Copper mining represents the main business activity for countries like Chile, the top copper producer in the world. There are several mining companies, local and international that operate in mine sites in the north of this Andean country, performing extraction and processing tasks in order to do business in the Asian market.
However favorable the market conditions have been so far, copper prices are putting the profitability of this sector against the ropes. Amongst other reasons, both the price of copper and other commodities have plummeted due to the slowdown of markets like the Chinese.
Besides, companies must now implement energy-sustainability measures to mitigate the environmental impact of their operations. The urgency not only comes from governmental laws but also from the fact that sustainability is key to assure the prevalence of the activity long-term.
As a consequence of the above-mentioned issues, the mining companies had to thoroughly reassess the way they do things in order to be ready for future challenges.
Challenge 1: Ensure productivity in the mining processes
The Chilean Mining Council, formed by executives from the main mining companies, has predicted that the productivity would be reduced by 35% if this situation persists. In addition to the low price of the pound of copper, this is forcing companies to invest in technologies to maximize productivity and reduce costs in operations.
A clear example is the incorporation of IoT (Internet of Things) technology and robotics to the autonomous navigation of trucks for mineral transportation. In fact, Codelco, one of the most important mining companies in Chile, was the first one to jump in and solve this challenge.
In collaboration with Komatsu, Codelco has implemented autonomous trucks to optimize the productivity of its extractive fleet. The trucks are able to operate 24/7 at a preset speed while sending status and location reports. This innovation translates into great operative continuity and an extensive cost-reduction.
Challenge 2: Environmental commitment from mining companies
A series of mining projects have come to a halt due to environmentally related issues. The companies in the Council highlight that it is key for the development of the mining activity to have a clear understanding of the standards under which they must plan and build.
Some projects implemented by small-medium mining companies consist of resource optimization in the copper leach, which increases the productivity of the process. The prototype has a thermal covering for copper pools that ensure a stable temperature and prevent water evaporation, which reduces fuel consumption. Furthermore, this technology captures solar energy thanks to the transmittance of the covering and incorporates it into the system, optimizing the use of energy. The unique characteristics of this covering make it possible to increase temperature up to 2 °C, which translates into saving 80% of water and up to 15% of fossil fuel.
Challenge 3: A new innovative model
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Through Crowdsourcing, there are success cases where companies have optimized water and energy consumption in the resources sector, and improved transportation, assembly or maintenance processes in the energy and construction sectors, using mainly technologies such as robotics or IoT. At ennomotive’s online platform, you can face real-life engineering challenges from big enterprises, understand their needs and help them innovate and become more environmentally friendly.