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Home > Transformative Change in the South African Mining Sector

Transformative Change in the South African Mining Sector

18 December, 2020
by Dr Nkosi Kumalo, Managing Executive of Sales for Mining at BCX
The South African mining sector has faced its own fair share of challenges over the past few years. Changes in economy, complexities with labour, rising costs, and political uncertainty have taken their toll on an industry once known for its stability. In 2020, this picture has slowly changed, in spite of an even more uncertain and volatile situation. Over the past year, mining has been turning around – the lumbering beast slowly gaining momentum in terms of growth and employment. This is a positive outcome reflected in the Facts and Figures publication released by the Minerals Council South Africa that found a 0.8% increase in employment in the sector since 2019, a move away from the steady downward trend that has characterised the industry recently. According to Nkosi Kumalo, Managing Executive of Sales for Mining at BCX, mining has been one of the few sectors to deliver in terms of performance and analyst confidence during the lockdowns of 2020.

“The mining sector was the first to open up during the lockdown as it is considered an essential service, and the sector has used this to cement solid foundations for the future,” he explains. “They made a significant contribution to the economy of the country during the first, hard lockdown, and they have subsequently benefited from the weakened Rand in terms of costs and profits. It’s a good position to be in right now, and one that the sector really needed.”

This growth has equally allowed for the mining industry to focus its investments internally, to look at technology platforms that will allow for improved visibility into operations and financials. Many companies are embracing analytics to improve decision making and the bottom line, as well as exploring how to use sensors and the Internet of Things to track people and equipment to ensure improved safety and security.

“Investment into sensors and the technology that can read and analyse the data can potentially transform how mining companies approach personal safety and production levels,” adds Kumalo. “With the right solutions, they can track their tonnage, extraction, machinery longevity, air quality and so much more. This is why we are seeing so many more mines embracing technology and having conversations around automation.”

In addition to cost reductions, production improvements, and safety, mines are looking to technology to explore new business opportunities. The sector is still under pressure in multiple areas that have to be addressed in order to futureproof the business. One of these is power – this is erratic and unreliable in its production, and it is a significant expense that has to be tightly managed. Investment into tech that can mitigate the impact of downtime has become a necessary expense. But, the right tech can do more than just manage operations, it can provide a bird’s eye view of costs that can change how the company manages systems.

“Automation has become such a powerful solution for the industry,” says Kumalo. “It can streamline operations, improve efficiencies, reduce costs, and ensure a more relevant distribution of labour. It gives the sector better control – a control that many mining executives want to ensure that they minimise the risks to employee and business.”

The automation gain is one opportunity, the other is to ensure that mines can flourish. When a mine sets up business, the community around it booms. People find employment in the mines, the housing market experiences an increase in sales and rentals, the small to medium enterprise finds opportunities of its own, and an entire economy rises up alongside the mine. This ecosystem of returns is of such value that it has become critical for mines to invest into solutions that help them to ensure that they remain profitable and viable.

“Mining needs to work closely with Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) to find innovative ways of implementing technology so as to improve access to opportunities, unpack new mining ventures, and invest into the mine of the future,” concludes Kumalo. “This is a future where the industry is defined by how proactive it is, how it uses technology to leverage the benefits of the future, and how it has moved away from the reactive approaches of the past.”

From research and development to automation to IoT to alternative sources of energy and opportunity, technology offers mining a range of tools that can help shape its future sustainability. And companies like BCX have the skills and industry understanding that’s needed to partner with mining companies in finding inventive ways of facing an uncertain tomorrow.
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