Digitalisation
Ralf Leinen, SVP: Digital Industries for southern and eastern Africa at Siemens

“For the first time in history we have an incredible opportunity to use digitalisation to transform entire economies at an unprecedented rate.

"African countries need to act quickly and decisively to put effective strategies in place now in order to succeed in future,” says Ralf Leinen, SVP: Digital Industries for southern and eastern Africa at Siemens.

This article first appeared in Mining Review Africa Issue 10, 2019
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This sentiment rings true, especially for the mining sector in Africa, which is currently faced with subdued investment, rising cost pressures and increasing labour issues.

A combination of mechanisation, efficient extraction of resources and better use of data may however make it easier for mine operators to cut costs and create leaner and more efficient operations.

Compiled by CHANTELLE KOTZE

Leinen further warns that while digitalisation is providing the continent with the opportunity to accelerate growth and rapidly expand struggling economies, there is only a small window of opportunity and decision-makers must get a strategy in place before it is too late.

Siemens, in conjunction with market research company Frost & Sullivan, has published a comprehensive research report titled ‘The dawn of digitalization and its impact on Africa’, which outlines the current state of four key industries across the continent: water, manufacturing, mining and minerals, and food and beverage, and highlights the challenges and opportunities within these sectors.

The study also considers growth predictions and where the adoption of smart technology would be most beneficial in expanding industries to drive sustainable growth.

A snapshot of mining

Historically, mining is one of the key economic drivers for many African nations but over the past few years the sector has come under enormous pressure due to subdued investment, rising cost pressures and increasing labour issues.

The crippling labour strikes in the past few years have resulted in mining companies implementing mechanisation on a larger scale to improve cost efficiency and remain globally competitive.

Through mechanisation and automation of the mining value chain, the industry can improve its safety performance, efficiency and production margins in a bid to remain a sustainable economic driver going forward.

According to the report, while the South African mining sector contributed R356 billion (or 8%) towards GDP in 2018 as the single largest contributor to the country’s exports (accounting for 38% of total exports), this figure is in stark contrast to the 21% contribution towards the country’s GDP in 1980 – which is largely due to economic uncertainty, labour issues and other political instabilities.

This situation is being compounded by the 6% input cost inflation recorded during 2018 – which is a significant increase to already high operational costs, coupled with a tough investment environment.

Ways to address this

To address some of these challenges, initiatives have been sought and include:

  • The Mandela Mining Precinct’s role in identifying barriers and developing a vision for the long-term development and transformation of the mining industry which entails improving mining efficiencies and the introduction of modern technologies.
  • The introduction of mineral beneficiation such as the beneficiation of platinum for fuel-cell development
  • The stipulation within Mining Charter III which outlines the expectation of mineral rights holders to invest in locally procured goods and services for the betterment of the South African mining industry.

Siemens believes that the challenges confronting the global mining industry – now and in the future – can only be mastered by increasing productivity and by reducing operating and extraction costs.

To do so, Siemens has a comprehensive solutions portfolio from electrical to digital solutions that spans the needs of the entire mining value chain from exploration and excavation to refining and agglomeration.

Digital mining incubator

In addition, Siemens has also created the Digital Mining Incubator, which is a co-creation space focused on developing mining engineering competence.

The incubator is integrated into the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct and is aimed at upskilling young individuals who have an interest in the mining sector, as well as disadvantaged individuals interested in actively participating in the future of mining.

Together with mentors from Wits, Tshimologong and Siemens, students are enabled with the necessary tools and skills to effectively transform and develop the South African mining sector.

Outlook

The rise of intelligent mines are not a distant dream with digitalisation slowly capturing the mining industry of Africa. It is modern technology that holds the key to unlocking new ways to set new benchmarks in productivity.

This move towards digitalisation can be witnessed first-hand at some of the world’s leading mines, which all rely on state-of-the-art automation, energy, and drilling systems to increase mining intensity with reduced personnel and energy costs.