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Mining recovery is partly thanks to robotic technology says survey

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The industry has significantly recovered lost ground in 2018 thanks to innovations across the sector in robotic technology, a new survey has found.

More than 40 per cent of mining companies surveyed in global law firm White & Case LLP’s Multinational Third Annual Mining and Metals Survey Report, said they will keep investing in automated technology to drive-down production costs in the New Year and beyond.

For major Australian iron ore miners, 2018 was a big year in terms of automation.

“Rio Tinto completed its first fully autonomous train delivery across Western Australia, moving 28,000 tonnes of ore 280km, all controlled from a tech hub in Perth,” the firm said in a public statement. “Resolute Mining is currently commissioning the first fully autonomous underground gold mine in Mali, while Anglo American unveiled its new FutureSmart Mining programme that has goals such as reducing water use by 20 per cent by 2020.”

According to the report, more mining companies are using automation, live data analytics and integrated supply chains to save money. The trend is pressuring other companies that have not yet implemented such technology to follow suit.

Copper is proving to be the commodity of choice, with 43 per cent of mining companies making it their top pick for projects in 2019 and beyond.

“This bullish view on copper has now become a consistent theme in our polls, with it being the favoured commodity for the third straight year,” the report said.

“Rio Tinto, with perhaps the strongest balance sheet in the sector, has been vocal in its pursuit of big copper mines … this has prompted more attention to be placed on exploration and buying into promising ground, as BHP did when it bought a 16 per cent stake in explorer SolGold.”

After Newmont Mining’s US$10 billion (A$13.8 billion) takeover of Goldcorp, there is likely to be more merger and acquisition (M&A) activity in the gold sector.

“There is confidence that the gold sector is the most likely to see deals this year, with 43 per cent of our respondents seeing precious metal miners most likely to lead consolidation efforts, compared to just 18 per cent who thought base metals M&A was most likely,” the report said.

Thermal coal prices continue to enjoy strong growth, with prices hovering above US$100 (A$140.68) a tonne for most of last year, representing the highest prices since the year 2011.

“China dominates both factors, mining and burning more coal than any other country, and it has increasingly looked to import higher-quality and less-polluting coal as part of its Clean Skies directive,” the report said. “That’s put a squeeze on the seaborne market at the same time that many of the biggest producers start to turn their back on the fuel.”

More than half of those surveyed expect coal to be the most impacted commodity from China’s continued polices to reduce pollution from its air.

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