The advent of the digital era means that people are empowered to perform what were previously regarded as ‘desk duties’ anytime, anywhere. In a first for Anglo American South Africa, its Zibulo colliery introduced outbye Wi-Fi infrastructure and smartphones to revolutionise communication underground.

This development that has rapidly evolved with the introduction of a series of mobile apps that optimise productivity, speed up decision making and give employees the information they need, when and where they need it.

Instant communication

This technology was first trialled in 2016 and the full outbye implementation was concluded in June 2017.

“The fixed underground telephones previously in use were unreliable and reaching them would often require a long walk. Employees would frequently need to return the surface to get a message to a colleague, report a problem or access production critical information,” says business improvement manager Zanne-Mari Meyer.

“Smartphones have changed all this. They enable instant communication from underground to the surface, from the surface underground and from one underground location to the other, but – at their core – they are tools that can be used for so much more.”

Two hundred Anglo American frontline employees are equipped with devices that look and work the same way as an ordinary smartphone.

They are, however, intrinsically safe and designed to withstand harsh conditions.

Apart from being able to make voice calls via an app called CSIP Simple, employees can use Cisco Spark to send text messages and photographs.

They can send and received documents like policies, procedure and section plans.

“In the past, foremen would sometimes only get around to reporting a machine fault at the end of a shift – now they can get in touch with the responsible people on the spot. And send an accompanying photograph of the issue!” says Zanne-Mari.

Real-time work management and access to live data

Anglo American’s work management has also been made more efficient with an app called Fewzion.

“Underground personnel are able to view all tasks scheduled for the day on the screen, tick them off once they have been completed and provide status updates on work in progress.

At the same time, the supervisor on the surface has an accurate picture of how work is progressing.

The Power BI app provides live data that could previously only be retrieved via the control room.

This means that key personnel have round the clock access to critical information which can either prevent or immediately address unnecessary downtime.

Smartphones for smart safety

Smartphones will increasingly play a role in safety and are already being used to capture underground visible felt leadership interactions on Enablon—a software the company uses to manage and track environmental and social performance.

Moreover, the Anglo American colliery will soon be trailing a checklist app to provide assurance on the quality of the pre-start check.

Phone, in conjunction with near field communication tags on both machines and employee clock cards, will verify the presence of team members during the exercise while flagged issues will go directly into a database for actioning.

The app, to be trialled on behalf of Anglo American, will be fully customisable and can be adopted by a variety of departments for multiple functions.

The innovation will soon be rolled out at Anglo American’s Goedehoop and Greenside colliery later this year.

“Underground mobility is enabling us to move the mining industry into the digital era and empower our frontline leaders to make informed decisions regarding productivity. This revolutionary technology also provides for real-time reporting of safety incidents,” concludes Zanne-Mari.