by MTHULISI SIBANDA
JOHANNESBURG – THE mining industry must embrace digital transformation if it is to remain competitive at a global level.
This is according to experts in view of the sector playing a crucial role in South Africa’s economy for most of the past two centuries.
And while it may not play as big a role as it once did, mining still contributed R400 billion (US$28 billion) to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2020 and employed more than 450 000 people.
According to experts while South Africa’s unique circumstances should be taken into account, especially when it comes to factors such as the orebody depth and labour intensity of the country’s mining operations, mining companies should not shy away from digital transformation.
Speaking at a just-concluded webinar, analysts said the application of digital technologies, both in their current form and in future digital forms such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), big data analytics, and the Internet of Things (IOT) is increasingly pivotal to mining success.
“When we look at mining, what people don’t comprehend is that the mining value chain is extremely complex,” said Alex Fenn, Head of Technology and Innovation at Sibanye Stillwater.
He was presenting at the webinar, hosted by Johannesburg Centre for Software Engineering (JCSE) at Wits University.
“The infrastructure varies from space to space, meaning that achieving digital transformation is far less simple than it would be in a factory for instance,” Fenn said.
He said digital transformation was a key enabler to value delivery that is both incredibly specific as well as all-encompassing.
“The aggregated benefits across the value chain are huge. That’s why we’re working towards becoming a digital-first organisation that creates cultures, structures, and processes which support digital transformation,” Fenn said.
Pierre Swart, Chief Executive Office of mining software specialist Accutrak, agreed.
He does, however, believe that optimising data is crucial to any digital transformation initiative.
“Everything, for me, boils down to the optimisation of data at the end of the day,” Swart said.
“If we have accurate data, we can analyse it to identify patterns, or when patterns break. We can create business improvement tools and start to use predictive algorithms that can tell us that something will likely happen before it does,” Swart added.
Data optimisation cannot, however, occur without the necessary levels of connectivity.
“What one absolutely cannot miss when it comes to thinking about a digitally-transformed mine is connectivity,” Gys Malan, Solutions Manager, Huawei, said.
Huawei assists mining clients with a variety of products and services.
“When it comes to connectivity, for instance, our 5G and private LTE offerings allow for large amounts of data to be transmitted at very low latencies,” Malan said.
Malan believes that Wi-Fi and Fibre have important roles to play in mines across the globe but he cautioned against anyone pegging their bets on any single technology.
“We have to diversify the communication technologies that we use based on environmental factors and application requirements,” he said.
– CAJ News