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Smart wristwatches to uplift mineworker well-being at Copper 360

Copper 360 CEO Jan Nelson interviewed by Mining Weekly's Martin Creamer. Video: Darlene Creamer.

16th January 2024

By: Martin Creamer

Creamer Media Editor

     

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JOHANNESBURG (miningweekly.com) – Computer programmes that use artificial intelligence (AI) to model orebodies and plan mines optimally have already been introduced by Copper 360, says the JSE AltX-listed Northern Cape copper mining company, which is developing the Rietberg copper mine, the first of a dozen copper mining assets it has on its development list.

Next in line for South Africa’s only pure copper play, which is already producing copper plate from surface material, will be smartwatches on the wrists of employees to uplift their well-being and even check their heart rates.

Then, towards the end of the year, battery-operated vehicles capable of halving underground ventilation demand will be looked at.

In addition, intense consideration is being given as this article goes to press to the appointment of a chief technology officer to guide the organisation’s embrace of state-of-the-art technology from within its C-suite.

Meanwhile, deployment of technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), blockchain and AI are already providing the company with predictive outcomes.

Facilitated, too, will be smart contracts – self-executing contracts with the terms of the agreement captured in code – which can be used to automate transactions.

The possibilities are endless, and the tamper-proof nature of the blockchain adds a healthy measure of data security, reliability and integrity to the mix, Copper 360 CEO Jan Nelson noted in an Op-Ed.

“Mining’s going to become an industry where, through technology, we’ll create a full-cycle business,” Nelson elaborated to Mining Weekly in a Zoom interview. (Also watch attached Creamer Media video interview.)

“What technology does is allow a small company to suddenly start being very competitive,” Nelson enthused.

Technology is also enabling great strides to be taken to uplift employee relations to levels never before experienced: “Can you imagine every one of your employees having a smartwatch,” Nelson postured about from-the-wrist information that will elevate mine safety to new heights and the new technologies enabling mining in areas where widths have hitherto been too small for human entry.

At Copper 360’s debut Rietberg mine alone, copper in the ground is estimated to be worth R12-billion to R15-billion. Closely spaced drillholes show ore ready for mining on at least five open and accessible predeveloped levels.

Nelson sees the IoT as being akin to a spiderweb that enables mining companies to be preventive rather than reactive: “We can see things that are going to happen and we can stop them in time.”

It is also providing improved and faster decision-making and, linked to AI, it enables real-time scenario optimisation.

Moreover, blockchain is providing a digital record of everything, while also holding everybody to account in the new world where accountability and sustainability are musts.

“Blockchain’s extremely efficient to rollout into your operations and doesn't cost a lot of money,” Nelson remarked.

Mining Weekly: Is it essential that the collection of the state-of-the-art technologies be deployed collectively for the overall outcome to be most effective?

Nelson: If we had all the money and all the time in the world, I would say yes. It would be fantastic to be able to click your fingers and roll things out, but that's certainly not how we've planned it. There's a progression and part of that comes with proper planning and training. You can't just bombard your people with everything in one go. A progressive, sequential roll-out is how we see it being the most efficient.

Will new technology create more jobs than it eliminates?

There's always a scary thing that people think with technology comes fewer jobs. But if you look at the tech companies and all the tech toys they've supplied us and gadgets that we have, we as human beings are able to do more and be more efficient. That’s why I think we're going to use more of our people, but in different roles and that's why training becomes important. We've got our School of Mining which will target that and think about South Africa and its high unemployment rate. If you take all those unemployed people and you make them tech-savvy, just think what a competitive advantage we’ll have because the more people you throw at the problem, the better and bigger your mining operation will become.

So, what should be the biggest takeaway from this interview?

The fact that mining is going to become the future of the world, an industry where we will now create, through technology, a full-cycle business, where we’ll extract the ore, and through vertical integration of technology, we’ll create the products that we can sell and also recycle. There’ll be a much more efficient use of our metals, which will have far less impact on the earth. The mining industry can really lead the way here and create a sustainable future for our children, and that's the industry I want to be involved in.

DELIVERY OF ECONOMIC BENEFIT

In his Op-Ed, Nelson emphasised that too little has changed in mining, insisting that “things must change” and predicting that “they will, very soon”.

“Innovation can step in to answer the call for more sustainable mining, for the development, empowerment and nurturing of human capital and, importantly, also the delivery of economic benefit across the value chain.

“For South Africa, with a strong history and present-day narrative in mining, we also have a bright future that will remain closely tied to the industry. But to achieve new heights the old dog must learn a few new tricks,” he asserted.

Edited by Creamer Media Reporter

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