Automation in Drilling Equipment Translate into Opportunities for Stakeholders in Underground Mining Ecosystem

Innovations in drilling equipment are at the core of operational targets for stakeholders in the underground mining value chain. Technology companies are developing new rock drills for underground rigs that offer better energy efficiency and increased durability. Drilling equipment currently accounts for the highest revenue amongst all equipment in the underground mining market, and is predicted to dominate the market throughout the forecast period. Drilling equipment is projected to be valued at a profitable revenue of ~US$ 7 billion by 2027, in the underground mining market.

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Due to the potential of exponential growth in drilling equipment, companies in the underground mining landscape are partnering to deliver blast automation. For instance, in November 2019, Orica – an Australian provider of commercial explosives and blast systems, announced A collaboration with Epiroc – a Swedish manufacturer of mining equipment. This collaboration was made to deliver WebGen™ – a wireless initiating system that offers insights on the automation of drill and blast operations. Companies in the underground mining market are increasing their efficiency in the development of automated equipment. They are customizing products by automating functions such as adding drill rods, and incorporating changing drill bits in their equipment. They are also developing smart connected machines that are programmed to complete tasks, such as executing a precise drilling sequence.

underground mining market infographic

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Drone Technology & 3D Printing Deliver Accuracy for Challenging Operations

Drones, AKA, unmanned aerial vehicle systems (UAV or UAS), are being increasingly used by mining operators for the efficient maintenance, monitoring, and mapping of site projects. Companies in the underground mining space are building autonomous drones that are capable of determining the suitability of underground areas, so as to ensure safety and accuracy. For instance, in December 2018, Australian technology start-up Emesent raised US$ 3.5 million in venture capital with CSIRO – an Australian federal government agency responsible for scientific research, to launch Hovermap. This technology automates the collection of valuable data, and helps stakeholders in the landscape to safely inspect the inaccessible areas of underground mines.

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Innovations in drones have led to the introduction of 3D printing and mapping in the underground mining market. Large and specialized equipment is susceptible to downtime due to malfunction. Hence, companies are adopting 3D printing as a solution to fast-track the procedure of building specialized parts onsite. 3D printing serves as a cost-efficient solution for operators in the underground mining market, since the technique helps reduce inventory costs by enabling operators to print parts as per requirement. On the other hand, 3D mapping offers a high degree of detail and accuracy with the help of the data collected by drones.

Investments in High-tech Equipment Helps Operators Lower Costs and Increase Safety

Certain challenges such as safety issues, rising operational costs, and fluctuation in commodity prices are a great concern for stakeholders in the underground mining supply chain. These obstacles explain the sluggish growth of the underground mining market, which is projected to account for a ~2% CAGR during the forecast period. In countries such as Australia, advertised wages for mining workers have significantly escalated upward in the past few years. Reason being, mines today are more complex and require skilled labor to execute challenging projects. Since older mines are reaching the end of their lifecycle, companies in the underground mining market are delving deeper into new mines, only to discover inferior-quality ores.

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