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Modernising African mining operations for a digital age

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Mining is not often seen to be at the forefront of digital adoption. But the future of mining in Africa needs a digital backbone. Image credit: Leon Louw for WhyAfrica

Modernising African mining operations for a digital age

Mining is not often seen to be at the forefront of digital adoption. But the future of mining in Africa needs a digital backbone.

By Herman Kassan

With a global focus on climate action and sustainability growth, mining houses across Africa find themselves at a tipping point when embracing advanced technologies.

These were key talking points at the recent African Mining Indaba, with a strong theme emerging: technological change is essential to drive net-zero targets by enabling mines to measure and achieve sustainability goals. Beyond that, technology can improve operational efficiencies to grow profit.

While at the Indaba, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa highlighted that mining production in South Africa reached a record high of R1.18-trillion last year, boosting GDP, exports and revenue. Yet, it was also stressed that the mining industry is far from realising its full potential.

One way to take back control, gain visibility into production, and keep a better handle on profits is for mines to invest more in digital infrastructure, especially those systems that bridge the gap across supply chains.

In doing so, mines will have a better view of business operations and can identify ways to optimise supply chain efficiency, extend the lifetime of valuable assets, and allow a geographically distributed workforce to collaborate better.

Complete visibility (Modernising African mining operations for a digital age)

Mining companies face a broad range of challenges. The challenge of retaining productivity in the face of declining grades, remote and technically challenging ore bodies, heightened environmental and CO2 emissions sensitivity, unprecedented cost volatility, and regulatory oversight are increasing the sophistication of energy solutions and systems used to power up and run operations.

The enhanced reporting and data models that come through modernisation efforts bring the necessary levels of transparency and agility to meet changing regulatory requirements.

By digitally enabling mines, their most essential assets can be monitored through a visible network that delivers improvements for the supply chain. This contributes to reducing the wastage of time and resources and boosting sustainable initiatives. Furthermore, it empowers mines with access to insights essential to develop measurable Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG), and sustainability goals.

Adopting data-based technology and data-driven insights will allow mining companies to monitor the entire asset lines in real-time, providing the basis for long-term organisational objectives that will increase their capabilities to deliver on sustainability targets while boosting revenue and profitability.

While some companies may feel that their current enterprise resource planning, enterprise asset management, and scheduling optimisation systems allow them to make informed analytics-based decisions, what is clear is that system fragmentation is the single most significant impediment to transformation and innovation for asset-intensive industries such as mining and manufacturing.

Driving profits (Modernising African mining operations for a digital age)

Globally, mines that have embraced sustainability have outperformed their competitors in revenue and profitability. Companies that invest in developing the ability to provide detailed reporting and full transparency across their supply chains create a competitive advantage. Having a robust digital backbone at the core of their business makes this easier to achieve.

Imagine what opportunities mining can gain if edge devices are linked to a unified data environment. For example, mining companies can access real-time information by collating data from digitally enabled mining equipment and assets across the supply chain. This allows them to efficiently manage every part of their business and contribute to the all-important circular economy.

It does not have to stop there. Mining houses can leverage technology to deliver resource optimisation, manage regulatory compliance, keep track of emissions, and have complete supplier visibility. Mines must become more digitally led for this to become a possibility and help drive profitability.

Technology will pave the way to delivering on sustainability targets. The future of mining in South Africa needs a digital backbone to satisfy stakeholders and customers. The focus must shift to developing a roadmap that prioritises immediate sustainability and performance improvements. This will result in both increased profit and performance while meeting sustainability targets.

Standardisation matters (Modernising African mining operations for a digital age)

Improving operational performance must be one of the driving forces behind this increased technology adoption. This starts with improving project performance, increasing profit margins, reducing financial risk, and enhancing productivity, quality, and sustainability while reducing the total asset lifecycle cost.

Consequently, as access to advanced technologies is essential, the business processes and systems that support this evolution must be reviewed and improved accordingly.

The complexity and inefficiency of business systems make any shortcomings in these processes worse as data does not flow. Even worse, mines will have a rough ride when they still rely on manual spreadsheets to close the data analysis and functionality gap.

Addressing this must be seen as one of the first steps for mining houses to deliver the integrated environment that can unlock the benefits of digital transformation. Having the right technology in place to facilitate this is considered the foundation for achieving improved project and business performance.

Heman Kassan is the Chief Operating Officer at Technodyn

Modernising African mining operations for a digital age

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Modernising African mining operations for a digital age




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AgricultureEnvironmental Management & Climate ChangeEnergyESGInfrastructureMiningPolitical EconomyTourism and ConservationWater Management