The irruption in the mining industry of new technologies as a response to economic crises

The irruption in the mining industry of new technologies as a response to economic crises

13 September 2016

The emergence of technological responses to the challenges arising from economic crises has been a tonic in the development of the industry towards the modernization of processes and machinery.

No matter how ironic it may seem, but it is not venturesome to point out that the main lesson learned from the crises that have occurred not only in recent years, but throughout economic history even since the invention of the steam engine in the late 18th century, is that crises are part and parcel of prosperity. From this point of view, crises can be the ultimate expression of the “discovery mechanism”, which necessarily determines the passage to new technological creations.

We are currently witnessing an era of massive transformation where technology is perceived to be growing dramatically and where new mass markets will drive the shift from resource dependence to a new way of life: resource efficiency.

Since the first glimpses of industrialization in the mid-17th century, progress has flooded our society, especially Western society, and this is when technology has become disruptive, influencing or transforming almost every aspect and reality of our industrial operations, the shaping of our societies as well as generating an obvious impact on the lives of all citizens of the world. Examples such as mobile internet, advanced robotics, advanced automation knowledge, internet of things (IoT), cloud technologies among others are already transforming our industrial processes and our ways of life orienting us towards efficiency and resource savings.

Faced with this scenario and today more than ever, mining companies and the industry in general, have to understand that technology has long been the transforming force and the engine to make productive processes bigger and stronger and, therefore, generate a great impact on society. During the development of the pathways to a modern world, access to technology and its incorporation into industrial and economic processes have been very important factors that have managed to separate successful companies from those that have not been able to withstand the changes that modernity and the implementation of technology imply.


As history has shown, it is well known that a direct effect of the industrial revolution was that the average economic income of the population began to exhibit an unprecedented and sustained growth over time. Since the industrial revolution, mining has been one of the industries that has benefited the most from the introduction of massive changes to its processes and to improve working conditions, as well as influencing safety and productivity.

Figure 1 Left: lead mining in the upper Mississippi River region of the U.S., 1865- Barber and Howe. Right side: the robotic stripping machine, implemented by MIRS in 2015, is seen at Asarco copper refinery, USA.

The introduction of the steam engine, and later the combustion engine, transformed the entire mining production process from a fully manual to a semi-mechanized process and then to a fully mechanized one. This transformation was a revolution originally led by the workers themselves, one of whom was Aleksei Stakhanov, a Russian coal miner from Donetsk. – Stakhanov. He introduced a method of production by incorporating new mechanical elements, which greatly simplified the heavy labor that characterized the industry in those days. This change allowed the world coal industry to jump from an average of 7.2 tons per shift to 607 tons per shift, increasing production per shift 80 times in less than 5 years.

In Chile, this “robotization” effort has already been initiated. An example of this is Codelco and all other major mine operators that have launched massive programs in the last 5 years to achieve full automation of their transportation systems, as well as the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV).

MIRS, a Chilean-German company leader in robotics, in a joint venture with BHP Billiton and Codelco has introduced advanced robotic applications to improve process efficiency by improving the quality and stability of the production processes.

Figure 2 – MIRS robot disassembly start-up sheet, Amarillo refinery, Asarco Group USA 2015.

Figure 3 – Robotic MIRS for concentrate testing – Assembly and factory acceptance test for one of its customers at Codelco Mining Corporation. Today and over the last few years, significant cost reductions in robotic systems, together with new advances in control systems and auxiliary sensor systems, have allowed the incorporation of robots for more and more complex tasks, reducing operating costs, improving process safety, reducing the number of hours exposed to hazardous environments, and improving process quality and stability. These are all key aspects of long-term sustainable mining.