How Digitalisation is delivering big benefits in mining operations

Digitalisation is a term most often associated with smart factories, and conjures up images of clean, sterile manufacturing spaces populated only by robots. But digitalisation can also be a catalyst for change in heavy industries like mining. So, what is the transformative potential of digitalisation and what specific benefits does it offer for mining operators in terms of improving efficiency and productivity? 

By Bruno Castro



Digitalisation is essentially the process of integrating digital technologies into mining systems, machines and components in order to garner valuable data. Collecting, understanding, and interpreting this data can offer significant improvements in availability, efficiency, and capacity.

The potential benefits of digitalisation include:

  • Increased efficiency. Digitalisation enables automation and streamlines mining processes. Total machine interactivity and networking improve plant availability and allow mining companies to make smarter decisions.
  • Data analysis. The ability to collect, store, and analyse vast amounts of data allows mining companies to gain insights into their operations that inform better decision-making and improve performance.
  • Cost reduction. Better visibility of resources helps mining operators cut costs by enhancing process efficiency, reducing waste, and optimising resource use (such as water and energy).
  • Safety. In addition to anti-collision systems, digital solutions can create a safer working environment by enabling remote control of mining equipment and supporting predictive maintenance regimes.
  • Sustainability. Digitalisation supports sustainable mining practices by minimising environmental impacts, reducing waste and optimising the use of resources. It also helps track and manage compliance with environmental regulations by collating real-time data and facilitating report generation.
  • Workforce retention. Like many other industries, mining faces a skills gap due to an ageing workforce. Digitalisation enables automation of some traditional or repetitive tasks, but also attracts a more tech-savvy generation into the industry who are more likely to engage with digital tools and systems.


Implementing digitalisation across the entire existing mining operation in one hit would require significant investment, so mining operators should instead look to digitalise processes which offer the highest return on investment. For example, keeping track and control of the material flow during handling is one of the most important differentiators for an efficient and integrated mining operation and for the end-users.

Material Tracking Systems (MTS) based on digital solutions enable the observation, measurement, administration, calculation, and prediction of material transport processes. Using data from various sensors – including laser scanners, belt scales, radar measurement, ultrasonic sensors and cameras – a digital MTS can deliver insights into material distribution and merge, provide intelligent routing functions, and prevent overloading and chute plugging. The ability to monitor and track materials in real time also enables timeslot shift modelling, better material quality management and material transport management to optimise belt capacities across multiple jobs. Crucially, MTS also deliver the precision measurement of volume and mass to achieve an optimal price/performance ratio, achieving accuracies of up to 0.5 per cent.

Stockyard Management Systems (SMS) is another mining process that benefits from digitalisation. In this case, digitalisation can streamline, automate and simplify the scheduling, control, monitoring and documentation of material handling and storage. Effectively, an SMS combines stockpile management and material tracking to improve efficiency and give mining operators total visibility of their assets. Stockpile management is only a part of the material handling in the plant, but linking it digitally to combine all loading, unloading and transport processes enables a virtual model of all the material handling. It consolidates automatic process control at the PLC / DCS level with a management system at the IT level.

This combination of stockpile management and advanced PLC automation enables fully automatic operation of the stockyard because every job parameter – schedule, pile location, material parameters, pile height, flow rate, etc. – can be planned in the SMS system. Digitalisation in this case can deliver fully automatic machine positioning in compliance with the anti-collision functions, a fully automatic stacking operation, automated management of material blending and a fully automatic reclaiming operation with material quality monitoring.

The same digitalisation principles can be applied to other essential mining tasks, such as train loading systems (TLS). But digitalisation doesn’t just radically improve day-to-day operations: it can help to plan for the future, too!


A huge benefit of digitalisation is its ability to let us explore different scenarios virtually before we build them in reality. These virtual models are referred to as digital twins. They offer the ability to try out new concepts, such as different equipment configurations, before committing to investment. This saves money by preventing poor development, makes engineering decisions easier, and gives confidence that the project can be delivered effectively without any unforeseen impacts.

A further key benefit of the digital twin is as a training tool. It can be used to train operatives in a controlled environment without disruption to normal operations and in total safety.

Digital twins also play a key role during operation and maintenance. They hold all the data about every piece of plant and equipment, and can be used to analyse the existing design and suggest improvements.

​​In one real-life example, a mining operator was experiencing issues with belt flip on a tripper car. Wind shields had been installed but they proved ineffective. The real operational data combined with digital simulations, enabled them to analyse the airflow and forces being applied to the belt by the wind. Based on this analysis, they were able to work with their equipment supplier to identify effective ways to reduce the forces by up to 60 per cent, dramatically reducing the likelihood of further belt flip incidents.

Digital twins are also adept at fault-finding, because they can continuously analyse real-time data to spot performance patterns that may indicate a part is beginning to fail. This in turn makes predictive maintenance much easier and prevents unplanned downtime – particularly if the equipment supplier offers a hotline or remote support backup that can be triggered by an alert from the digital twin.


Digitalisation can bring big improvements when applied to various mining processes, but the biggest benefits are derived when all the different systems within a mine are digitally connected to create a smart mine. Full connectivity means that data and information from all machines can be consolidated and displayed in just one single front-end dashboard, delivering visibility and predictability to optimise current and future operations. It also enables smooth interaction between machines, operators and manufacturers on a whole new level.

The seamless transfer of information from one system to another requires software to act as a facilitator. Typical use cases for coupling with software systems include:

  • Exporting job statistics to job administration systems
  • Supplying material quality and quantity data at feeding and discharge points
  • Coupling production with material inventory systems
  • Interfacing with material blending machines
  • Direct coupling with the control PLC / DCS system for plant control

There is also the potential to allow third party access to your systems, which opens up the potential to use remote solutions for monitoring and maintenance.

Connectivity on this scale can throw up IT compatibility and data security considerations. Working with a digital engineering specialist who can not only understand your business digitalisation goals but can also help you to achieve the connectivity that will enable the transformation of your operating and IT systems is therefore advisable.


Digitalisation is not just about adopting new technologies; it also involves a cultural shift to embrace digital thinking and innovation. It can lead to significant competitive advantages, such as improved operational efficiency, enhanced customer satisfaction, and the ability to rapidly adapt to market changes. However, few mining operators have the resources inhouse to optimise their systems and make the transition to smart mining immediately. Partnering with a company that can help to prioritise implementation, act as your digital integrator and offer a full turnkey solution is the way to go.