Is Phakisa the answer?

Collaboration combined with innovation will provide sustainability, increased productivity and safety in the South African mining sector

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Gross domestic product (GDP) from mining in South Africa decreased to R22 8080.48 million in the third quarter of 2018, from R23 3376.82 million in the second quarter of 2018. GDP From mining, South Africa averaged R23 3909.66 million from 1993 to 2018.

In 2017 mining contributed 8% of South Africa’s GDP, the above statistics are a clear indication of the importance of mining to the country’s socio-economic development and how, over the years, there has been a decline in the sector’s contribution. Automation is the only way to revive growth in the sector. Innovation is the key to the survival of mining and companies are being challenged to assess and adjust their structures in a way that can make them compete on a global scale.

SiMINE’s Director and mining expert, Gary Lane, gives his insight on the industry and how he believes innovation and technology will improve the sector. According to Lane, “The world is becoming more competitive and accelerating change and disruption.”

He adds that “systems thinking is a critical organisational capability that will allow it to be agile to respond to this change”. There are big opportunities to transform the mining industry if they focus on the right solutions to their specific problems. Systems thinking is critical because everything is an integral part of the system and timing is everything if the intention is to improve performance.

Optimising existing systems has been previously used to increase productivity in mining, however, innovation will lead to cheaper extraction, growth, security and increased production.

The first Industrial Revolution introduced the use of fossil fuels to power machines, stimulating steam-powered mechanical production. The second one, which was underway in the late 19th century, was seeded in breakthrough electricity distribution, communication systems and power generation, which led to accelerated trade and mass production. Which leads us to Industry 4.0 and the way it is going to affect safety and productivity in the future of mining, paying close attention to “Mining Operation Phakisa”, a four-week operation that is intended to identify and resolve the challenges plaguing South Africa’s mining sector crisis.

As new technological solutions become available to mining companies, tensions between job creation and industrial development intensify. Operation Phakisa intends to identify concrete problems limiting the growth and developmental impact in South Africa’s mining sector with the hope of formulating potential solutions.

The Mining Phakisa has resulted in the establishment of the Mandela Mining Precinct in Melville, Johannesburg, which has a large role to play. Lane explains that Industry 4.0 is about people with the technology being the enablers, which is why they created a programme called Operational Systems Capability at SiMINE. Working on the right things at the right time is the only way to maximise system performance—building agile systems with appropriate roles. SiMINE hosts networking and knowledge-sharing platforms and acts as a testbed for mining 4.0 technologies using digital twin simulation.

The National Development Plan (NDP) launched operation Phakisa in 2014. “Phakisa” means “hurry up”. This multistakeholder process first got underway in August 2015 under the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation (DPME) to objectively facilitate and monitor government programmes. Mining Operation Phakisa has the potential to provide a coherent and comprehensive response to the wide range of issues impacting the sector.

Themes the initiative focuses on, such as improving upstream linkages between mines and the domestic capital-equipment sector, explore a winning solution to the beneficiation of both bulk resources and precious metals. Furthermore, enhancing research, development and innovation within the cluster and planning and implementing holistic mine modernisation will scratch the surface and aid an informative procedure intended to improve safety and production in the mining sector. Other companies that are transforming in accordance with Industry 4.0, such as Rio Tinto, are benefiting, attributing autonomous mining because it has increased efficiency, leading to increased productivity.

South Africa has a long history with mining and mining research but the pressure is on for it to adapt to the technological transformation that previous long-standing practices cannot keep up with. Post-mining Phakisa, the country’s mining sector had no significant price movement, cost increases were greater than consumer price index, there was a decline in productivity, there were capital delays, high energy costs curtailing in life of mines and no step changes were taken to improve safety, shrinking the size and value because of failing to manage assets with the developmental intention. Industry 4.0 will assist in reviving the growth of the sector and by automating, there will be access to enhanced drilling and rock breaking systems, integrated real-time data, savings on energy costs and a safer environment for workers.

Phakisa produced concrete plans and a strategy that all depends on collaborative efforts and inputs from key stakeholders that are clustered around mining. The operation determined that the solution to all those problems was the modernisation of mining through optimisation and innovation. Doing this would ensure an inclusive process that rebuilds the mining sector, paying attention to technological transformation, social inclusion and job creation. It is imperative for the sector to have remotely operated mechanisms and to be industrialised. Phakisa first steps towards achieving that goal are, firstly, developing the technologies that would incorporate sustainability, safety and export—this would also support the local manufacturing sector.

Phakisa elements will revive mining in South Africa in the interest of the government, mining companies and equipment companies by advancing research and development (R&D) pertaining to fuel cell development to reduce reliance on coal and diesel, and leveraging off the country’s abundant platinum costs.

Furthermore, the development of new systems for mining narrow tabular seams will be done by mechanising and automating the drawing on new developments that interconnect the autonomous process. Moreover, it will place an increased emphasis on the local manufacture of capital equipment and local ownership of manufacturing companies. New technology will be able to address the environmental impacts of mining and repurposing of mining land to new ends, such as energy and clean water production, biomass production and agriculture and mining waste. Lastly, there’s the targeted beneficiation of specific minerals such as iron ore, platinum, manganese and titanium. All these elements will assist in local skills and business development in mining technology, not just locally but on a global scale.

There are numerous tasks that are going to be addressed by Operation Phakisa. In order for that to happen, research institutions, mining companies and industrial manufacturers in the country have to collaborate. The Council for Industrial and Scientific Research (CSIR) was tasked with identifying and initiating a mechanised solution for South African mines that supports local manufacturing and solves problems relating to cutting hard rock. New technology would help the mining industry by installing and testing sensor systems for environmental monitoring in mines, developing a framework that supports real-time monitoring technology to assist personnel-machine interactions, machine rock interactions and machine-to-machine interaction.

Evidently, there is an urgent need for mechanisation as automation will assist the process of revisiting the extraction process in order to facilitate better understanding systems, conditions and equipment.

Presently, CSIR has already introduced three new technologies, namely the ‘Monster’, a robot that can identify and assess risk in underground mines to avoid endangering human workers, the ‘Rock Pulse’, which serves as an early warning and monitoring device that constantly observes rock masses for small seismic activity. And the glass rock a prototype glass device tailored to allow miners to see through rock faces where reefs are located. It features a pedestrian detection system to avoid underground collisions. CSIR has invested in laboratories to provide human resources for providing services to the sector.

Phakisa hopes to eliminate all mining fatalities by 2020, bearing in mind that mining is a vital sector for the government and one of the strongest employment sectors.

The poor safety record is one of the main contributions of stagnant or poor production results. CSIR, being able to visualise potentially hazardous geological structures, will assist in managing health as it will monitor and quantify underground hazards. These new technologies have escalated that process, but there are other factors that need to be addressed such as the dysfunctional relationship between the state and mining sector and this can only be achieved by plans conceived collaboratively, such as Phakisa.

Phakisa has opened many doors for the private sector, particularly for manufacturing companies. The whole idea behind it is to foster a collaborative platform that enables growth and safety across the mining sector.

According to Lane, mining is the heart of the South African economy and a significant opportunity exists to increase productivity and extend the life of existing mines—this can be achieved through technology.

This operation is a platform for a coordinated technical innovation structure that is designed to spearhead Industry 4.0, creating a safe, sustainable environment across industries and assisting with the growth of productivity in the mining sector while promoting public-private partnerships.

New technologies equal mining further and mining further means extracting more value and better standing when competing in the international market. 

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