Vedanta’s Swartberg embarks on a digital journey

The Deeps’ headgear at Vedanta Zinc International's (VZI) Black Mountain Mining underground operations. Image credit: Vedanta Zinc International.

Vedanta’s Swartberg embarks on a digital journey

 Underground operations worldwide are increasingly digitalising their operations for various benefits, and so is Vedanta Zinc International’s (VZI) Black Mountain Mining underground operations, Swartberg in the Northern Cape Province of South Africa.

VZI, a grouping of zinc assets located in South Africa and Namibia, is part of the global mining and metal conglomerate Vedanta, the world’s sixth largest diversified resources company.

VZI operates as Black Mountain Mining (BMM) in Northern Cape’s Khai-Ma region. BMM comprises Black Mountain mining operations which is made up of the Deeps and Swartberg underground operation, and the Gamsberg open pit mine.

Swartberg produces primarily copper and lead, with silver as a by-product. Plans are well advanced to deepen Swartberg, which will increase production to 1.6 million tonnes per annum (Mtpa) of copper and lead ore, and 60 Kilo tonnes per annum (Ktpa) to 70Ktpa of metal-in-concentrate with the extension of Life of Mine (LoM), depending on a favourable economic assessment. Further ramp-up is planned, taking copper and lead ore production past the 2Mtpa mark.

The road to digitation

In 2018, a modular digitalisation project aimed at loading and hauling operations was implemented at the Deeps operation. It has since created a platform to further expand in embracing the benefits of digital innovation.

The Swartberg Mine is embarking on a complete digitalisation journey as part of the underground expansion project. This journey will create a range of opportunities emanating from safety, costs, productivity, and sustainability.

Digitalisation enables real-time data processing that facilitates immediate decision-making and performance monitoring of the operation, which will reduce an “after the fact” decision-making.

Furthermore, Swartberg aims to utilise digitalisation to uphold VZI’s first value of safety and pursue its vision of becoming a world-class, digitally-enabled operator. Increased mechanisation through automation will allow employees less exposure to the working face with the minimal interface between man and machine.

From an equipment care point of view, digitisation will benefit Swartberg in anticipating failures and ensuring that machine health is prioritised for continuous sustainable mining. This will help reduce maintenance spending, prevent unplanned stoppages, and increase equipment availability.

The critical overall benefits can be summarised as:

  • Improved safety standards and safety performance
  • Improved equipment utilisation, health, availability, and productivity
  • Improved planning and productivity
  • Reduced costs of production
  • Further future benefits of the digitalisation drive include:
  1. Additional safety precautions (people movement tracking and ventilation on demand)
  2. Reduction in the carbon footprint through improved fuel efficiency and fuel management
  3. Process improvements across the mining and enabling services value chains
  4. Improved planning capabilities (short, medium, and long term), including integrated planning
  5. Improved operational performance management through digitalisation and advanced analytics
  6. Improved heavy machinery and equipment health and availability through the introduction of advanced analytics and predictive maintenance
  7. Improved production exit rate to 1Mtpa by the end of FY22 (from 620Ktpa)

“We are in an age where technology, innovation and digitalisation are the cornerstones of business growth and development. At Vedanta Zinc International, we continue to leverage digital solutions to improve our processes, performance, and support data-driven and strategic decision-making,” says Pieter Oosthuizen, Chief Digital and Information Officer

“Our vision of safe, sustainable mining practices is achieved using data analytics to monitor the mining value chain from HSE to mill to logistics. In addition to creating value for the business, the exposure associated with digitising our operations has led to an upskilled workforce. This reinforces our commitment to creating a culture of development at VZI and is in line with our philosophy of Business with Purpose,” Oosthuizen adds.

VZI represent the largest Indian Investment in South Africa and Namibia. VZI has recently invested R5.5-billion into VZI’s flagship, Gamsberg open pit and concentrator project in the Northern Cape province, which is now fully operational and was inaugurated in February 2019 by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa. Gamsberg is part of the Black Mountain Complex cluster which also includes two underground operations namely Deeps and Swartberg.

VZI is one of the largest employers in Northern Cape and employs ~2700 people directly and indirectly, of which ~99% are local South Africans, ~80% are from the Northern Cape and ~60% from the Namakwa District, where operations are located, making it one of the largest employers in the Northern Cape.

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