Hindustan Zinc’s CEO: Automation, AI are changing the way mines operate
Equipment

Hindustan Zinc’s CEO: Automation, AI are changing the way mines operate

Arun Misra, CEO, Hindustan Zinc, speaks on the current scenario of underground mining in India, and how IoT and digital technologies are evolving in underground mining.


In light of the plans of infrastructure creation and reforms in mining, what opportunities do you foresee for underground mining equipment?

Over the past 150 years, the mining industry has been remarkably successful in growing its productivity. Industry 4.0

Arun Misra, CEO, Hindustan Zinc, speaks on the current scenario of underground mining in India, and how IoT and digital technologies are evolving in underground mining. In light of the plans of infrastructure creation and reforms in mining, what opportunities do you foresee for underground mining equipment? Over the past 150 years, the mining industry has been remarkably successful in growing its productivity. Industry 4.0 is an ongoing transformation of traditional industries with smart technologies. Automation, analytics, and artificial intelligence are changing the way mines operate. Taking a step closer to achieving carbon neutrality, Hindustan Zinc signed an MoU with Epiroc for zero emission and sustainable mining by the introduction of battery electric vehicle (BEV) in underground mining. This will help Hindustan Zinc to explore the possibility of introducing battery-operated vehicles in underground mines, which will help reduce carbon emissions, enabling the mine operations to become more environmentally friendly. The future is electric, and technologies such as these will be at the forefront of smart operations. Such technologies will help in the future to allow a fleet of highly efficient electric-powered equipment that at one end will lead to carbon neutrality by replacing diesel-fueled equipment and on the other hand, will increase productivity with its evolved design. How has the second wave of Covid-19 impacted the underground mining equipment industry? FY21 began with the unparalleled challenge of Covid-19 and its unforeseen consequences like the lockdown across the world. Mines across the world are facing operational challenges to ramp up production while complying with social distancing norms. Global mine supply continued to face Covid-related disruptions and significant production was lost in China, Peru, Bolivia, and Mexico a few of which are likely to be lasting in nature. FY2021 witnessed suspension of business operations due to the lockdown in April 2020. It was followed by exceptional workforce-related restrictions and safety measures that had to be put in place through the rest of the year. It was a year that saw some mine closures globally, coupled with new project delays. We at Hindustan Zinc ensured minimal effect on our business by making use of digital infrastructure and its associated packages like Opti-Mine, OSI-Pi, office-365, APC, and Org-wide CCTV surveillance. This infrastructure helped us to ensure minimal footfall at the plant, reduced amassing, and far-off operations with self-belief. Thermal scanners and contactless attendance were few quick changeovers to maintain the hygiene and safety of the people. A virtual platform like Office-365 has enabled a great level of remote collaborations and helped our team to work from home in compliance with Government’s directives on Covid-19. The pandemic has also played an important role in capability building through digital learning platforms like Percipio. What is the current scenario of underground mining in India? Because of the technological revolution, the nature of mining is constantly shifting and most of the mines in India are open-pit mines, but the transition to underground mining is around the corner. We need a huge number of metals and minerals to support our country’s sustained growth in the infrastructure sector, automotive sector, and power production. With mines going deeper, it is always easier said than done. Need of the hour is not only mining but mining with better safety, efficiency, and in a sustainable manner. Rightly, underground mines in India are focused on increasing the use of technology, skill upgradation to adapt technologies to increase efficiency and productivity and minimising the cost to gain a competitive advantage. With the government giving the push in the right direction by granting leases for a longer duration, allowing 100 per cent FDI under the automatic route (non-fuel, non-atomic minerals), greater transparency in government policies, and low custom duty on capital equipment, the current scenario is immensely positive. With the government focusing on the vision of ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’, how would it catapult growth for the construction and engineering equipment market? We at Hindustan Zinc firmly believe that mining can be the cornerstone of Atmanirbhar Bharat, and our natural resources can propel India’s dream of being a $5 trillion economy. India is rich in natural resources, and it is time that we look to mine what we have rather than importing it. A country can only progress when it uses its resources to manufacture finished goods and not by exporting its rich mineral wealth. This is the main concept behind ‘Make in India’. We should be exporting the surplus zinc only after the domestic demand is sufficient. The products of Hindustan Zinc are world-class and have global acceptance. We have strategically positioned ourselves in a very large Asian market, despite not having the best sea freights. A focus market incentive for the Middle East and East Asian countries like Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Bangladesh will greatly aid our ability to exports and make us globally competitive. What are the new developments in equipment and technologies in underground mining? How IoT and digital technologies are evolving in underground mining? Which is the major equipment used in underground mining applications? Hindustan Zinc has always been at the forefront of adopting innovative solutions and smart technologies for responsible mining. We recently adopted battery electric vehicles (BEVs) in underground mining. This is a first-of-its-kind initiative that has been taken up in India in the mining sector and we are proud to be the leaders in bringing sustainable solutions across operations. This technology will help us to drastically reduce carbon emissions, enabling the mine operations to become more environmentally friendly. Our current plan is to bring BEVs in the operational and support equipment at specific levels in the unit. We are also planning to introduce mobile miner technology in our mines. Mobile miner, the rock cutting process is continuous and predictable, which makes planning and scheduling much easier – a critical factor for the mining industry to become more cost-efficient and predictable in their operations. Further, we are looking at introducing mineral sizer technology which is the latest innovation in the crushing industry providing a compact and efficient way of comminution. We are using tele remote LHD, solo equipment, and jumbo equipment that removes the operator from the hazardous area and relocates them to a secure and protected location where they can control the machine via remote with the help of multiple cameras and sensors. Presently, our Sindesar Khurd underground mine has tele-remote LHD and solo equipment running and we are planning to expand this feature to our other units as well. The automation and remote operation help use the mine’s wireless network and allows the operator to utilise the machine functions from a remote location including, drilling levelling, tramming, and GPS hole navigation to increase productivity, safety, and cost-efficiency of the process. Also, advances on the Internet of Things (IoT) technology are enabling a connected network of low-cost, highly capable sensors to capture data in real-time and enable integrated planning, control, and decision support in our mines at Hindustan Zinc.  Digital twins (digitised geological, engineering, and asset data) is another emerging technology that enables the creation of digital models of the physical environment, constructed using geological, engineering, and asset information. This can be continuously updated with data from sensors and location-aware mobile devices enabling robust real-time data-driven decision making. Additionally, for data collection, inspection, stock control, condition, and safety monitoring, new improved un-manned drones are also being used. LHD, LPDTs, jumbo, exploration drills, and production drills are some of the major HEMMs deployed in underground mining applications. With the latest in technology, now we have access to larger capacity intelligent equipment with semi-autonomous and fully autonomous capabilities, that enable us to run our operations unhindered with minimum manual intervention, efficiency, productivity, and most important of all, better safety. IoT and digital technologies are upcoming technologies which can bring huge dividends as they enable improvement in efficiencies and productivities along with real-time tracking of people and equipment. The underground operation in India is on verge of transition from the conventional to the autonomous operation. Shortly, there will be hardly any deposits left near the surface and hence the underground operations shall become more prominent and drivers of outcomes. The future depends on how well we are prepared to address the deeper mining challenges. What is your take on the future trend of underground mining in India?  Technology is the catalyst in making mining operations ‘smart’, ‘sustainable” and ‘safe’ by leveraging digital tools and processes that make operations instrumented, interconnected, and intelligent. Some of the emerging technology trends that we are fast integrating into our mines are in the areas of automation and remote operation, real-time data capture, digital twins, drones, mine to mill process integration, hydraulic ore hoisting, and safety innovation. The automation and remote operation help use the mine's wireless network and allows the operator to utilise the machine functions from a remote location including, drilling levelling, tramming, and GPS hole navigation to increase productivity, safety, and cost-efficiency of the process. Another noteworthy technological intervention that we have successfully embraced in our operations at Hindustan Zinc is the mine to mill process Integration technology that maximises mine-to-mill metal extraction. Similarly, hydraulic ore hoisting provides a potentially cost-effective way of hoisting crushed ore from underground mines to the surface. Another technology. Safety analytics technology effectively predicts potential harm and offers the means to prevent it. We are consciously working with our partners towards building and adopting these capabilities as we look at it as an investment into the future of mining where sustainability, safety, efficiency, and innovation are an integral part of operations. Increasingly, different digital solutions are being bundled into the offerings of the equipment manufacturers and service providers too.

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