Sue Longo Member Name
Principal and Senior Project Manager
The use of Virtual Reality (VR) in business has been around for more than a decade, but adoption has been slow. The main reasons are a lack of awareness in the marketplace, limited applications, and the high cost of hardware. This, however, is changing rapidly.
According to Business Insider Intelligence estimates, VR hardware and software revenue will be $5.5 billion in 2023, up from a $800 million in 2018. While the tech industry may have driven the initial interest, broader adoption of VR for employee training and product development is behind these latest revenue predictions.
As businesses like Macy’s, Lowe’s, Walmart, and UPS, among others, are implementing VR programs that focus on driving sales, it is important for all industries to consider how this tool can be applied and developed to benefit their organization. Many practical applications for VR have arisen for the mining sector, with planning and project development currently being its most prevalent use.
Typical planning issues faced by mining companies
Mine infrastructure, including plant and process design, is complex. The very nature of mining means that sites are often remote, making them difficult for surveying teams, designers, engineers and project teams to access. Remote-site assessments often work on a Fly-in, Fly-out (FIFO) basis, making it expensive and difficult to coordinate access for multiple on-site teams during planning and execution. In addition, design teams are often located in different parts of the world, so coordination amongst disciplines is driving the industry towards using technology to maximize efficiency.
Underground workings and surface infrastructure are often located at a distance, adding complexity to the mix. Even though 3D models are becoming the norm for designing infrastructure, 2D drawings and plans are still used for the planning and review process, requiring a high degree of visualization skill from all parties concerned.
the potential for VR in
mining and other
How is VR helping the planning process?
Virtual reality can help bring plans to life by using 3D computer-aided design (CAD) models, simulation techniques, and VR hardware. Through our work with clients, Golder has discovered valuable benefits of this approach. For example:
- Design reviews can take place remotely, saving on FIFO and face-to-face meeting costs. Users can walk around a virtual site and point out things for the rest of the group to see. This makes it easier for designers to identify any hardware overlaps such as clashes between piping and steel or noting that cable trays are not being laid in the most efficient way.
- Identifying and evaluating issues is more efficient. Golder clients have found that the ability to zoom in on equipment, access points, and walkways is invaluable for hazard and operability studies (HAZOPs), as well as constructability and maintenance reviews.
The main outcomes for clients embracing this technology is time and cost savings. This is a direct result of the reduced FIFO requirements, the ease of remote collaboration with other service teams, and the ability to identify problems virtually during the planning and design phase, rather than on-site during construction or operations.
What does the future look like for VR in mining?
As technology advances and companies become more knowledgeable, the potential for VR in mining and other industries is infinite.
Already, we’re seeing how end users can add individual design components to 3D models. In the future, VR systems will (hopefully) allow users to zoom in and view embedded data on items. For example, the make, model number, capacity, and maintenance schedule of a specific valve or pump could be viewed virtually. This would have an impact on the efficiency of maintenance and procurement tasks, while at the same time being tied to the 3D model.
It’s expected that the scope of embedded data will expand. Expansion of VR technologies will not only aid in planning but will also make maintenance and repairs much easier. For example, a valve expert can use a VR simulation to remotely talk through a repair with someone on site who can carry out the physical actions.
Virtual reality has the potential to help mining companies plan better, manage complications better during construction and commissioning and save time and money on operations and maintenance. There’s little doubt that artificial intelligence and machine learning will bring even more capabilities to this type of design work when they are harnessed into the VR environment.