In these four decades, the mining sector has witnessed tremendous growth of open cast mining and other technologies that have enabled this critical sector to be reliable and responsible.
By Vinay Prakash Goel
This year, the movie Kaala Patthar turned 40. It is remembered for Yash Chopra’s story telling brilliance as well as the casting coup that brought together Amitabh Bachchan, Shashi Kapoor, Shatrughan Sinha, Raakhee, Parveen Babi, Neetu Singh, Prem Chopra, Parikshat Sahni and Sanjeev Kumar. But not many would remember that the movie was loosely based on a real story — the Chasnala underground mine tragedy in 1975 that killed hundreds of coal miners in Dhanbad.
In these four decades, mining sector has witnessed tremendous growth of open cast mining and other technologies that have enabled this critical sector to be reliable and responsible. A few global players have embraced the new technologies and have committed millions of dollars in their digital transformation programmes. Although the mining industry in India has understood the benefits of the digital transformation of mine operations and made some investments, the pace of the transformation is not comparable with that of the global industry.
Indian miners are yet to reach a stage wherein autonomous driverless trucks equipped with remote sensors operate inside the mines where artificial intelligence is used to study the layout of mines and to avoid vehicle collision. Most miners in India are yet to adopt technologies such as unmanned aerial vehicles for survey/ ground profiling and satellite GPS for smart blasting. They also haven’t introduced equipment such as remote operating centre and geographic information system for mine planning, monitoring of land reclamation and adherence to compliances.
The problems faced by Indian miners have aggravated due to volatile commodity prices, maturing mines resulting in poor grade of mineral or ore, increase in time to develop mines and cut-throat cost competition from efficient producers. Earlier, miners emphasised on sweating existing assets along with targeting volume-based growth. This strategy benefitted them only to some extent and, therefore, greater thrust is being given to digital transformation now.
Digitalisation will enable talented Indian youth to operate from remote controlled centers in cities far away from the mines operating a fleet of fully automated equipment and drills. In intelligent mine, all assets will be networked together capable of making critical decisions themselves in a split second. To achieve higher mine productivity, cost optimisation, safer work environment and social licence to operate, India needs to invest heavily in tech savvy, data savvy and design savvy young talent to work with experienced leadership team.
There are examples of companies that did invest in technology and smart machines to improve productivity and decision making. However, they failed to get the desired outcomes since people could not adopt tech-enabled transformation. And there is a great deal of learnings available for others from earlier experiences. Simply by introducing complex technologies, organisations cannot expect its employees to change their mindsets, behaviour, and capabilities. Decision makers should be the first ones to embrace the change and set examples for employees to follow. An effective plan should make the employees understand how a technology enhanced system will make their lives better, safer, and more productive. This understanding has to be re-enforced through various mechanisms and effective internal communications about their revised roles, responsibilities and expected outcome. At the end of the day, the success of digital transformation depends on the marriage of technology, mindset change, process implementation, education and training.
The benefits of digital adoption are immense and it will take Indian miners one step closer to becoming responsible miners. While efficient technologies are becoming easily available to all, effective change in the mindset only will lead the mining sector towards the success.
Even after four decades of Kaala Patthar, mining sector is seen as a generator of blue collar jobs. Introducing smart digital technologies to increase productivity, maximise yield recoveries, meet the regulatory requirements and maintain zero harm working environment will be a true tribute to those soldiers who ensure energy security of our growing nation.
(The author is Chief Executive Officer of mining, integrated coal management and bunkering business at Adani Enterprises Ltd.)