We live in extraordinary times. Whether it is a Japanese robot that has blasted rocks loose from an asteroid, collected them with a probe and is getting ready for a 9 million kilometer journey home or an autonomous robot submarine that travels into typhoons and fires off weather-monitoring rockets, it’s clear: Our lives embedded with technology will never be the same again*. And neither will Africa’s mining sector.
As the tech world rides the curve on buzzwords such as the Internet of Things (IoT), Blockchain and Artificial Intelligence (AI), the global mining industry is experiencing a sudden technology boom, driven by solutions focused on safety, productivity and mine-wide optimisation.
This is good news for African mines and even better news for the continent, if we can better negotiate the narrative around how technology can support the human and machine challenges we face in mining.
AUTHOR: Jamie van Schoor, CEO of Dwyka Mining Services
With a finger on the pulse of new technologies making a positive impact in mining, I see the following as mission critical considerations for adoption and adaptation to participate in the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR):
There will be a widening skills gap between theory-based knowledge and the mud-in-boots mining experience. It is critical that capability and competency of users are understood from the start so that adoption of the technology will yield a positive impact on their workflow.
There will be a definite adoption on non-traditional methods being used to foster buy-in such as change management specialists being incorporated on mine sites, gamification training programmes on mobile applications and encouraging mentorship programmes for organisation wide inclusion.
A mine-wide, high-broadband and low latency connection is a pre-requisite to bringing humans and machines closer in mining and keeping both safe.
This is especially relevant in underground mining where a reliable, robust and resilient wireless network is required as the ticket for participation in the 4IR.
With each mine site being unique, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. This means a hybrid solution is often required to connect various locations on surface and underground and this is the lever for device and data linked opportunities.
Empowered by a robust, reliable and resilient network real-time data provides the key to unlocking the benefits of short-interval control and dynamic planning for intuitive scheduling changes. Where connectivity is solved, there will be a steady embrace of mobile wearable devices on human and machine.
While there are data and privacy considerations to navigate for wearables with mining staff, the mining sector is serious about driving a safety-first culture, it require all the technology and computing power possible to improve safety records in pursuit of Zero Harm for all.
Accelerated by advancements in connectivity and the volumes of connected IoT devices, it is predicted that the amount of data points will substantially year on year.
The securitisation of databases, movement to Blockchain type technologies and an increase in ICT security to mitigate cyber related risks are key areas that provide assurance of mission critical data.
With AI being earmarked as a critical tool for the future, it is important to remember that data points are the building blocks of this future embrace. A shift from adopting good data to great digital data will be required to best leverage these.
An exciting trend with a radical impact expected on the survey and geotechnical industry, is the rise of autonomous solutions like the GPS-denied drones from Emesent and other robotic solutions now firmly entrenching their way into global mining workflows.
With similar robotic solutions being tested and developed for mining, it is clear that machines will increasingly deliver previously unattainable data from unsafe areas allowing for the completion of repetitive and unsafe tasks to deliver safer mining practices.
As an early advocate of the benefits of visualisation from experience with 3D simulation software like Ventsim and Pumpsim, it is clear that there is a positive impact that visualisation delivers across languages, disciplines and reporting levels for a ‘meeting of the minds’.
With advances in LiDAR scanning and mapping of both surface and underground areas as well as critical infrastructure, the creation of digital twins represents a powerful platform for integration into mine planning and reconciliation solutions once processed.
A new way of thinking
In conclusion, as we embrace these and other technologies for improvements in safety, productivity and optimisation, a cultural shift to consider the impact and value addition for both human and machine needs to be adopted and adapted on a case by case basis.
The symbiosis between human and machine is an exciting phenomenon that will deliver large scale improvements for mining in time. Through careful consideration, patience and the realisation that machines only augment human effort in mining, a safer more sustainable industry will be realised.
About the author:
JAMIE VAN SCHOOR is CEO and founder of Dwyka Mining Services. He has grown the Dwyka Mining Services technology platform into a leading mining technology vendor on the African continent.
With a desire to leave a lasting positive legacy in mining, he is an advocate of technology being the catalyst for safer and more sustainable mining practices.