JOHANNESBURG (miningweekly.com) – South African gold miner Gold Fields on Wednesday announced a R6-million, three-year partnership with the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) to further academic knowledge in the field of mechanised mining and rock engineering in South Africa.
Gold Fields CEO Nick Holland and Wits vice-chancellor and principal Professor Adam Habib signed the partnership agreement, which involves Wits University’s School of Mining Engineering, the Wits Mining Institute and Gold Fields.
The funding provided by Gold Fields, which operates South Africa’s largest and deepest underground mechanised gold mine, South Deep, is aimed at filling the gap in mechanised mining skills in South Africa.
Holland commented that, while the contribution is aimed at ensuring that the skills and expertise required to bring South Deep to full production would be developed, it is also meant to ensure that the industry is prepared for the next mining boom.
“The pace of change in mining, globally, is enormous,” he said, citing a visit to the Roy Hill Control Centre (RHCC), in Perth, Australia, which is responsible for the operational planning, scheduling and execution of production activities for iron-ore mining operations in the Pilbara. The operation is run remotely, and the RHCC’s scope will, in the next few months, include the management of 600 remote operated trucks.
“We’ve recently taken delivery, in Ghana, of production drills that are going to be remote operated . . . we have to move with the times . . . and if we don’t take the skills level with us, we’re going to be left behind.”
Holland added that Gold Fields is passionate about skills and investing in the future, which is why it is supporting Wits, which it believes is at the forefront of development in the field of mechanisation.
The funding will be used to further research in rock engineering, improving drill and blast activities, and multiple point statistics or simulation. “The leverage we’ll get over other producers in this regard is enormous. Around the world, most of the easy stuff on the surface has been taken, which means that mining in the future will be much more focused on underground mines.”
As such, the ability to understand rock engineering constraints and how to maximise extraction will be fundamental to future value creation in the industry.
A number of projects have already been identified for funding by Gold Fields during the three-year period. Gold Fields’ funding will also be used to cover the costs of about four to six third and fourth year students’ research works a year.
The postgraduate and undergraduate research projects will be in subject areas that are critical to South Deep as it ramps up to full production in 2022.
Habib conveyed his appreciation for the partnership, and suggested that it was only the beginning. He noted that mining was changing in fundamental ways, through the use of technology such as artificial intelligence, robotics and the Internet of Things. As such, he suggested a larger collaborative approach among universities and the industry as a whole.
“In the 1930s and 1940s, Wits partnered with the mining industry to pioneer a new way of mining . . . that period of mining is coming to an end . . . what we are saying to industry is let’s sit down again. Let’s enter into a 15-year partnership, that rethinks mining for the next 40 to 50 years . . . but this time we want to ensure that it has inclusive benefits for the wider economy,” he stated.
Holland added that he was hopeful that other mining companies would match the investment, because it assists in furthering the interests of the industry and assists in helping to “find ways to unlock potential. There is so much potential in gold and platinum, but we have to find a different way to unlock it.”
As part of the partnership, Gold Fields has been granted naming rights for the Genmin Laboratories building on the Wits Campus, which will now be known as the Gold Fields Laboratories building.
The partnership between Gold Fields and Wits goes back many years. Most recently, in 2010, the company pledged R18-million on a three-year sponsorship deal comprising a number of investments in the Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment at Wits University. The last of these funds were spent in 2015.