In 1965 when Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel and namesake of ‘Moore’s Law’, spoke of the exponential growth of semiconductors, never could he have envisaged how pervasive technology would become in everyday life.

And while few of us sit comfortably at the ‘early adopter’ stage of the technology adoption cycle, small-cap miners have figured out how to level the playing field using tools like AI, GIS, AR, and automation.  

In the past, innovative tech solutions have only been accessible to global mining giants, with deep pockets and large R&D funding pools. The size and scale of these businesses allowed them to take risks, given the potential payday from rising commodity prices.  

Today, the proliferation of generative AI and other smart tech applications has allowed smaller mining operations to leapfrog – or at least match their monolithic industry peers – especially in the exploration space.  

Essentially, small and mid-tier mining operations, have been able to demonstrate ‘big end of town’ thinking on a start-up budget.   

When it comes to biggest bang for your buck there is one clear leader in terms of smart tech – spatial. 

Spatial or ‘GIS technology’ acts as an easy entry point for any sized mining company looking to digitally transform or optimise their operation. The wins are usually quick and easy.   

Apart from the relative ease of access, GIS tech has an amplifying effect on the ROI of other smart tech. Even better, there is nothing ‘experimental’ about applying a spatial approach to both tried and tested work practices, as well as emerging technologies such as AI, drones, and automation – the use cases are extensive.   

GIS tech has an amplifying effect on the ROI of other smart tech.  

Observing business operations through a spatial lens helps decision-makers effectively identify, manage and monetise their resources, optimise workflows and communicate with everybody from field crews, engineers, and investors to regulators, community groups, and everyone in between.  

The visual aspect of the tech is what makes it so universally accessible to its extensive user base as it literally identifies the information that matters most in a format that transcends language and technical ability.  

Can’t see the forest for the trees?  

You may be asking, “if the benefits of spatial are so obvious then why isn’t everyone using it?” Good question.  

The perception often attached to ‘spatial thinking’ is that it is a craft requiring a science degree or two – and potentially a theodolite.  Not the case.

The business of mineral exploration and extraction is by its very nature – spatial.  

Since most mines cover large expanses of land, miners require access to volumes of location-based information to guide their operation.  

The spatial element is already present in the data informing mine operations – it’s simply a matter of focus, or more accurately perspective. Forest for the trees. 

From discovery to production, to mine closure and reclamation, spatial is at the core. And it is the versatility of GIS as a tool for collecting, storing, analysing, and sharing information – that has been the biggest driver of its adoption across the sector. 

GIS is increasingly being integrated into core business systems with the primary objective of increasing productivity and improving asset and infrastructure management workflows.  

The tech is commonly used to map the geology of a region and analyse operations, to determine where mining components, such as drilling sites, processing plants and tailing storage facilities, should be located and how to best minimise environmental impacts. The vast array of applications is what earns it the ‘best bang for your buck’ label.   

A revolution in smart thinking 

Even after 50 plus years of innovation GIS tech is far from reaching its maturity.   

The predictive analytics capabilities embedded in the tool have increasingly been leveraged by mine operators to model and reduce risk. While more technically literate users have begun to use GIS to build ‘living’ digital twins of mine assets.  

For those at the technological coal face though, GeoAI – is where new ground is being broken. 

For those at the technological coal face though, GeoAI – is where new ground is being broken.

GeoAI uses machine learning algorithms, data mining, and natural language processing capabilities to rapidly analyse everything from satellite imagery, geological maps, in-field data, IoT feeds and much more to drive better decision-making. Across health and safety, site and drill operations, disturbance management, heritage, and environment – nothing is off the table.   

Most importantly, for small-cap and mid-tier miners, the emergence of GIS-as-a-service and the proliferation of other smart technologies has made digital enablement far more accessible – both from a cost and operational perspective. 

Get in touch with our team to discuss digitally enabling your team and the applications best suited to your operation.  

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About the Author

Trevor Smales
Trevor Smales
Resources Practice Lead
Esri Australia, Perth
Spatial industry expert specialising in mining, petroleum, emergency management.

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