Disrupted operations, diminished demand, and economic uncertainty – COVID-19 has brought all these home to the metals and mining industry with a promise of more challenges to come. But when three Dassault Systèmes experts – Michelle Ash, GEOVIA CEO; Thomas Grand, Energy & Materials Vice President; and David Osborn, Europe, Africa, and Middle East Director – came together during a virtual roundtable webinar to discuss the issues, they also identified a unique opportunity for the industry to harness available technologies and change for the better.
Like many industries, metals and mining had to move fast to maximize business continuity as social distancing measures were enforced to prevent the spread of COVID-19. A live poll of online attendees during the roundtable hinted at the extent of that impact, finding 86% working from home. That rapid shift to remote working is a mark of the industry’s progress along its digital transformation journey. But the experience also highlighted a need to enable closer collaboration between remote workers and better visibility and agility throughout the supply and logistics chain.
As a result, the 20-year horizon envisaged by many firms for their digital transformation has been halved. They need to embrace new technologies and overhaul legacy systems much more rapidly to enable more sustainable operations, agile business, and remote collaboration. That means the current workforce will have to adapt to a new way of working with artificial intelligence (AI), automation, data analytics and collaboration platforms.
New business models
Changes to the industry’s business models can also be expected as the “new normal” ushered in by the pandemic drives companies to lower costs and increase revenues. An increased focus on environmental sustainability, for instance, could lead to increased recycling, accelerate the development of autonomous vehicles and lightweight materials, and reduce the volume of traffic on roads. For mining, oil and gas companies that translates to lower demand for materials in the medium to long term.
To differentiate themselves, many companies will need to decommoditize. Opportunities include selling smaller batches of product with better controlled availability, offering specialty blends and grades tailored for the end user, or tracing the sources of minerals to guarantee that no hazardous substances have been used in their production. As well as attracting premium prices, the panel said, these new business model will enable greater agility and more sustainable supply chains.
Diversification and multi-sourcing will increasingly characterize the metals and mining supply chain in the future, after travel restrictions introduced to halt the spread of COVID-19 revealed the vulnerability of global supply chains and logistical networks. As a result, global businesses will increasingly demand full transparency of the mining value chain, including where raw materials are sourced and inventoried and which alternative transport routes or supply options are available.
There is also an opportunity for mining companies to rethink how they use technology to generate long-term wealth and distribute risk among local communities and governments. Where AI is used to measure environmental performance, for instance, the same information might help to build agricultural businesses in surrounding communities. And automation technologies used to run trucks around mining sites could also support local agricultural and manufacturing outputs.
As metals and mining companies increasingly operate in virtual working environments, the social skills of their people are fundamentally important. A real-life example of how this human-centered approach enables business transformation comes from Debswana, a mining company in Botswana. It uses the 3DEXPERIENCE platform® as the central point where tech services, mine planners, surveyors and geologists can share information and visualize each other’s modelling and plans. This improved level of transparency has made it easy for teams to quickly adapt to changes in the mining environment. It also provides management with oversight of planning and production across the value chain, so they are better able to make sound business decisions on asset optimization, repair and maintenance, reconciliation of inventories and evaluation of mine closures.
Debswana’s success illustrates how, by developing a culture of close teamwork, collaboration and communication on virtual workspaces, businesses across the industry can achieve the resilience and agility that will enable them to thrive in the new normal.
We also invite you to listen to our recent roundtable on Shaping the Sustainable Mine of the Future.