Immersive VR system, and a 3-D 360° cylinder. It provides access to modules showcasing a vast range of current environments and practical scenarios as well as products related to virtual reality simulation.

After this detailed discussion over AR and VR applications in the mining industry, the biggest question that automatically arises is regarding environmental degradation. Apart from the aspects of productivity and accuracy, one can also address the application of AR and VR in the mining industry, which would be concerning the impact on society as well as environmental safety.

We are well aware that the cobalt is mined and used for the batteries found in some of the smartphones and cars, about half of which gets extracted from the Dominican Republic. Though, the sad reality is the majority working in these mines are children. We hope with the advent of these advanced technologies, we would be able to keep the innocent lives away from the harm.

Effective water management can be achieved on the mining site by using smart technologies. It would address the problem of scarcity of water as well. Workers, especially the newer ones, generally make mistakes in initial training, and that is why they have to face exploitation from their bosses due to loss of resources during practice. Using VR and AR will prevent these scenarios and hence improving their self and social respect at the same time.

Different Digital Platforms & Apps of the Mining Industry
  1. XECUTE Mine Planner by RPM global

    XECUTE has been adopted at various sites worldwide. It was created to bring operational execution and short-term planning closer. As per the report by RPM Global, the organisations that have implemented the XECUTE have realised its importance and the fruitful results it could bring in.

  2. EcoStruxure Augmented Operator Advisor by Schneider Electric

    (Source: Schneider)

    An intuitive tablet interface that superimposes real-time data and virtual objects onto cabinets or machines gives the operators speedy and efficient access to relevant devices and process information. It combines local dynamic as well as contextual information for mobile users in the field.

  3. Virtual Reality Check

    It allows its viewer to immerse in the story completely. It helps in creating an escape scenario virtually, as shown in the figure below.

  4. Pocket Blast Guide by Orica Mining Services

    If you are into an integral and accident-prone task of blasting, a simple solution is the Pocket Blast Guide app by Orica Mining Services. It was introduced in 2012 during spring to offer product information, different conversions, calculations connected to blast, and other highly sensitive data. It led to the decrease in the role of paper-based manuals. The app is readily available offline, too, which makes it the best option to be used in mining locations without the coverage of internet, safety measures, and analysis of rock property and speeds up the process of carrying out delicate blasting calculations.

  5. Fly In – Fly Out (FIFO)

    The FIFO work schedule frequently used for remote mining operations is a boon for workers who often fly to a mine site and have to be away for several days before getting back to be with their family. It is a great way that gives one the chance to be in touch with their loved ones. It has been developed by Tyson Fitzgerald, a miner-turned-independent software consultant. It provides the miners the benefit to easily share their plan of duty/leave with their family and friends.

Summary

It's high time we move ahead of the old mining practices followed on sites. With the discovery of newer technologies, the world economy is continually evolving. It should be the case for the mining industry too. AR and VR could help us in preventing harm and maintain efficacy. It could have a substantial impact on raising the mining industry's capital as well.

At Plutomen Technologies , we offer various innovative solutions related to Augmented Reality for different industries to deliver customers with a surreal experience. Connect with our experts and get closer to the tool of your dreams.

Keyur Bhalavat Founder and Director

A young entrepreneur full of intellectual energy and concern that transform into an untiring center of knowledge seeking, unafraid of exploring new and fresh ideas however challenging they may happen to be in the field of technology.