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Mining is a major worldwide industry producing everything from coal to gold. According to a PWC annual report, the top 40 mining companies have a market capitalization of $748 billion as of April 2017. The industry as a whole saw a slump in 2015 but since then the sector has recovered due to rising commodity prices
The number of people directly working in the mining industry is relatively modest. In the United States roughly 670,000 people are employed in the mining, quarrying, and gas extraction sector as of September 2017. But the mining industry indirectly impacts nearly every aspect of the economy since it provides the raw materials needed for almost every sector from electronics; which often contain aluminum, cobalt, nickel, copper gold, platinum, etc… to energy; which use coal for power plans and aluminum for power lines; to construction/infrastructure which around the world used roughly 800 million metric tonnes of steel in 2014. The cost of almost every good or service is impacted at least in some small part by the mining industry
Since mining companies are producing basically interchangeable commodities in large volumes, the industry is heavily focused on improving efficiency at all levels. Small improvements in speed, yields, and efficiency can often be what separate a profitable operation from an unprofitable one. This is what companies using artificial intelligence and machine learning are trying to do in this space.
Mining is a large and diverse industry with significantly different techniques and technologies used depending on what material is being extracted, so it difficult to make sweeping statements that fully encompass the entire sector. That said, this article will look at how AI is being used to find ground to mine and how AI is being used to improve mine operations
The first step is finding a place to mine. This mineral exploration step is critical to mining operations. A company could build the most aggressively automated and impressively efficient operation and it would be worthless unless there were good material in the ground to extract. Applying artificial intelligence and machine learning to the task of mineral prospecting and exploration is a very new phenomenon, which is gaining interest in the industry
Using a gold wash plant, exposed gold-bearing gravels are mined using a bulldozer that pushes and stockpiles the gravel near a wash plant. The stockpiled gold-bearing gravel is then fed into the wash plant by a front-end loader or large backhoe. This practice promotes equipment efficiency by allowing the bulldozer to continue mining while the loader or backhoe feeds the wash plant at a steady rate. When the mined gravel is fed into the washplant. It is classified by particle size using various stationary or vibrating screens. Classifying gravels provides for more efficient gold recovery, reduced water consumption, and facilitation of mine site rehabilitation, and is practiced by most operators. The oversize material, usually larger than two inches, slides out of the washplant into a pile where it can be moved by a front-end loader or bulldozer. The undersize material and gold-bearing gravel is mixed with water and flows through the sluicebox where the gold and heavy black sands are concentrated. Tailings are gravel, sand, and other materials accumulated at the end of the sluicebox. Tailings are routinely moved away from the sluicebox by a loader or bulldozer
The water that carries the gold-bearing gravel through the sluicebox becomes sediment-laden and turbid. This “muddy” process water flows from the end of the sluicebox over a pile of fresh tailings into a series of settling ponds. These ponds are designed to hold the “muddy” water long enough for the fine sediments to settle. The physical design of the ponds depends upon the amount of water flowing through the system, the sediment characteristics of the gravels being worked, and the physical characteristics of the site. Most mines use a series of small settling ponds to permit more flexible water management. Small ponds are usually easier to build, repair, dean, replace, bypass, and rehabilitate than larger ponds. The use of pre-settling ponds is encouraged. A pre-settling pond is located in the tail race between the sluice and the first settling pond. Sands and other heavy settleable solids are collected here where they are easy to wash
However, some zero-discharge systems do have occasional discharges, usually due to water seepage through pond dikes. This seepage almost always meets the settleable solids effluent standards, and in most cases, Is probably of better quality than the water discharged from typically operated settling ponds. I.e., less settleable solids and lower turbidity. Carefully designed and Implemented water management practices are required to achieve zero discharge of “muddy water into adjacent streams. Water used in the sluicing process Is pumped from the nearby stream through the washplant and into the settling ponds. Water Intake from the stream Is suspended when the ponds contain adequate water to support continued sluicing operations by recycling pond water to the washplant. In some cases, groundwater seepage Into the settling ponds may be sufficient to eliminate the need for adding stream water to the system. The practice of zero discharge and the recycling of mine water contributes to compliance with federal effluent limitations and State water quality standards
Placer mining involves equipment ranging from a simple gold pan all the way up to trucks, excavators, and a gold wash plant.This type of gold prospecting usually involves less investment and will consistently yield small amounts of gold, with occasional bonanzas for those who are persistent. If you can learn to reliably return from every trip with decent concentrates, so that over time you fill a five-gallon bucket, and then maybe even a fifty-five-gallon drum, with black sands, magnetite, ilmenite, rare earth elements (REEs), and gold, you will be rewarded in the long run
Either way, your long-term goals are your own.Very few prospectors are simply in it for the money, looking at this as a way to become a millionaire overnight. Some of us just like to get out of town, camp in the mountains, and enjoy the spirit of the outdoors. Some people like to work up a little sweat and appetite, improve their health, and learn a little. Some of us like to solve problems and run machinery, and enjoy the challenge of keeping a pump going or making sure the sluice is running right. Still others like the wildlife, the scenery, and the historical importance of the Wild West, and bring back their riches as photos and videos. In each case, if you toss in a little gold fever as motivation and stay scientific about your sampling and exploration, you will prosper far and above the value of your recovered material
Still, a nice payday is always a treat. One sure way to reach that goal is to keep trying. Keep practicing, keep exploring, and keep getting out in the field. Another truism that seems to hold is that the farther away from civilization you get. the better your chances
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