Mining technology boosts competitiveness, efficiency

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Gamsberg zinc mine in the Northern Cape

Johannesburg. — The miners of today look to create greater efficiencies to ensure their sustainability and profitability, which is greatly enabled with technology.

Accenture Resources Africa MD Cameron Tandy said in a separate statement that the mining industry both locally and abroad, had endured a tumultuous period, owing to commodity price volatility, rising input costs and shifting operational requirements.

More specifically, in the South African context, historical inequality has created a difficult labour relations environment and the industry has seen multiple large-scale accidents in the last few years.

To address the prevailing challenges and meet mines’ growth mandate, many have turned to digital technologies to decrease costs, pivot operational processes, or forge new revenue streams to drive growth and unlock lasting value, Tandy stated.

According to Accenture research, 46 percent of business leaders believe digital is the biggest factor in driving innovation. Under the broad banner of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), businesses are striving to become increasingly automated, allowing the asset-intensive industry that is mining to reinvent itself.

“The confluence of Cloud, the Internet of Things and artificial intelligence has led to the emergence of pilots and proof of concepts to try and unlock the trapped value in the mining value chain,” noted Tandy.

The key to bridging this gap is to underpin the technology implementations with strong people and process changes.

“Even though technologies are maturing at a rapid rate, the application of these technologies to existing and new business processes, and the adoption from employees, will define success or failure.”

Zinc mine digitalisation

Vedanta Zinc International CEO Deshnee Naidoo, meanwhile, presented on creating a digitally advanced mine in Africa. She said digitalisation is no longer the future, but the here and now.

Vedanta Zinc has started trial production at its R430 million Gamsberg zinc mine in the Northern Cape. The mine uses new flotation technology on zinc (state flotation reactors), which saves on operating expenditure and enhances recovery, since the ore at the Gamsberg deposit has manganese and zinc mixed, making recovery and processing challenging.

Naidoo explained that digitalisation, using smart ore movement software, enables better blending management and stockpiling.

“Digitalisation is all about people, process and technology. Concepts such as digital drilling and smart shovels, are but two of the many technologies that could enable more efficient and safer mining.”

Not just mining

Deloitte Africa energy and resources leader Andrew Lane remarked that there is more to innovation than technology; there is also a people element.

He said disruption was imminent. The supply and demand dynamics would repeat into the future of mining, but adaptation and agility were necessary to remain competitive.

Technology could eliminate process uncontrollability, enable better decision-making through on-time, real-time data, enable better planning and improve operational efficiencies.

“For this, people need to be engaged and skilled, technology needs discretional energy. Technology can also provide employment opportunities, alternative healthcare opportunities and education opportunities,” noted Lane.

Accenture offering

Accenture Consulting MD Constantino Seixas presented on the company’s Industry X.0 offering, which is software that has automated train loading capability, which ensures even ore distribution — reducing derailment risk, a reduction in overload error and reduced loading times.

The software can also aid in automating and managing mine yards, assessing stock levels in real time and managing assets involved in transportation, as well as aid in intelligent operations, such as optimising a furnace to reduce energy use.

The Accenture Industry X.0 framework works to assist mining companies to implement maturing technologies and looks to rotate the core business to the new digital way of operating.

“Industry X.0 businesses achieve this by incorporating 4IR technologies to create core operational efficiencies and ensure that physical machines and software systems are synchronised to unlock previously unseen cost efficiencies, which also helps to drive up investment capacity,” Tandy pointed out.

The synchronisation of these machines and software provides the foundation for employees to improve productivity by adapting to their new business processes.

While Industry X.0 assists clients with technology transformation, it also invents new revenue streams for new sources of value; sources, enables, upskills and protects the next generation of workforce talent; continually balance investment and resource allocation between the core and the new.

“Companies that embark on the digital reinvention journey today will emerge as the digital winners of tomorrow,” Tandy highlighted. — Miningweekly.

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