The Augmented Mine Worker - Applications of Augmented Reality in Mining
The mining industry is faced with imperatives to improve worker safety and productivity, adapt to skills shortages, high worker turnover rates, and provide more effective maintenance to new and ever more complicated plant and equipment. While more effective use of data combined with advanced analytics offers opportunities for improvement, providing this information to the worker in the field, in real-time, has proven expensive, cumbersome and ineffective. New capabilities are now emerging which address some of the limitations experienced to date.
Augmented reality (AR) provides a means to overlay interactive digital information on top of the physical world. Combining the latest visual display, mobile computing and ‘track and trace’ technologies, AR provides an experience similar to a Heads- Up Display in a fighter jet through small, personal devices, such as smartphones or wearable glasses. Applying AR would allow a mobile worker to ‘see’ all relevant information for a given task, in the context of their physical environment and at the time they require it.
This paper examines a number of use-cases of how AR can be applied to the mining industry and the benefits that can be realised.
The global mining industry is challenged with the need to produce ever increasing tonnages, safely and with a reducing number of skilled, experienced workers. The skills shortage is compounded by several factors as outlined by Johansson, Johansson and Abrahamsson (2009).
First, the retirement of the baby boomer generation (a phenomenon sometimes referred to as ‘the big shift change’) is leading to a rapid loss of knowledge, the impact of which is aggravated by an historic loss of interest in mining and engineering in the late 80’s and early 90’s that saw fewer ‘generation X’ seeking careers in these areas.
Second, the remoteness of most mine sites makes hiring and retaining staff to work at these locations difficult.
Third, the average retention time of workers in the industry is dropping, partly due to a general trend across all industries, but also specifically contributed to by high demand for experienced mine workers creating wage opportunities and aforementioned challenges of working in remote locations.
In addition to all these factors, the level of automation on mine sites is increasing, with a commensurate increase in the complexity of the machinery being operated. The increase in equipment complexity would typically be accompanied by an increase in specialisation of operators and maintenance personnel, but this is difficult in a skills constrained environment. The increasing requirements for training and compliance also make it less practical to simply ‘fly-in’ specialists, as it is not uncommon for workers to require several days of training and inductions in order to be able to conduct a few hours of work on a mine site.
Faced with all these challenges, the application of augmented reality in the mining industry would help overcome the challenges faced by maximising the safety and effectiveness of personnel on mine sites. The benefits would manifest themselves through better maintenance outcomes, more effective training, better collaboration and knowledge transfer, and enhanced situational awareness for improved safety.
Authors: Jarrod Bassan, Vivek Srinivasan and Albert Tang