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Nova Systems Insights - Autonomous Mining Excellence

Nova Systems Insights - Autonomous Mining Excellence

  • Nov 22, 2018

In today’s complex mining landscape, companies are exploring many ways to manage increased production targets and reduce risk to their employees whilst continuing to deliver sustained value to their stakeholders.

Steve Ashfield, Senior Technical Advisor, & Jason Coleman, System Engineer – Co-Lead Authors

Mining companies are looking toward autonomous (data enabled, smart and automated) solutions to manage this challenge and take control of their complete value chain.

Autonomous mining excellence means the following:

Autonomous mining – The integration of both intelligent and automated systems. Data enabled intelligent systems managing automated activities to deliver maximal value.

Excellence – Habitually ensuring that safety, quality and success surpass the highest standards.

There is substantial benefit for those mining companies that are successful in achieving true autonomous mining excellence:

  • Removing people from significant hazards.
  • Increasing predictability and decreasing variability.
  • Achieving productivity headroom.
  • Unlocking potential to measure, analyse and control the holistic value chain.
  • Shifting from automated systems assisting people, to people optimising autonomous systems[1].
  • Creating durable stakeholder value.
  • Ensuring attractive operating metrics compared to the competition.


“…We have initiatives to integrate and automate operations to improve safety, unlock resources and create growth options”

Andrew Mackenzie, BHP Chief Executive Officer – December 2017


Since the inception of the third industrial revolution, mining companies have experienced the benefit of significant advancements in automated electro-mechanical technology. Manual activities have become mechanised, operational scale has increased, and some mass movement activities have become automated (haul trucks, trains, process plant).

Moving beyond the automation of activities, the next step is high-technology and intelligent systems, to more effectively gather and leverage operations data and information. These systems make the solution autonomous (smart), and not just automated.


“I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that digital and data will be the fundamental game changer in our industry”

JS Jacques, Rio Tinto Chief Executive Officer – October 2018


To achieve the benefits that autonomous mining excellence affords, automated mining methods must be connected and integrated to intelligent systems – in doing so however, this significant opportunity is also paired with new challenges.

Building an autonomous mining platform requires the deliberate and forensic management of the complex interdependencies between many vendors and technologies whilst ensuring regulatory, safety and cyber security considerations are met. Human elements must be considered, from user experience to task allocation (roles, responsibilities and authorisation) between operators and the system. In short, many problems require complex solutions with no direct 1-1 relationships.

With such complexity, interrelated moving parts and interdependencies, the solution space can be considered a “system of systems”.  Achieving excellence in autonomous mining operations therefore mandates a different way of thinking… “systems thinking”, the approach which holistically examines both problem and solution spaces for the best overall outcomes. By drawing on experiences across multiple industries, mining companies can:

  • Adopt a system engineering approach, incorporating a Specify-Design-Test-Implement-Operate-Maintain methodology, which aims to help ensure both safety and productivity of autonomous mining.
  • Implement an aerospace-styled safety approach to complement mining safety methods – with a focus on safety by design and enhancing system and process safety.
  • Engage an Autonomous Mining Strategy, including a strategic roadmap, as a tool to drive change, integration and detailed planning.
  • Develop an Autonomous Mining Operational Concept to prescribe how mining will work at each stage of automation, including the baseline state and successive capability wave implementations to manage change.
  • Support vendor independent requirements as a basis for assessing vendor products and services as being fit for purpose.
  • Focus on autonomous mining excellence key objectives to ensure the business transformation program gets the right outcomes from automation.


[1] At Nova Systems we call this “the human element” of automation


The above Insight has been published from Nova Systems Energy & Resources program. For further information regarding Autonomous Mining Excellence, contact Tim Anderson, Program Manager – Energy & Resources


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