Innovative Tools to Boost Efficiency and Safety in Mining and Construction

07 March 2017

Innovative Tools

McKinsey & Company, the well-known research firm, expects global investment in large capital projects to grow for the foreseeable future. In fact, the firm estimates that global investment in energy, infrastructure, mining, real estate-related projects could reach $13 trillion by 2030. That’s up from $6 trillion in global investment in these areas in 2013. Investments in billion-dollar-plus megaprojects, according to McKinsey, will account for the larger share of these efforts.

But completing mining and construction projects—whether megaprojects or not—on time on budget, and to specifications is a challenge. According to McKinsey’s estimate, 98 percent of megaprojects suffer cost overruns of more than 30 percent, with 77 percent of them coming in at least 40 percent late. The key reason: lack of efficiency and productivity, with a variety of factors accounting for stalled production and cost overruns.

Secret to Boosting Productivity

So how do you boost productivity and efficiency in mining and construction projects? The answer is simple: Technology. Innovative tools and technological breakthroughs can help you beat daily management and operational challenges, enabling you to get more done and in a safer manner. And while many of these breakthroughs are recent, they’re clearly making an impact. Why— because they’re disruptive and transformative—and that makes a huge difference.

If you’re a manager in construction or mining, you need to stay abreast of these technological breakthroughs. They can help you keep pace with your competitors. Failing to do so could cost you big time. Below we describe some of the key technological breakthroughs impacting construction and mining today:

• Construction Industry

1. Mobile Technology — Adopting a mobile strategy in construction streamlines communication, boosts collaboration, empowers workforces with real-time information, and reduces project risks with a simple click of a button. A new generation of apps can also help you better capture labor and equipment hours, analyze daily production, plan and track work orders, create repair requests, track costs, and more. APE Mobile, for example, can help you automate site paperwork, capture data, and stay in compliance while eliminating paperwork.

Innovative Tools

2. Cloud Computing/SaaS — Cloud computing works well in construction because of the high level of change that occurs there, the constant change of workers, and the continual need to set up of new job site locations. The Cloud provides access to critical information in real-time while minimizing mistakes and rework costly to profitability. More important, it enhances collaboration between project team members and on-site workers, freeing up project teams to focus on their work and produce highly quality work on time and on budget. The cloud-based Procore construction management software is among the tops in the field.

3. Tablets —The must-have tool for today’s supervisors, tablets put a host of critical software tools at a manager’s fingertips that can help him or her stay on top of things and make changes quickly. With help from tools, like PlanGrid, an app for construction plans and blueprints, and Auto-desks BIM360, an app for accessing project data, field staff can do things in real time they couldn’t do before, including viewing plans, showing progress photos, completing daily reports, entering time, and filing out safety reports.

4. SmartHelmets — Using 4D augmented reality, a transparent visor, an array of cameras, sensors, and special lenses that serve as a heads-up display, smarthelmets can help you gather information about and navigate through your environment. The helmet’s head-mounted display improves productivity, safety, and efficiency by providing work instructions seen through the helmet. For example, with a valve in a production plant may have reverse threading, the helmet would alert the worker to this information and let him know which way to turn the handle.

5. Drones — A growing number of contractors are using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) for a wide variety of tasks on many job sites, including (1) generating real-time data on job progress and (2) identifying possible hazards or quality issues. Drones are also ideal for acquiring useful information quickly and cost-effectively—especially on large, complex projects. The can help you survey projects, monitor job sites, inspect structures, locate potential on-site hazards, and keep projects on track and under budget.

Innovative Tools

• Mining Industry

1. Mobile technology — Mobility is also making a difference in the mining industry. Rugged and sealed tablets, such as the C1D2, are ideal for workers in dirty conditions. Tablets help optimize resources, enhance collaboration, manage field personnel, and ensure delivery of parts and equipment. Mobile innovative technology also makes mining safer. A new generation of apps, for example, helps you comply with health safety and environment standards. They also help you operate in compliance with all safety laws, track changes and additions to these laws, and provide required documents when needed.

2. Automation — A recent poll by MiningIQ reveals that 77 percent of mining specialists think automation is a high priority, while 40 percent say it’s more important than ever. Automation innovative tools can help you identify and break productivity bottlenecks and inefficient processes, increase accountability, and better understand return on investment (ROI). For example, Modular’s DISPATCH Underground System is an end-to-end solution that enhances mine management from the production face to the central office and everything in between.

3. Remote Operations — Advances in this field—when enabled by advanced data and semi-autonomous equipment systems—are making an impact. Using machine data, for example, you can manage daily maintenance and production, and improve things across several locations—even when you’re away from the sites themselves. Remote operations can also help you assign trucks, track production targets, monitor machine health, create scenarios to judge operational changes, and keep mine personnel away from undeveloped situations and hazardous environments.

4. Robotics — More and more mining companies are turning to robotics to get the most out of project sites and cut costs. Advances in robotics, such as autonomous trucks, drills, and trains, not only boost efficiency and productivity, they also cut the need for human labor, as this article in MIT Technology Review points out. For example, BHP Pilton, the world’s largest mining company, deploys driverless trucks and drills on ore mines in Australia to great advantage. The increasing capabilities and falling costs to implement robotic technology are making it an advance to watch in mining.

5. Innovative tools and Smart Technology — New and innovative tools based on smart technology are helping mining companies boost operational control and increase equipment efficiency and productivity. For example, RCT’s EarthTrack® smart technology improves control of a company’s equipment to ensure it’s always operating at peak performance. Innovative tools and smart technology can help you assess performance data in real-time and provide insights that boost the understanding and improvement of fleet productivity. It can also help you operate without excessive human resource overhead.

These are just some of the innovative tools ushering in new eras in mining and construction. Recognizing which tools bring true value to your company and are significant differentiators that can help you boost operational efficiency, productivity, and safety. Staying abreast of them can help you optimize operations. The key is finding the innovative tools and technological breakthroughs that fit your needs and keep you one step ahead of the competition.

Innovative Tools

Jenny Snook

Jenny Snook is content executive at GoContractor with the job of researching the latest health and safety trends in the heavy industry. Her past-experience includes the research of large museum collections such as the Louth County Museum, many from the industrial age.

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