South African innovation sets pace for mining industry

9 February 2015

In today’s globalised world, the adoption of technology is increasingly essential for companies to be highly competitive and to prosper.

The technological readiness pillar of the South Africa’s National Development Plan (NDP) measures the agility with which the economy adopts existing technologies to enhance the productivity of its industries. No industry or sector is immune from the growing need to use innovation as a competitive advantage.

The mining sector is one of South Africa’s oldest industries. The country’s economic outlook and particularly the outlook for the mining sector comes under the spotlight at the annual Mining Indaba. It is currently under way at the Cape Town Convention Centre, running from 9 to 12 February.

Mining accounts for 12% of total investment in the South African economy. When indirect multipliers are considered, the total fixed investment in the South African economy flowing from mining activity reaches a significant 25% of total investment.

Advantages

South Africa is ranked as the best Brics economy in terms of availability of the latest technologies, and it is ranked highly in terms of technological readiness. Being proactive in adapting to new technology will help South Africa achieve its economic growth and development goals, and enhances perceptions about its ability to be competitive.

AziSA

As hosts of the Mining Indaba, the country must reflect on how technologically savvy we are in terms of the mining industry.

The mining industry is the third largest sector in the South African economy, after the agriculture and industrial manufacturing sectors. It accounts for approximately 8% of GDP and creates approximately 1-million jobs (500 000 direct and 500 000 indirect).

The development of new technologies benefits every aspect of the mineral industry – exploration, mining, mineral processing, beneficiation, health and safety, as well as environmental issues. Technology development needs to be focused on those areas that are critical to the entire value chain.

To address some of the challenges associated with labour-intensive drill-and-blast mining, as conducted on the major South African gold and platinum mines, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) has developed architecture called AziSA, an isiZulu word meaning “to inform”.

Drill-and-blast mining is often not tightly managed because of the lack of good information about what is going on underground. As a result, mining operations tend to be dangerous and unhealthy, as well as expensive. A shortage of appropriately skilled workers also leads to human resource challenges.

AziSA is intended primarily for the design of systems that will operate in underground mining environments where there is limited power and communications infrastructure.

Mechanised mining

Mechanised mining seeks to use machinery to drill and extract minerals and metals. The technology helps to increase South Africa’s competitiveness by increasing productivity and upskilling miners who are trained to operate and maintain highly specialised equipment.

Mechanisation is also used to reduce the threat of physical harm to people, as well as create greater access to reserves that would otherwise be too dangerous to explore.

While the South African mining industry has had its fair share of challenges recently, it is committed to using technology and innovation to ensure it keeps pace with global industry standards. In some areas, especially robotics and mechanisation, South Africa is setting global industry standards.

Menell is a Brand South Africa board member