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The Innovation Pitch May Not Play with the Gold Majors

Commentaries & Views

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(Kitco News) - A running theme at Society for Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration (SME) exhibit hall was the application of artificial intelligence and big data, but the gold majors may have moved on.

The 2019 SME Annual Conference & Expo just wrapped up in Denver, a four-day technical conference that runs during the last week of February. It is dedicated to all disciplines of mining engineering.  

Goldcorp and Barrick made much ado about the adoption of cutting-edge technology. Two-years ago Goldcorp signed a deal with IBM to utilize its Watson technology to run Goldcorp’s mining data through AI. In the intervening years, Goldcorp has struggled with production issues, and Newmont is now proposing to absorbe the company. 

In 2016 Barrick Gold announced a partnership with Cisco. The gold miner also hired data teams to work on its mine sites, but in December the Wall Street Journal reported that Mark Bristow, formerly with Randgold Resources and now CEO of Barrick Gold, had shrunk or disbanded its technology teams. The focus is now on decentralization, streamlining operations and generating cash.

Many vendors at the SME exhibit hall are still leading with artificial intelligence and big data. Risk management company MINETELL TECHNOLOGIES says in its flyer that it provides ". . .  real insight in real-time risk exposure using Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning."

Two of the Disrupt Mining finalists, Goldcorp's annual technology prize awarded to the company that develops the most innovative mining technology, were both at SME.

Andritz is training artificial intelligence to operate mineral processing plants, and Voith Turbo is applying an internet of things application to increase the intelligence of belt conveyors.

The mining industry needs to get smarter. A mid-decade study by McKinsey found that mining lags the innovation found in adjacent industries, like transportation and oil and gas. An updated study found that mining is making gains, but it can be doing better.  

The market for innovation and technology will come back. The message may just be subsumed in this currently M&A cycle. 

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