Digital technologies drive transformation in mining

15th September 2020 By: Simone Liedtke - Writer

Digital technologies drive transformation in mining

Microsoft South Africa enterprise director Amr Kamel

With many things having changed, never to be the same, Microsoft South Africa enterprise director Amr Kamel says of the power of technology: “It will always help people and organisations to adapt, re-invent and transform”.

South Africa’s mining industry contributed R360-billion to the country's economy in 2019, and it employs almost 500 000 people, which Kamel says proves that “the mining sector forms a significant part of the economy”.

However, the economy has faced many challenges in recent years – declining output, weakening global cost competitiveness, commodity price volatility, regulatory uncertainty and unreliable energy supply.

These challenges, combined with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, highlight the sector’s need for solutions that can “shift and boost” it to regain its competitiveness and remain a key contributor and driver in the country’s economic recovery, especially in the wake of the pandemic.

“This is where the role of technology becomes very important because for every organisation right now, these are unprecedented times. Businesses of all sizes and entire industries will need to adjust to the structural change in the coming months,” he avers.

Kamel explains that technology will be a key ally in rebooting enterprises and notes that solutions, which are conceptualised and built collaboratively, are anchored in four main areas: community services and social impact, health and safety, environment, and responsible digital transformation.

While digital is the future of mining, the question is how quickly mining companies can transform to drive growth.

“This requires partnering with technology companies like Microsoft to reimagine solutions that address specific business challenges and improve operational performance and efficiencies,” says Kamel.

While the Covid-19 pandemic has shown that no business is 100% resilient, says ABB local division manager for mining solutions John Manuell, more to the point is that many of the risks prevalent prior to the pandemic still exist.

These include risks, or challenges, like orebodies becoming more complex and deeper, increasing energy prices and labour costs and even global competition.

“Looking at the more digital aspects and where things are going now, one of our biggest risks is the lack of visibility of what’s happening on our plants. How well do we know the location of our people and equipment?

"And how quickly can we get information back to the control room to make decisions if things are changing?” he questions, noting that these are some of the key risks that can be solved, to some extent, with digitalisation.

While such risks remain and new ones will appear, Accenture MD Eric Croeser says mining companies should focus on how the industry has been and is, furthermore, using technology to ensure the safety of people in the environment of a mining operation.

Another component would be that of getting to safe production, and having the ability to do things remotely, thanks to digital technologies.

“If we start having all of the value chain pieces [and their data] linked up, we can start driving massive optimisation potential just by using proper value chain mathematics, and I think that is where the main drive is going to go to,” he says.

“The ability to do more things autonomously and freeing up people’s time capacity to start doing leadership-style roles instead of mathematical style roles, that is where the real value unlocking will lie”.