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Supporting mining construction with AI

Published by , Editorial Assistant
Global Mining Review,

ALICE Technologies outlines how AI can support the creation and maintenance of a mine, using an example of how a lithium mine reduced its schedule by 15% and cut labour costs by 8%, and promote mining diversification.

Supporting mining construction with AI

Supporting mining construction with AI

Construction work is never finished in an active mine. Tasks ranging from the initial site build to maintenance require detailed consideration to ensure downtime is reduced and the mining site remains as profitable as possible. This is where AI comes into its own.

Creating a mining site

One of the main challenges is the initial phase of mine construction. Carrying out earthworks and constructing the conveyor and processing facility requires major equipment, labour, and materials, such as steel and pipes. Planners must also consider how multiple built assets and tunnels will connect, enabling sites to start mining as early as possible.

By planning the project schedule in a data-driven way and proactively finding and agreeing on solutions to issues that could cause delays and downtime, project schedulers can streamline construction processes, find the most time and cost-effective solutions, and have clearer communication methods with stakeholders.

There is also the infrastructure around the mines to consider. The remote nature of sites means that temporary sleeping arrangements are often needed for the workforce because local hotels are not available. Project managers need to ensure that the number of people does not exceed the number of beds available while trying to get as close to the number as possible to maximise productivity. Depending on whether the mine is traditional or non-traditional and the urgency of the project completion, the workforce can be required to hotbed and work night and day shift patterns to speed up the project – this can add additional complexities for project managers.

Finding a solution with AI

These issues can seem daunting. A lithium battery-grade production facility in Latin America worth £215 million, found a solution by using AI.

ALICE Technologies is the world’s first artificial intelligence-powered construction simulation platform. Users begin by uploading a P6 schedule to ALICE and then use the platform to ‘optioneer’ that schedule, exploring alternatives to their baseline schedule to find more efficient ways to build. The mining business wanted to accelerate the schedule by optimising resource allocation, sequencing, and descoping non-critical work. ALICE helped in multiple ways. This included validating the construction process and using the schedules to proactively plan for key risks, such as a delay of critical equipment on project completion dates and costs. This allowed the team to decide on the preferred course of action if a risk was to occur, and even introduce mitigations to lower the chance of something going wrong.

The company found that it also supported future projects; by using these schedules as a foundation for similar jobs and adapting them to the specific requirements and restrictions on the site, they could avoid starting from scratch every time.

After planning the project in ALICE, the lithium mining business saw a 15% schedule duration reduction compared to the original plan and reduced labour costs by lowering the number of full-time employees on site by 8%.

Encouraging diversification

In 2022, coal production fell by 39% to a record low of 0.6 million t in the UK, with opencast coal mining producing more than underground mines, according to the Coal Authority. This reflects the change to more renewable and sustainable energy sources. Mining businesses must therefore continue to diversify their businesses away from these products to remain profitable and competitive.

The boom in lithium demand from electric cars is just one area where mine operators are expanding. This shift can mean that start-up mining businesses and traditional mining businesses are entering the non-traditional mining industry. Using tools like ALICE will help them to understand and optimise these projects as they move into the industry.

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