South Africa’s mining industry has made substantial progress in its journey towards digital transformation in the last decade, but to truly shift the mining sector into the Fourth Industrial Revolution, partnership and collaboration will be key.
The role of collaboration in driving mining modernisation was explored by esteemed industry delegates at Huawei’s Mining Summit in Johannesburg on 28 October 2021. Mining News attended the event. “Innovation doesn’t happen in a siloed space. It’s enabled by collaboration. It’s facilitated when people talk to one another and when they share ideas with one another. And, that’s why we have built and strengthened our partnerships with partners like Huawei who help us drive our digital strategy forward,” Royal Bafokeng Platinum Information Management Manager, Karina Geyser, said during her speech at the auspicious event.
Geyser noted, however, that technology partners working with clients in the mining sector need to make the effort to ensure they have a clear understanding of the environments their clients work in. “As a partner supporting clients in the mining space, if you haven’t been underground, you know nothing. You need to understand what modernisation in mining actually means, what the drivers of evolution in the industry are, and the specific barriers,” she added. Mandela Mining Precinct Program Manager, Jean-Jacques Verhaeghe, endorsed Geyser’s comments on partnership, noting that tech partners needed to put themselves in the shoes of the mining companies they want to work with. “With all these shiny new technologies available to us, it can be easy to lose focus on what is really important to a mining company when embarking on digitalisation. Partners need to really look at what difference these technologies are going to make in moving crucial benchmarks forward. Ask yourself, how is this technology going to help a mine make progress in its quest for zero harm or how is it going to help give them that extra one metre advance per shift?” said Verhaeghe. “This is what attracted us to Huawei as a partner – their willingness to look at solutions that others weren’t interested in pursuing and Huawei’s mindset that said ‘give us a problem and we’ll see how we can solve it with you’”. Entrenching the theme of partnership at the event, the Mandela Mining Precinct and Huawei signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) that allows the Minerals Council South Africa, through the MMP and Huawei, to install and test Wi-Fi 6 kits in underground mines, in pursuit of a digitalised mining industry. Planning is also underway that will enable research teams to define and test various scenarios at a suitable mine in South Africa.
Digital strategies to provide direction
Looking beyond collaboration, Geyser also implored the mining sector to develop robust corporate level digital strategies to provide direction in their digital transformation journeys. She noted that when plotting a digital strategy, companies needed to conduct a SWOT analysis, understand their internal and external barriers, and lay out concrete steps for how to overcome them. “We often make the mistake of only employing pockets of excellence in regards to digitalisation but you need to understand your business throughout the entire value chain to really enhance it with emerging technologies,” she said. Huawei Vertical Solution Manager, Gys Malan, added that when integrating digital solutions into their business, the mining sector needed to be cognisant of fitting the right technologies to the right processes in order to really make an impact. “What businesses often do is find a solution that has been successful in a specific environment and try to apply it to all of their business requirements and then they find that they cannot achieve their business goals. The objective is to take the correct solution and fit it to the relevant business requirements,” he said. “You need to challenge yourself to think of ways to achieve all your business intent without sacrificing any outcomes.”
Lastly, the event touched on the growing importance of data in digital transformation. Data is an increasingly valuable commodity in today’s digital economy and in a capital-intensive industry like mining, data analytics can generate immense value by improving productivity, efficiency and effectiveness. “Data is the key to smart mining and your ability to use and exploit data will be a key market differentiator. Mines already generate vast amounts of data, the challenge is that they don’t have access to it in real time,” said Huawei 5G Marketing Manager Mark Williams. “Any device you have without connectivity means nothing. 5G enables you to extract data from the source to the destination in real time so you can use all these emerging technologies to conduct predictive and prescriptive analysis which will completely change your operations with a flick of a finger,” Williams concluded.
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