"Unfortunately, primarily due to risk aversion (of cost and technology) there is an old adage in the mining sector that 'miners like to be first to be second,'" says EY's Business Risks Facing Metals and Mining 2016 report which focuses on ten industry conditions that could create risks or opportunities for mining companies going into the new year. Amongst the risks highlighted by EY, innovation, or rather mining's natural aversion to innovation, makes the No. 10 spot.

"It is clear that compared with most other sectors, there is a deficit of transformational innovation in the [mining] sector," EY reported.
"The first automated truck was seen 20 years ago and yet there is not a complete fleet in existence at a mine."
The closest thing we have seen to having a fully automated fleet is Rio Tinto's Mine of the Future that touts a network of 69 unmanned haul trucks. Rio's competitors are working to catch up, but in 20 years should not the sector as a whole be farther down the innovation cycle with a technology that is clearly beneficial?

EY's point? Those that innovate will survive. Those that don't? Well, you get the idea.

So, where is the innovation? Driven by seemingly unending demand of the super-cycle's upswing and peak, mining companies were scaling with one focus: output. Little consideration was placed on productivity or innovation, only meeting demand as quickly as possible. However, with today's market now swinging the other direction, miners find themselves in opposite conditions with boards and investors highly averse to any spending outside of necessary operations.

Even amidst these conditions, EY suggests miners are still in a position for investment in innovation: "Just as 'necessity is the mother of invention,' so is super-correction the catalyst for fresh innovation in the sector." As short-term cost cutting methods have been depleted, the report goes on to recommend innovation as a major key to surviving the bottom of the cycle and positioning companies to take off when the anticipated upswing takes place.

As can be seen from the opening quote, though, mining companies that are interested in innovating face an uphill battle, both culturally and through current market conditions. Our aim today is to provide three ways mining companies can avoid the pain of incorporating innovation into their operations:

the Cover of the 2015-2016 EY business risks in mining and metals report

Despite polarizing arguments, manned and unmanned vehicles both hold significant benefits for the mining industry. Miners should look at identifying what mix of human labor and automation is right for their operation.

While studying up on automation in mining, one will generally run across two perspectives. The first perspective is that of automation supporters touting it as 'the' new disruptive technology that will solve nearly all mine safety issue while simultaneously creating dramatic improvements in productivity. The other perspective is that of human labor supporters raising warning flags that automation will eliminate most human-based jobs, leaving a working class unemployed and communities trampled and destitute while corporations line their pockets with profits.

With strong polarizing influencing tugging on this issue, what is the actual position that automation will eventually take? According to Accenture's Nigel Court, the most realistic place is likely somewhere in the middle. "Automation is now being looked at not as a panacea to fix productivity and efficiency on site, rather people are focusing on how it can be applied to solve specific problems encountered on site," Court told Australian Mining's Cole Latimer in his article A Revolution Revolt? The Next Stage of Mining Automation. Court went on to explain that one of Accenture's clients was considering full site automation, but after evaluation "they've come to realize that a combination of both manned and unmanned [is needed] to gain top performance."

Why might a mixed solution be the best?

general and specific intelligence working together

Humans are well equipped for more complex cognitive skills such as adaptation, critical thinking, and creativity. Where mining jobs require troubleshooting and problem solving, creating solutions and making decisions based on data analysis, and adapting solutions to a variety of variables, human labor far outshines machination.

Conversely, humans are not especially good at dull or repetitive tasks (we get bored or tired resulting in a loss of precision), and we generally like to avoid jobs that are dirty and dangerous. By design, machines/robots are much more accurate than humans, making them better suited for repetitive tasks that require precision over long periods of time. In dirty and dangerous tasks, safety would dictate that substituting human labor for machine labor is the best option.

Automated vehicles may provide the dramatic improvements in efficiency and productivity that today's miners are seeking, but that's not to say that automation is always the best solution. Humans deal very well with anomalies where machines may have trouble. For example, Court described a situation where automation technologies, many still in the testing/proving stages, may actually detract from efficiency:

"A rollercoaster ride" might be the only way to describe 2015 in the mining industry—minus the fun and thrill. Fueled by an economic slowdown in China and a collapse in commodity prices, mining companies globally have been feeling the pain and are turning to drastic measures as they try to cope.

In what reports say is China's largest layoff in recent history, the Heilongjiang Longmay Mining Holding Group Co. announced in late September that it would lay off approximately 40% of its workforce, a staggering 100,000 workers, in order to "stop the bleeding." Anglo American announced in early December it would release 85,000 workers over the next few years in a restructure that would shed 60% of assets.

general and specific intelligence working togetherCommodities price graphs were pulled from NASDAQ on Dec 12th, 2015. Y axis is adjusted to each commodity's price; They are not relative to each other.

With most miners reeling in a similar manner it might come as a surprise that one research group recommends mining companies begin now to invest in future growth. "The switch to growth is looming and assets are now still relatively cheap and ripe for opportunistic acquisition," states EY's Business Risks Facing Mining and Metals 2015-2016 report.
"Given the long lead time to develop new supply, decisions to invest for future growth have to be made now or long-term returns will be lowered."

"It is the paradox that long-term reinvestment and growth is essential for the sustainability of the sector and yet public capital markets are still demanding the opposite," the report continued. "Switch to Growth" made the No. 1 spot in EY’s 2015-2016 risk rankings.

Drastic short-term measures, such as cost cutting and layoffs, can only do so much before long-term solutions must be addressed. "Having reached a ceiling on cost reduction, mining companies have since made substantial progress with their productivity initiatives and working capital solutions," EY's report reads. "We believe that real productivity gains will only come from an end-to-end transformation." EY places "Productivity Improvement" in the No. 2 spot of their 2015-2016 risk rankings.

Nick Holland, CEO of Gold Fields, one of the world's largest gold mining firms, recently outlined many of the challenges faced by gold producers—as well as by miners of most other resources—and discussed the roadmap Gold Fields intends to take to thrive in today's mining environment. His address took place at the Future Mining Conference 2015 in Sydney Australia, November 4, 2015.

Holland shared that due to challenges in the recent years such as lower grade of ore deposits, significant global price drops, and cost inflation, "shareholder value [has slumped] by 50-80% since 2007." With pressures on global commodities, today's mining industry at large mirrors this trend, though Holland's presentation provided a dramatic window into just how piercing these pressures have been.
"The gold mine of the future has to be set up, structured, and managed differently from how it is today if it is to remain relevant and value-adding to all its stakeholders,"
Holland concluded.

ASI's bell-crank pedal actuation in a robotic ford durability vehicle

An autonomous rigid haul truck equipped with ASI's OEM agnostic vehicle automation kit.An autonomous rigid haul truck equipped with ASI's OEM agnostic vehicle automation kit.

Rio Tinto Autonomation Numbers Help Miners Invest in Vehicle Robotics with Confidence

Amidst global economic slowdowns, mining companies around the world have been exploring vehicle automation technology as a way to slash costs and improve efficiency in their operations. However, in the absence of concrete numbers proving the effectiveness of vehicle robotics, experts and critics have battled over its ability to make mining operations safer and more efficient. The wait is over as global mining major Rio Tinto released a variety of statistics that not only demonstrate vehicle robotics is effective but how effective.

Deep in the Australian outback, 1200 miles from the nearest major city, Perth, lies a rich mining region known as the Pilbara. Rio Tinto and other global mining majors such as BHP Billiton and Fortescue Metals Group (FMG) have established mining sites and infrastructures that ferry minerals from their extraction site all the way to port. The extensive networks include long haul routes that require massive mining trucks to transport loads approaching 400 tons (800,000 lbs).

One of the three autonomous building blocks, Mobius control software will allow miners to control vehicles from a remote location, improving both safety and productivity.

Most mining companies have a general understanding that autonomous mining technologies will help their operations make improvements in safety and productivity, but when it comes to specifics of how this is accomplished, many remain in the dark. How will our processes change? How will mine safety improve? How will my job get easier?

In effort to help miners understand the capabilities and day-to-day impact of autonomous vehicle technologies, ASI released a video that introduces one of our autonomous building blocks, Mobius control software.

Miners with autonomous haul trucks can leverage Mobius to keep haul trucks continuously tasked in a load/dump cycle, monitor safety concerns and vehicle diagnostics, and manage multiple haul trucks with one operator.

Mobius is designed to be a stand-alone control software or can be coupled with ASI's other building blocks, Nav and Vantage, for a seamless autonomous haulage system.

Watch Mobius for Mining today and learn how you can put your mine at the leading edge.

ASI explores how automation plays into Deloitte's 2015 mining report."If mining companies hope to emerge from the downward cycle in a stronger position from which they entered it, they need to... adopt innovative technologies used in other industries in a measured and risk-intelligent way..." Glenn Ives, American Mining Leader, Deloitte Canada.

In one of the world's most challenged industries, the outlook remains uncertain for mining in 2015 as it faces increasingly strict government regulations, financial turmoil, and reduced access to resources. However, in their Tracking the Trends 2015 report, Deloitte identifies ten trends that will shape the industry's challenges and provides insight on how miners can leverage these trends to come out on top. This article will explore the two trends that are directly affected by autonomous mining technologies.

Trend: Back to the Basics - the pursuit of operational excellence

After experiencing years of plenty, the mining industry experienced productivity declines "due to structural labor market forces, elevated input costs, critical shortages in energy and water, declining ore quality, and a legacy of inefficient capital allocation," explained Deloitte.

Among the suggested solutions, Deloitte identified insourcing vehicle maintenance to reduce expenses lost to outside contractors and suppliers. Eighty percent of Australian mining companies surveyed are looking to bring maintenance in-house.

Access the full Deloitte Tracking the Trends 2015 mining report.


Automation reduces maintenance costs by enabling operators to control vehicles within the OEM recommended spec, something not always possible with human drivers. Eliminating variability that exceeds OEM thresholds can stop maintenance issues before they start.

The Haulage A.I. tracks and manages multiple vehicles so an operator does not have to.Canada is one of the only countries in the world that commercially mines oil sands, and is also one of the areas that could benefit from mining vehicle automation.

Canada boasts some of the largest oil sands deposits in the world. "Oil sands" refers to sand or clay that is heavily saturated with a viscous type of petroleum called bitumen. Near-surface deposits are extracted using traditional mining methods and hauled to cleaning facilities where the bitumen is removed from other sediments. Separated bitumen is piped downstream for upgrading and refinement into petroleum products.

With nearly 55% of Canadian crude production coming from oil sands, advances in extraction and refinement technologies, and lower commodity prices, oil sands are gaining more attention as a global petroleum resource. They also represent one of the major areas that autonomous vehicle technologies can be used to assist the oil and gas industry.

ASI's CEO, Mel Torrie, who was recently quoted in Mining Equipment Technology's article "Mine of the Future?," said autonomous mining equipment can reduce wear and tear on vehicles as they operate within the OEM recommended spec, reducing unscheduled maintenance and replacement of expensive parts, particularly tires.

Interested in learning more about autonomous haulage for oil sands? Access our Vehicle A.I. flyer.


"Tests have shown tires last three times longer with autonomous vehicles than with ones operated by drivers," says Torrie.

The Haulage A.I. tracks and manages multiple vehicles so an operator does not have to.ASI's Haulage A.I. tracks and manages each vehicle in the haulage system and manages the most critical vehicle functions so that workers don't have to.

Anglo American's recent announcement of their partnership with Autonomous Solutions, Inc. to develop robotic haulage solutions highlights a global interest of mining companies in robotics. Vehicle automation helps drive down costs and improve safety; however, as mines begin adopting vehicle automation technologies, they are often met with software or hardware systems that are complex and difficult use. These types of challenges shackle an organization's scalability and make it more difficult to justify the cost of automation.

In contrast, a new module for ASI's Mobius™ command and control software, the Haulage A.I., is designed to be simple to use.

By leveraging advanced algorithms, the Haulage A.I. automatically tasks multiple robotic vehicles, freeing up operators to handle more vehicles or to perform other critical tasks.

While robotic control software may be capable of accomplishing these tasks, a single operator maintaining proper vehicle spacing, managing a queue, and dynamically positioning the loading and dump areas would quickly become overburdened. The Haulage A.I. tracks and tasks each vehicle in the haulage system and manages each of these interaction areas. The burden of plotting dynamic paths, vehicle interactions, and queuing is handled in a hands-off manner by the software system.

In recent field trials at ASI's corporate testing facility in Petersboro, Utah, autonomous dozers took to the mountainside, performing robotic area clearance and slot dozing patterns.

Over the past few weeks, ASI's mining team entered the testing phase for a robotic dozer project. The team executed a slot dozing and area clearance demonstration at ASI's headquarters near Mendon, UT. Despite some early Spring weather setbacks, the mining team has been pleased with the results.

The technology used to convert this dozer from manual to robotic control is similar to what ASI used to automate more than 70 different vehicle types including mining vehicles, farming equipment, consumer vehicles, and even ATVs. The "kit" consists of NAV™ (the onboard computer and communications system), Vantage® (obstacle detection and avoidance features), and Mobius™ (command and control software).

Together, these components form a universal automation solution for vehicles of all shapes, sizes, and applications.

Due to its dedication to miner safety and the productivity implications of automation, the mining industry is one of the most progressive markets in deploying robotic technology. ASI has implemented robotics on a variety of mining platforms including dozers, excavators, rigid haul trucks, articulated dump trucks, and drills.

The video shows the robotic dozer testing in action (look close, there's no driver!).

For more information, fill out the form at the bottom of this page or contact an ASI representative.