September 22, 2017

It’s digitisation or death for mining businesses

Underground mining/Photo Daily Maverick

Contemporary mine planning, design and scheduling can be a frustrating exercise for mine operators. On the one hand, the excitement comes from having a tool that simplifies the implementation of complex operations in ways once considered barely credible. On the other hand, there is the issue of a lack of, or limited adoption of digitisation. In particular, to mine operators, limited resources not only render mine planning broader and less tractable, but also make it more difficult to measure the value outcomes of the various decisions that have been made.

Encouragingly, within the prevailing sluggish environment, it has dawned on many mine operators that traditional mining methods cannot address the current challenge adequately.

Conspicuously, adopting effective use of Information Communication Technology (ICT) has progressed from being just another item on the boardroom agenda, to being a critical business agenda item. Mining companies have embraced digital transformation, through incorporating ICT into their business strategy. The primary objective is improving the quality of planning while maximising production.

Increasingly, as mining companies are embarking on the exercise of rightsizing their staff complements, planning, design, scheduling and labour management can make their lean human resource more efficient.

Nonetheless, whilst planning, design, scheduling and labour management offers immense benefits, IT specialists fear that most mine operators might be left behind, due to lack of awareness.  South African mines (the same would apply to mine operators in other countries in Africa) seem to underestimate the significance of reliable and sufficient data in the planning, design, scheduling and labour management of their operations from pit-to-port.  It is often only after they have converted to a secure auditable package that they realise what they have been lacking.

“Ever-shifting input data results in scenarios having to be constantly remodeled, often with incomplete information that is based on estimates from past performances. This results in models that do not accurately reflect the real-time working environment.  This can lead to errors in the production schedule and subsequent cost overruns, which no miner can afford.”

So says Ian Saker, of MineWare Consulting, a software company that specialises in writing operating systems for the mining sector.

It is evident that the sustainability of capital-intensive industries like mining will hinge on how much investment is made in the ICT sector. Innovations that will develop from public-private partnerships will leverage the capabilities of ICT to make all systems servicing the mining industry smarter, more effective, and highly efficient. Indeed, the choice is entirely at the proverbial fingertips of mining companies: Digitisation or death.

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