In a bid to foster the modernisation and mechanisation of the South African mining industry, the Mandela Mining Precinct, together with the Mining Equipment Manufacturers of South Africa (MEMSA) have launched the Technology Availability and Readiness Atlas (TARA).

TARA is an online database of locally-manufactured products and technologies that not only aims to serve the future needs of the ever-evolving mining industry, but which will showcase the local innovation and technological breakthroughs taking place in the country, writes CHANTELLE KOTZE.

This article first appeared in Mining Review Africa Issue 11, 2020
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Envisaged to become the leading online directory of South African mining equipment and systems, similar to AutoTrader, TARA aims to connect local original-equipment manufacturers (OEMs) mining companies, making the purchase of local mining equipment from the local supply chain a seamless process.

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The Precinct, through its Real-Time Information Management Systems (RTIMS) research programme, together with MEMSA, developed the TARA online database.

The platform has been designed to allow OEMs to upload their own equipment and systems, with their technical specifications and images, according to set data fields, namely mine cycle activities pertaining to drilling, blasting, cleaning and supporting as well as the required mining method.

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There are currently 113 pieces of equipment from 13 companies listed on TARA, including equipment from MEMSA members AARD Mining Equipment, Dezzi, Fermel, Hydro Power Equipment (HPE), Novatek and Rham Equipment.

Read more about the Mining Charter

In light of the local procurement requirements of Mining Charter 3, published in September 2018, MEMSA CEO Ossie Carstens believes that the South African mining industry is in a unique position to assist in the country’s reindustrialisation drive, through the growth and transformation of the local mining supply chain.

This will in turn bolster the competitiveness of the country’s mining and manufacturing sectors, which will bode well for the country’s economic growth, development and recovery post-COVID-19.

The emphasis that has been placed on local procurement in the latest iteration of the Mining Charter means that mining companies have been given the difficult task of finding locally-manufactured equipment that meet local content requirements.

“This is a minefield that one could easily get lost in,” says Carstens, noting that this is how the development of the TARA came about.

With the intention of becoming the go-to online database that connects mining houses with mining OEMs, the database also serves as a collaboration platform allowing mining companies and OEMs to join forces on the development of solutions that could be commercialised for the benefit of the broader mining industry.

“This is where the real value in TARA lies,” says Carstens, noting that this technology development could have growth and competitiveness advantages for both parties.

Concept and commercialisation custodians

Together, the Mandela Mining Precinct and MEMSA are the custodians of conceptualising and commercialising the innovative technologies and solutions needed to create a healthy, safe, innovative, transformative and economically-viable mining industry in South Africa.

Any requests for new mining technology development via TARA could be incorporated within one of the Mandela Mining Precinct’s research programmes where it could be developed into a solution to address one of the many challenges that beset the South African mining industry.

The needs of the local mining industry have been captured in the South African Mining Extraction, Research, Development and Innovation (SAMERDI) Strategy, from which the Mandela Mining Precinct’s research programmes have been informed.

The current research programmes include Mechanised Mining Systems, Longevity of Current Mining, Advanced Orebody Knowledge, Real-Time Information Management Systems and Successful Application of Technologies Centred Around People.

Any technological developments that stem from this could be used to further populate TARA in future, says Carstens, undoubtedly making it the go-to platform for cutting-edge, locally developed and manufactured technology.

Preparing the mining industry for the fourth industrial revolution and beyond

According to Jean-Jacques Verhaeghe, programme manager for Real-Time Information Management Systems (RTIMS) at the Mandela Mining Precinct, the RTIMS programme aims to improve data transmission, storage, dissemination, and information management tools, practices, and procedures for mining companies.

The real thrust of the research has therefore been towards managing and interpreting data to achieve a real-time decision making framework to enable smarter and more accurate decision making that can improve the safety and efficiency of mining operations, explains Verhaeghe.

In doing so, the Precinct has been hard at work in merging the distinct (but mutually-dependent) worlds of research, testing, creating a solution and manufacturing, and has thus designed and implemented TARA with this in mind.

While still very much focused on developing solutions to address the challenges currently faced by the mining sector, TARA also aims to support the advancements being made in the mining industry from a digital technology point of view. Therefore, Verhaeghe says that

future development plans for TARA involve expanding the product and services offering to not only include local mining equipment from OEMs, but to also include local real-time information management system solutions from local original technology manufacturers (OTMs). 

These include digital technologies such as underground network communications, cyber physical systems, software and systems integration options, artificial intelligence, edge computing solutions, and positioning and tracking systems.

A project is already underway within the RTIMS research programme and the outcomes of this work, expected around February 2021, will provide a clearer understanding of the local OEM/OTM landscape and will assist in further populating TARA with digital products and services, in addition to the mining equipment currently listed.

According to Verhaeghe, for the South African mining industry to truly adopt digital technologies, it is imperative that research and development institutions highlight the critical need for these technologies but then also develop a common framework to help guide mining companies on how to adopt digital technologies.

Read more about mining in South Africa

“Traditional mining mindsets need to be enhanced with digital mining mindsets. It is not mining as usual anymore, and this can no longer be the case as digital technology adoption will ensure that mining operations remain sustainable in future,” says Verhaeghe.

One of the areas in which Verhaeghe believes the mining industry requires the most work is the upskilling the South African mining industry workforce to become more digitally-savvy.

“With an increasing shift towards mechanisation and the use of autonomous machines and systems, there is need for people, such as data scientists and engineers, who understand data and coding,” he notes.

Benefits for OEMs

Christina Zondi, vice chairperson of MEMSA and co-director of local, empowered drill rod manufacturer Drill Rod Specialist, says that TARA has the potential to become a comprehensive buyers guide for mining equipment in South Africa, serving the role of a one-stop-shop with all the necessary information and specifications on a particular product on one easy to access and navigate platform.

As one of the OEMs that has uploaded equipment to TARA, Drill Rod Specialist believes the benefit in being listed on TARA is that it provides a significant marketing benefit for companies in that buyers from all across Africa – particularly markets that most local suppliers do not have access to – will have access to view, compare and enquire about the equipment listed on TARA. This may stimulate the manufacture, procurement and even export of local content, she says.

The database will see further development in functionality and types of equipment and services covered.

The searchable TARA database can be found here.

South African manufacturers interested in joining MEMSA and displaying mining equipment on the database click here.