Future Mining & Digital Value Chain
With a Ph.D. in mining engineering, over 20 years of experience in the profession, and a Professorship at
Western Australian School of Mines, Alan Bye has seen the industry from both the operational and strategic
sides. He’s the perfect man to ask where mining is headed in the future.
Please introduce yourself:
A cross discipline resources engineer with a system engineering focus. I have been fortunate to experience
handson work across the mining value chain and across the world on operations and major projects.
What Theme Subject Who Publish
Blog Thoughtleader Future mining Alan Bye June 4
How did you became a Professor of Digital Value Chains and MD at Imvelo.ai?
I have held a range of roles across mining businesses and R&D organisations. My two preceding roles were
VP Strategy and Innovation at BHP and CEO at CRC ORE. I am passionate about improving the resources
sector at a system level, addressing the productivity, social and environmental dimensions. My time is
currently split between my role as Professor of Digital Value Chains at Curtin University and the MD of
“My simple idea is that the real 21st century around us isn’t so obvious
to us, so instead we spend our time responding rationally to a world
which we understand and recognise, but which no longer exists”.
From your point of view, what are the biggest threats to the mining industry in the future?
I think Eddie Obeng’s quote captures the risk facing the mining industry: “My simple idea is that the real 21st
century around us isn’t so obvious to us, so instead we spend our time responding rationally to a world which
we understand and recognize, but which no longer exists”.
Productivity, skills and license to operate are risks that we need to address as an industry. Regarding
productivity, the multi-factor productivity of the Australian Resources sector has declined by 25% since 1990
and labour productivity significantly lags behind the broader Australian economy. In comparison to mining,
global manufacturing has accelerated labour productivity four times faster through the application of
technology and deployment of digital skills.
Concerning skills, there is a skills shortage of both experienced SME’s and those with genuine digital
capabilities. The trends in enrolments and graduations for mining related roles is also declining. And when
we speak of licenses to operate – there is increasing social value expectations from our communities and
The case for collaboration is compelling. It is essential that we as an industry collaborate more effectively
within and across industries to build a stronger ecosystem with the critical mass to support the transformation
of resources industries – improved safety, productivity and social value.
“The future is already here, it is just not evenly distributed”
What is the maturity level of digital systems or Industry 4.0 practices in the mining industry?
William Gibson’s famous quote – ’The future is already here, it is just not evenly distributed’ comes to mind.
There are pockets of mining excellence across the world that are leading the application of Industry 4.0 and
the adoption of digital technologies. However, in general, there is a more ad-hoc approach that is neither
integrated nor systematic.
We need to shift from point solutions to integrated systems that are interoperable. The step-changes occur
when technologies are integrated taking an system approach. The digital age is bringing the resources
industries together with technology platform requirements common across mining, oil and gas, agriculture,
forestry and space. This presents an opportunity to leverage cross-industry technology capabilities and
“Specialist technical roles are shifting from operating sites to regional
centres supported by sensors, data integration and automation.”
Tell us about the workforce transition that is happening across mining?
We are seeing a shift in equipment operator roles to off machine tele-remote – one operator to many
machines and ultimately, fully autonomous environments co-ordinated by a central remote operator. As we
bring more technology and systems into the operations, we are seeing an increase in specialised
maintenance roles and support services.
Specialist technical roles are shifting from operating sites to regional centres supported by sensors, data
integration and automation. Increasingly, mining companies are recognising the value of their data and
employing skills that can apply optimisation, ML and AI techniques to improve productivity and asset
“The ability to measure ore variability in real time at every handling point
in the supply chain enables value-add by removing dilution, deleterious
elements and managing geometallurgical variability.”
Where do you see the value of high resolution, 3D big data technologies?
(i.e. satellite imaging, LIDAR, sensor-based core logging, geophysical technologies, and online sensors.)
Resource uncertainty remains one of the mining industry’s greatest challenges. For the most part we make
estimates from small and spatially diffuse data sets. These technologies offer the ability to collect high
resolution 4D data, in real time and at all scales (microns to km2).
The ability to measure ore variability in real time at every handling point in the supply chain enables valueadd
by removing dilution, deleterious elements and managing geometallurgical variability. The sensors exist
to do this and are improving constantly, so the next challenge is how to integrate them into the business
What are the barriers for adopting of these technologies?
Right now, systems are highly fragmented and application environments have a high cost of integration and
low levels of interoperability. Furthermore, IT infrastructure is largely antiquated and this needs addressing.
Similar to manufacturing in the US, and many governments, the mining sector has hollowed out its technical
skills base. This combined with
mining not being as attractive to graduates means that the current and future skills base is constrained.
There are therefore fewer people within mining companies who understand how to apply these new
What application do you see for the Orexplore suite of products?
The mining industry deals with a highly variable resource as an input into the extraction process. This
variability destabilises the extraction process causing productivity losses. The cross-discipline data
generated by GeoCore X10 provides insights in advance, enabling operations teams to manage the
variability and improve productivity.
The resource to reserve conversion process requires competent persons to make judgements on modifying
factors such as recovery and throughput, often with limited data. Orexplore will generate more data to better
inform the definition of these modifying factors, significantly improving the confidence in reserve estimates.
Exploration geologists are constantly searching for the geological fingerprints, the DNA that defines
economic mineralisation. GeoCoreX10 provides a forensic tool that enables geologists to identify patterns
and relationships from huge amounts of multi-element data. These insights enable better targeting of
exploration programs and increased success rates.
What role do you see for automation of workflows, as well as ML and AI approaches?
Operating mines generate enormous amounts of data and very little is fully utilised. This overload of data will
continue to grow and automation of workflows as well as the application of ML and AI techniques offer a
means to leverage these vast data streams for operational improvement. They are however not silver bullets
but rather sophisticated pattern matching tools that require skilled SME’s (i.e. geologists /metallurgists) to
work closely with data scientists and mathematicians to ensure the tools are fit for purpose and are updated
when structural changes occur in operating conditions.
If we automated the data integration from these 3D big data technologies, what opportunities
would be unlocked for mining companies?
Well for one, we would free up significant time that professionals spend dealing with raw data, rather than
applying their expertise to actionable insights. With these data integrated we would have better visibility of
the 4D resource uncertainty and the ability to proactively address these risks and opportunities.
What trends and initiatives do you see in the industry in a sustainability perspective?
I like to think about these shifts at a platform or system level: Safety – removing people from high-risk work
through technology Energy – shift from fossil fuels to electric green energy Communication – ubiquitous high
bandwidth and low-cost communication systems Transport – From manual and mechanical to higher levels
of automation and tele-remote Social – Increasing demand for transparency and equitable sharing of
benefits Environmental – increasing accountability for the true cost of resource extraction Business Models –
greater participation and benefit share with service companies throughout the value chain
Who would you want us to interview next and why?
Michelle Ash, CEO Geovia, she is a highly respected thought leader in the resources industry on the
application of new Technologies.
What question would you like to ask that her?
How do we improve system integration and interoperable applications along the mining value chain?
About our Guest:
Name: Alan Bye
Lives: Mt Claremont, Western Australia
Title: Managing Director and Professor
Career in summary: Ph.D. in Mining Engineering, University of Natal. Professor at Western Australian
School of Mines, Curtin University. Managing Director at Imvelo.ai and Director of Digital Value Chains at
Curtin University. 20 years experience in operational and strategic roles in the resources industry, worked in
15 countries covering 9 commodities. Fellow of the Australian Academy of Technology Science and
Engineering (FTSE). Non-executive Director at Swick and Scitech and a member of the CSIRO’s Minerals
Resources Flagship Advisory Council and the SmartSat CRC Industry Advisory Board – Mining and Energy.
5 key learnings on successful technology adoption
Understand the whole system
Understand the whole system and whether you are addressing the most important constraint first. Will a
point solution suffice (sensor) or is a system solution required (sensor + control + skills) for a sustainable
Treat the cause
Make sure the solution is treating the cause not the symptoms, otherwise the benefit will be temporary.
Ingredients for success
Understand all the ingredients for success, total cost of ownership and technology maturity (TRL 1-9),
maintenance and support, stakeholders, critical operational skills…etc.
Find the right partners
Finding the right partners means has the problem been solved by some one else in the world? very likely.
People, people, people
…and most importantly it’s all about people.