How Automation Can Drive Safety In the Mining Sector
The Covid-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the mining sector, with the mining and quarrying industries contracting by 73.1% between Q1 and Q2 of 2020, contributing significantly to SA’s overall GDP contraction of some 16.4%.
A negative impact on the mining sector is therefore a negative impact on the country. Local mining companies simply cannot afford any further financial shrinkage due to operational closure. Mining executives need to strike the right balance between productivity, cost and specifically safety. Safety is even more paramount, especially now when the COVID-19 pandemic is still rife. Striking this right balance requires innovative thinking and technology.
According to Nkosi Kumalo, managing executive for Mining, Industrial and Health at BCX, technology is key to mitigating mine safety risks, as seen by the deployment of innovative thermal screening and contact tracing solutions as a way to manage the safety risk. These solutions, he says, are good examples of how technology has been leapfrogged to relevance because of a real and tangible threat. For example, the business case for wearable devices has been an ongoing conversation for some time. However, the advent of Covid-19 has made the case for this technology stronger, as they can enable contact tracing and improve the visibility of employees underground,” he says. “There are additional spin-offs beyond the Covid-19 health perspective. These devices can help identify high potential accident zones underground which means that measures can be put in place to mitigate these before accidents happen. Furthermore, in cases where miners are trapped underground, these wearables can provide critical information and add precision to rescue operations.”
Kumalo adds that increasing automation of mining operations is creating a scenario where fewer people are needed underground, and those who have new skills that can complement intelligent tools – such as drones, autonomous plant equipment, smart drills and robotics – to drive productivity even higher. “It’s worth noting too that since automation cannot work without human beings, it creates an opportunity for the re-skilling of the labour force, in the areas of data science, business process formulations, autonomous equipment monitoring and management, and virtual smart drill operators to name a few.
“BCX’s industrial IT division offers solutions to mining and manufacturing clients where they are able to manage and monitor their operational environment remotely, using Internet of Things (IoT) solutions. Its key strength is the ability to build data-driven platforms that can be deployed in the private or community cloud environment, fully equipped with all necessary technologies from the edge to the core, including security.”
He suggests that the key challenge moving forward is how to integrate the entire mine value chain, from -prospecting to retail, using technology across multiple vendors and stakeholders in the value chain. “As an end-to-end technology provider, BCX aspires to aggregate the activities across the whole ecosystem, from exploration, to mining executive offices, and from operations and mining regulators, all the way through to mine end-of-life processes. This can be done using technology platforms that are able to ensure responsible and safe mining, while still yielding value to all interested parties throughout the life of the mine,” he concludes.
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