By: Michelle Ash,
GEOVIA Chief Executive Officer, Dassault Systèmes
Mining the Philippines’ road to economic recovery:
sustainable technology and a fresh perspective
Amid an onslaught of economic uncertainties from the ongoing global crisis, the Philippines’ mining industry shines a beacon of hope. National mining authorities are optimistic that a revival of the sector, whose largely untapped mineral assets are estimated to be worth over P45 trillion, will present a lucrative avenue for the country’s economic recovery in the next two to three years.
Mining is one of the oldest industries in the world and remains a major social and economic force across the world. As builders of society, the mining sector underpins economies and transforms communities.
Transformation of the mining industry
The industry itself has transformed dramatically in the last century, including –
- Adopted technology: Many mining operations are now able to extract minerals and metallic ores, with more accuracy, less harm to the surrounding environment, and without endangering the lives of miners.
- Improved health and safety: Annual mining related fatalities are at a record low as compared with 50 years ago.
- Improved environmental footprint: Newly-developed machines used for grinding and crushing can extract minerals from the earth with less energy than ever before.
- Made strides in workforce diversity: While the proportion of women employed by mining organisations is only 15%, we have made tremendous strides since I first started in the industry.
- Transformed society: At its zenith in the early 20th century, Britain’s iron, steel, and coal industries employed more than 10% of the working population and fuelled the industrial revolution. Similarly, in the Philippines, where mining remains a core pillar of the local economy and its communities, mining employed over 212,000 persons in 2018, and contributed PHP$206 billion in mineral exports, accounting for nearly 6% of total exports.
Societal expectations are the greatest challenge faced by the sector
However, the sector faces a big challenge. We are architects of the future, yet society views us through different lenses. Society’s perception of mining is still from that of the 1920s — when miners used primitive tools for digging and accidents were common. The biggest challenge to the mining industry today and in the future is changing the opinions, and expectations of society, of people, and of citizens.
Our performance as an industry and the rate at which society’s expectations are changing is widening. This doesn’t mean we are not transforming. As an industry, we are adopting new technology, innovating and doing things differently; however, society’s expectations of us as an industry are so much higher than in previous generations. This is simply the result of seeing ongoing dramatic change in other sectors and expecting the mining sector to change as fast and as radically. This means that not only do we need to increase our rate of transformation, but the sector needs to fundamentally rethink some of our processes.
Learning from other industries
The aircraft and automotive industries experienced something similar in the last quarter of the last century. Both industries have fundamentally changed from leveraging emerging technology of the time and adopting radically different ways of doing things.
For example in the aircraft industry, technology has helped in a 91% reduction in development time, 71% reduction in labor costs, 90% reduction in redesign and dramatically reduced design and production flaws, mismatches, and associated errors.
The auto industry has also developed into a segmented network in the last 50 years. For example, no car company makes windshields or rear-view-mirrors anymore — they are always purchased from windshield makers, and rear-view-mirror makers respectively. This division of labour across the automotive ecosystem enables suppliers to be agile and innovative. This also means that auto-parts can be quickly and easily sourced, and suppliers empowered to design and produce new parts quickly and efficiently.
The advantage of mining companies
To quote the former United States Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, ‘We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know.’ Both the aircraft and automotive industries invested in technology that helped them better understand their customer’s needs — the known unknowns. Both industries were then able to integrate their manufacturing to be flexible in a planned way, enabling the industries to reduce waste, and save time from constant planning changes.
On the other hand, we as a sector do not invest enough on our known unknowns — geology. Without this knowledge, we are forced to be flexible in an unplanned way, that ultimately leads to waste. This is where there is opportunity for the industry to work collaboratively across the ecosystem, from mining companies themselves, to suppliers, academics, governments, and even start-ups and more.
For me, there are four major problems we need to solve as an industry.
- Global ore body intelligence: We need to be able to find ore bodies faster, cheaper, and more completely. We can use satellite imaging to detect ore bodies and use physical geospatial and hyperspectral technologies to provide additional data to a geologist.
- Automation and electrification: We need to understand performance, optimise it in real time and optimise planning in real time.
- Precision extraction: We need to be even more precise in extracting the metal that we are interested in without creating excessive waste and subsequently being able to process the metal efficiently. This means using digital twins to create simulations and what-if scenarios before building in real life with sensors in place for analytics. This not only minimises risk but also reduces errors, and waste.
- Creation of social value: We need to better use technology to create and distribute value to our communities.
Mining companies’ real competitive advantage is the speed at which they can adopt technology into their business that solves a business problem, while continuing to create value to society. For the Philippines to see a successful and sustainable revival of its mining industry, organisations need to review the solutions that are already available in other industries, and their ecosystem of competition and collaboration, to build stronger foundations for its mining future.