Miners invest in innovation in bid to streamline operations and save costs Cashflush miners are investing increased profits generated from the commodities boom in various areas within the business. While paying down debt remains a priority, miners are also spending on strategically important infrastructure projects and digital solutions that improve operational capabilities. Specifically, miners are typically leveraging surplus capital to fund intelligent mine transformations and digitalisation initiatives and are building selfgeneration capacity to benefit from the increased embedded generation threshold, which rose from 1MW to 100MW in 2021. “Investing to secure power supply via selfgeneration using flexible gas power plants, renewables and energy storage solutions ESS will address the energy supply challenges posed by Eskom and will help meet environmental and decarbonisation targets” says Wallace Manyara, Business Development Manager Southern Africa at Wartsild. “Hybrid solutions can reduce electricity costs for mining companies because they can leverage ESS to store the cheaper energy generated during the day from solar PV for use during peak periods when tariffs are highest.”

Numerous mines also work outside PV plant operational hours, which requires a hybrid solution that uses a mix of gas engines and ESS to ensure 24 7 supply. “Using ESS during peak hours when ongrid tariffs are higher can add to significant returns realised from investments made into solar technology,” says Manyara. Technological and digital transformation is the other investment focus within the industry as miners look to streamline operations, save costs, improve productivity and prioritise sustainability. Digby Glover, CEO at United Mining Services UMS Group, explains that miners find themselves at different stages on their digitalisation journey. “Most mine operators are implementing projects across the mining value chain in a piecemeal approach few have implemented endtoend mine digitalisation projects.” According to Glover, it makes sense to start with data analytics that provide better insights into the operation in the current environment. Data analytics and visualisation tools allow miners to monitor and report various operationrelated and environmental metrics.

“Most digital technology investments aim to gather data to identify inefficiencies or potential bottlenecks and better inform realtime decisionmaking related to production and operational efficiencies and safety,” says Glover. Miners are also leveraging technology to establish new mining operations more efficiently, with automation playing a vital role in safety, and accelerating the journey to the extraction phase. “Applications start at the concept stage, with digital technologies increasingly used in mine design and 3D modelling, and continue through to the construction and engineering phases where digital engagement tools enable better collaboration and project management,” says Glover. “At the shaftsinking stage, investing to automate and mechanise this traditionally manual and inherently dangerous process enables miners to keep people out of harm’s way and deliver shorter lead times to operation commencement.”

Glover adds that the industry is increasingly moving towards remote operations. “These technological capabilities enable operators to sit anywhere in the world, with the ability to monitor progress, along with machine dynamics and human performance, which helps deliver more reliable and successful outcomes.” The State of Digital Transformation in the South African Mining Industry report released by the Minerals Council of South Africa reveals other ways local miners embrace technology to run more efficient operations, manage risk, and improve health and safety outcomes while reducing the cost of maintenance and extraction. “About 25% of miners surveyed for the analysis are spending about 0.3% of turnover on digital investments,” says Cuma Dube, Senior Consultant at Mazars Advisory.

“Respondents typically deployed technologies in production, engineering and assetmanagement processes, as they felt these areas would help them realise better value. The Internet of Things is where most money is going, followed by condition monitoring and robotics process automation. Miners are also using virtual reality to train staff.” For example, the Vedanta Zinc International VZI Swartberg mine in the Northern Cape recently introduced a modular digitalisation project at a Black Mountain Mining underground operation. “This project provides the mine with realtime data for more effective performance monitoring and efficient decisionmaking,” explains Xolani Qamata, Black Mountain Mine GM at VZI. “The mine’s digitalisation journey has also paved the way for more valueproducing opportunities that will lead to enhanced productivity, better safety and performance standards, improved equipment utilisation, and reduced production costs.”

Additional digitalisation projects under way at major mine operations across the world include enterprisewide cloudbased analytics to aid decisionmaking and benchmarking, explains Erik Pretorius, ABB’s Regional Sales Manager Mining, Aluminium and Cement Projects for Africa and Australia. “Miners are also deploying plant optimisation and improvement solutions to increase recovery rates.”

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