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Fig. 1. Delegates from all over the world came together in Aachen for the Smart Mining Conference. The exhibition that ran in parallel to the conference gave attendees the chance to share expertise and ideas. // Bild 1. Teilnehmer aus aller Welt trafen sich in Aachen zur Smart Mining-Konferenz. Die begleitende Ausstellung bot Gelegenheit zum Erfahrungsaustausch. Photo/Foto: RWTH

Forum Bergbau 4.0 – Smart Mining Conference: The latest news on the digitalisation of the mining industry

On 14th and 15th November 2017, experts of science and industry joined together with representatives of relevant associations in the Tivoli centre, Aachen/Germany, to discuss the latest on the digitalisation of mining. The Smart Mining Conference was organised by the Institute for Advanced Mining Technologies (AMT) of the RWTH Aachen University together with the Mining Association of the German Engineering Foundation (VDMA) and DMT GmbH & Co. KG.

This was the second event exploring the subject of mining in the era of Industry 4.0, and this time the 200-person capacity was filled. The organiser concluded that attendance was extremely high for all the presentations – a clear sign that the event is extremely topical.

Forum Bergbau 4.0 has been held every other year since 2015. The event is designed to facilitate conversation among key figures from industry, research and relevant associations, enabling them to exchange ideas on the growing use of digital technologies in mining. Digitalisation is considered at an international level and from a range of different perspectives.

This year, the 24 presentations looked at the cycle of data in mining and how it can be processed securely in the age of Industry 4.0: Topics included ruggedised sensors, i. e. which data can withstand the conditions of mines, how to process data securely in the big data era, and ensuring communication between machines is standardized and secure. The organisers set out to establish connections and raise awareness for the necessary interfaces. This is firstly because there is still a high degree of variation in terms of the technology available internationally, and secondly because mining operations cannot be automated until communication is standardised.

The mining industry is unanimous in its goal to realise a future of autonomous mining. The main benefits of this would be that humans need no longer work below ground in dangerous locations and the physical impact on mines would be significantly reduced – i. e. minimising the repercussions for people and the environment. These questions are also fundamentally important to the future existence of mining, e. g. in marine mining or extraterrestrial mining.

To make the forum more internationally accessible, the presentations on both days were conducted in German and in English. Guests and speakers from 16 different nations swapped notes on the latest developments in mining technology in their respective countries and made new contacts during the evening event. A major highlight of the forum was the opening address by Erich Schnake, Deputy Minister for Mining in the Republic of Chile. The German-Chilean Raw Materials Forum was held in the same conference centre shortly before, which meant Forum Bergbau 4.0 was able to secure a prestigious delegation of speakers from Chile.

Besides giving participants the opportunity to exchange ideas, Forum Bergbau 4.0 also sets out to promote and develop Germany’s international reputation as a leader in technological innovation (Figure 1).

All the organising parties deemed the event such a success that they are already discussing plans for the next Forum Bergbau 4.0 in 2019. These include the possibility of additional formats, such as a company-wide app contest. There are also plans to give young innovatives a platform to showcase the topic of innovation in mining. Other topics on the agenda include shared standards, IT security and legal questions surrounding data ownership.

In general, however, the organisers painted an extremely positive picture in their closing speech, describing those affected by digitalisation as significantly more responsive and embracing than they had been two years earlier. In short, digitalisation is now an everyday feature of the mining industry. (RWTH/Si.)