Through a focus on digital technology and automated processes, Barrick Gold Corp. is embarking on what could be the next bench in mining history with a focus on its Barrick Nevada operations.

“The mine operators here in Nevada have a history of innovation,” said George Fennemore, growth manager for Barrick Nevada before a tour of the more than 150-year-old Cortez District in January. “What we are doing now is simply the next step in a long run of innovative thinking.”

Barrick Gold Corp. has invested millions into the digital transformation of Barrick Nevada since partnering with Cisco Systems in fall 2016. In 2017, the company laid the foundation for digital transformation through a series of pilot projects, primarily focused on Cortez, according to Barrick’s year-end results. The pilot aims to increase efficiency and save money to help sustain mining operations in Northern Nevada.

If successful, said Barrick communications manager Leslie Maple, digital applications could be implemented at Barrick operations around the globe.

The effort involves operating Cortez and Goldstrike under one management team, and providing data analysis through the Analytics and Unified Operations Center, or AUOps, at the Barrick Shared Business Center in Elko.

“Part of the digital transformation is mainly to get the right information to the right people at the right time,” said Emrah Yalcin, digital implementation manager at Barrick Nevada. “So what is the motivation behind the AUOps or, in general, digital transformation? Barrick is, like most other companies, we want to generate additional free cash flow.”

Barrick leadership recognized the potential in continuing to develop its resources in Northern Nevada but observed the challenges presented by maturing mines and aging infrastructure, Fennemore said.

“You really do have mining in transition,” he said. “I think that’s what triggered all the digital and automation in the work that we do.”

The company’s mills at Cortez and Goldstrike are decades old, Fennemore said, and building new ones could cost about $1 billion each. To run properly, the mills must run a blend of high-grade and low-grade ore together, and the material could come from any source in Barrick Nevada — from Cortez’s or Goldstrike’s surface or underground operations. Data capture and analysis at AUOps helps the Barrick team understand how to maximize the efficiency and lifespans of the mills already in existence.

As Barrick Nevada works toward bringing the “digital visualization” to reality, AUOps is just part of the program that will include digital technology at surface, underground and support operations.

Digital tools to be incorporated include smart technologies, machine learning, predictive analysis, data analytics and automation — including the implementation of automated underground drills and the use of autonomous haul trucks, which Barrick plans to test in surface operations in the near future.

The projects, according to a year-end report, “allowed the company to validate the viability of its digital solutions and their potential economic returns in a controlled environment with rigorous oversight.”