At its most basic, innovation presents an optimal strategy for
controlling costs. Companies that have invested in such technologies
as remote mining, autonomous equipment and driverless trucks and
trains have reduced expenses by orders of magnitude, while
simultaneously driving up productivity.
Yet, gazing towards the horizon, it is rapidly becoming clear that
innovation can do much more than reduce capital intensity.
Approached strategically, it also has the power to reduce people and
energy intensity, while increasing mining intensity.
Capturing the learnings
The key is to think of innovation as much more than research and
development (R&D) around particular processes or technologies.
Companies can, in fact, innovate in multiple ways, such as leveraging
supplier knowledge around specific operational challenges,
redefining their participation in the energy value chain or finding new
ways to engage and partner with major stakeholders and
To reap these rewards, however, mining companies must overcome
their traditionally conservative tendencies. In many cases, miners
struggle to adopt technologies proven to work at other mining
companies, let alone those from other industries. As a result,
innovation becomes less of a technology problem and more of an
By breaking this mindset, mining companies can free themselves to
adapt practical applications that already exist in other industries and
apply them to fit their current needs. For instance, the tunnel boring
machines used by civil engineers to excavate the Chunnel can vastly
reduce miners’ reliance on explosives. Until recently, those machines
were too large to apply in a mining setting. Some innovators,
however, are now incorporating the underlying technology to build
smaller machines—effectively adapting mature solutions from other
industries to realize more rapid results.
Re-imagining the future
At the same time, innovation mandates companies to think in
entirely new ways. Traditionally, for instance, miners have focused on
extracting higher grades and achieving faster throughput by
optimizing the pit, schedule, product mix and logistics. A truly
innovative mindset, however, will see them adopt an entirely new
design paradigm that leverages new information, mining and energy
technologies to maximize value. […]
Approached in this way, innovation can drive more than cost
reduction. It can help mining companies mitigate and manage risks,
strengthen business models and foster more effective community
and government relations. It can help mining services companies
enhance their value to the industry by developing new products and
services. Longer-term, it can even position organizations to move the
needle on such endemic issues as corporate social responsibility,
environmental performance and sustainability.