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Pre-Conference Podcast with Dr. Ali Soofastaei, AI Program Leader at Vale

AI in mining industry

For 20 years, Dr. Ali Soofastaei has worked to improve energy efficiency, reduce carbon emissions, increase productivity, and reduce the total product cost of the mining sector through the use of new technologies. Dr. Soofastaei’s Ph.D. focused on reducing fuel consumption in surface mines with the help of artificial intelligence. This research became the foundation for his professional work in deploying machine learning algorithms to improve efficiency through the mine value chain and employing AI in the mining industry. 

As an experienced and multifaceted specialist, Dr. Soofastaei has worked directly in the field at well-known mining giants as well as through academia, where he partnered with prestigious universities. He is currently working as an AI Program Leader at Vale, a Brazilian mining company with operations in more than 35 countries, the biggest producer of iron ore and nickel in the world. This November, Ali will speak at the Mining 4.0 Summit about the opportunities and challenges of digital transformation in mining.

The Significance of AI

During the podcast, Dr. Ali Soofastaei explained that artificial intelligence can potentially transform the mining process. The technology can provide prediction, optimization, and decision-making services in different areas of mining operations. “AI has already changed the game in the mining industry, and developing new technologies has helped AI to grow very fast,” says Dr. Soofastaei.

In 2019, Vale was named the 19th most innovative company in the world, alongside Google, Apple, and other tech giants. Dr. Ali Soofastaei says, “Vale is saving huge amounts of money, billions of dollars, by using AI and Machine Learning through Mining 4.0.” Vale has a long-standing reputation as a leader in the mining industry. This is largely driven by its focus on Mining 4.0 and digital transformation. 

Digitalization is Key

Ali points out that the digitalization of mining processes will inevitably enhance productivity, energy efficiency, safety, and maintenance. He also notes that digital mining sites are remotely controllable. This allows researchers to collect data from various mining sites. Scientists can later use it to conduct tests that help elevate the precision of operations. 

Mining companies have employed AI in a variety of capacities. This includes underground and surface mining, as well as at processing plants. Ali emphasizes that while historically AI has been used primarily in the fields of prediction and optimization, the use of the technology is now expanding. More and more companies deploy it in areas such as shipping, marketing, and sales.

How Has Vale’s Leadership in Innovation Led to Success?

Ali believes that Vale is taking proactive steps in leading digitalization by collaborating with universities and research centers. To illustrate the role of artificial intelligence in Vale’s operations, Ali gives an example of how Vale uses smart trucks, like excavators, that do not require a driver’s presence. “Working with smart equipment has dramatically increased work efficiency, reduced operating and maintenance costs, and increased safety,” shares Dr. Soofastaei. 

The Future of AI in Mining

Ali shared that he is particularly excited about using AI to predict the ore’s price in different markets, track vessel movement, lower the mining material shipping costs, reduce greenhouse gas emissions in surface mines, among other projects. Ali mentioned that Vale has already defined “Sales 4.0, Marketing 4.0, and Shipping 4.0,” emphasizing the company’s involvement in digital transformation.

Why Companies Should Invest in AI

Dr. Soofastaei believes that companies should be encouraged to invest in artificial intelligence. Such an investment serves as a powerful tool that can help organizations achieve their goals. The list of benefits from embracing the use of AI is extensive, including reducing application and maintenance costs, improving production, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improving safety, and making better and more intelligent decisions.

Challenges of Digital Transformation in Mining

Ali shared that the prospect of achieving “zero entry, zero injuries, and zero carbon” excites him the most about Al applications in mining. Dr. Soofastaei explains that there are several technical and management challenges that mining companies need to tackle in the digitalization process, such as the quality and quantity of data, cloud-based analytics, modeling, and the maturity of people. Dr. Soofastaei also shares some of the potential solutions during the pre-conference podcast. 

If you’re interested in learning more about the applications of artificial intelligence in the mining and metals industry — and how Vale is employing AI to improve energy efficiency, increase productivity, as well as enhance maintenance and safety — don’t miss Dr. Ali Soofastaei’s presentation at Mining 4.0 Summit.

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