In alignment with underground operations worldwide increasingly digitalising their operations, Vedanta Zinc International's (VZI) Black Mountain Mining's (BMM's) underground operation Swartberg is also embarking on digitalisation efforts.
VZI, a grouping of zinc assets located in South Africa and Namibia, is part of global mining and metal conglomerate Vedanta. VZI operates as BMM in Northern Cape's KHAI-MA region.
BMM owns the Black Mountain mining operations comprising the Deeps and Swartberg underground operations and the Gamsberg openpit operation.
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 a year of copper and lead ore, and 60 000 t/y to 70 000 t/y of metal-in-concentrate with the extension of life-of-mine, depending on a favourable economic assessment.
Further ramp-up is planned, taking copper and lead ore production past the two-million-tonne-a-year mark.
In 2018, a modular digitalisation project aimed at improving 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 "after the fact" decision-making.
Moreover, Swartberg aims to use digitalisation to uphold VZI's first value of safety and pursue its vision of becoming a digitally-enabled operator.
Increased mechanisation through automation will allow employees less exposure to the working face, with 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 use, health, availability and productivity; improved planning and productivity; and reduced costs of production.