Advancing Together With Barrick Gold

Mining Why miners should embrace change

Our Chief Innovation Officer on digital disruptions, and why the industry needs to adopt new technologies

Barrick’s Chief Innovation Officer Michelle Ash was a featured speaker at the recent Ideacity 2017 conference in Toronto, which brought together key players and new ideas from different sectors. Ash spoke about digital disruptions, and why the industry needs to adopt new technologies.

“The mining industry is the least digitized industry in the world,” Ash says. “It is also an industry that has been slow to adopt change and innovation. So there is plenty of whitespace.”

As part of her job—which Ash touts as “the most fabulous job on the planet”—she devotes a lot of time to understanding what the new technologies are, and how people feel about them.

“Innovation in our industry is not only about interesting technologies, learning how we can apply them, how we can make the world better and our mines better; it’s about how we get people to adopt those technologies,” Ash says.

Change is inevitable

Adapting is critical in the ever-changing world of technology. Since 2000, nearly half of the Fortune 500 companies have either merged, been acquired, or have become bankrupt. For example, Kodak and Blockbuster are two former household names that failed to embrace new technologies which led to their downfall.

Some of the technologies that have disrupted Kodak, Blockbuster, and other companies are going to disrupt the mining industry, Ash says, adding some companies are already “rivalling” the industry.

Google is developing self-driving cars and trucks, while the industry is experimenting with automating certain mining vehicles and equipment to increase safety as well as efficiencies. IBM and Amazon have adopted big data analytics, which mining companies have also delved into.

Meanwhile, Apple aims to recycle all of the minerals used in its products. An iPhone alone contains at least 60 minerals, including silver, copper, cobalt, and gold. Apple uses between 500,000 to 1 million ounces of gold a year in all of its products, which accounts for 0.5 to 1 percent of the world’s annual gold production. Although the impact of Apple’s recycling efforts is small, it is still a type of disruption that’s coming to the industry, Ash says.

Other disruptions include battery breakthroughs, artificial intelligence, robotics, augmented reality, gene editing, machine learning, and automation.

“The speed at which technology is coming towards us and the rate that technology is changing is as fast now as it was in the Renaissance.”

What does this mean?

New technologies give the industry more transparency. It permits companies to track and monitor where their personnel and equipment are underground in real-time, improving safety. This connectivity allows for better planning and monitoring so everyone understands what their tasks are, what needs to be done, and the status and condition of their equipment.

Predictive analytics allows for better decision-making because it enables companies to analyze in real time how a decision will impact production, costs and scheduling.

Digital transformation also opens further possibilities, as companies could virtually automate their underground mines and their open pit mines that are at high elevations, eliminating potentially harmful work-related incidents.

Ash maintains new leadership skills will be required to engage people and motivate them to do things differently than before. It also means firms will have to collaborate with other sectors and train their employees and contractors on how to use the new tools.

More importantly, the industry will need to take a balanced approach. It can’t just adopt technologies because they are feasible or viable, but they also have to be “desirable” so people will use them.

“Disruption is coming to our industry. Digital reinvention is necessary—but how we respond is up to us as leaders. Not just in the mining industry but leaders outside of the mining industry, and how we partner and we work together to not leave people behind,” Ash says.