IN the wake of prevailing economic uncertainties and slump in commodity prices globally, it has become imperative for the mining sector to embrace technology and enhance project delivery, improve safety and ultimately, remain profitable.
Thanks to the advent of new technologies, for example, gone are the grueling shifts that meant sitting on a truck-sized drilling machine in an iron ore pit for hours on end.
Now, a fleet of automated drilling machines can be operated from a safe, air-conditioned control centre next to a mine’s offices.
A technology revolution that is changing the face of mining operations is a tectonic shift by an industry which not so long ago was derided for its sloth in embracing innovation. “The mining industry is in a crisis,” said technology executive, Gys Kappers, on the need for mining firms to adapt or die.
Kappers, who is the Chief Executive Officer of Wyzetalk, said a decline in resource demand and resulting excess capacity, weakening prices and increasing volatility has exacerbated the policy, legislative and administrative failures.
He said innovation should drive more than cost reduction but help mitigate and manage risk, strengthen business models and foster more effective relations with staff and stakeholders.
“Mining companies need to prepare to shift traditional entrenched models, plan for future scenarios where collaboration is at the centre of a lean operation and use digitalisation to enable and drive the industry forward,” Kappers said.
Among the companies at the forefront of the revolution is Anglo American’s Kumba Iron Ore.
The company has recently invested R500 million (US$42,25 million) in technology at its two mines – Kolomela and Sishen- in the Northern Cape of South Africa as part of efforts to make mining safer, more productive and more environment-friendly.
Most of the investment has been on robotic drilling machines.
Kumba has spent more than R6 million on a fleet of ten drones, providing information on everything from where mining has taken place to current stockpiles.
The drones are providing information and data on operations that used to take days or weeks to accumulate. In some cases, they deliver new data that was previously inaccessible.
Bongi Ntsoelengoe, Technology Manager at Kumba Iron Ore, said productivity had been remarkable and the myth that technology would “replace” jobs shattered.
“Rather than replacing employees, we have shown that using technology in our operations improves skills and provides an opportunity for staff to develop and grow,” said Ntsoelengoe.
“Better working conditions mean employees are excited and motivated about their work environment, which makes for a more productive and safer workplace.”
Pedro Guerreiro, Head of Sales: Energy and Natural Resources at SAP Africa, encouraged mining operations to adopt modern database management systems to enhance operations and increase their income-generating capacities.
SAP Africa is the subsidiary of the German-headquartered multinational software corporation.
Guerreiro said the bedrock of the technology approach was how mining firms were able to establish real-time and day-to-day insights to their operations, discover efficiencies through automation, respond proactively to challenges on the ground and manage value chains in new ways.
According to SAP’s research, technology solutions can reduce an operation’s annual maintenance costs by over 30 percent.
“Above all, it opens the door towards building new business methodologies for the mining operations of tomorrow,” Guerreiro said. – CAJ News