Mining Indaba 2018 - Sustainability, technology, innovation: Africa’s mining future

Mining Indaba 2018 - Sustainability, technology, innovation: Africa’s mining future

By Robyn Grimsley

Investing in Africa Mining Indaba is 2018 is over, and a big focus on all four days was about using technology and innovation to build sustainable mining operations.

The Investing in Africa Mining Indaba 2018 took place from 5 to 8 February under the theme ‘Providing the foundation for sustainable junior and major mining growth in Africa’, and set the stage for mining companies, investors, governments and media to make valuable connections, learn from experts and gain industry insight.

Andrew van Zyl, partner and principal consultant at SRK Consulting, said the top mining risks discussed at the Indaba conference were varied – relating to the environment, geology, safety, financial issues and the social licence to mine – but performance in all these elements could be improved with proper alignment of strategy and technology. This focus was a theme running through all four days of the conference.

Day one of Indaba was an optimistic affair compared to the past three or four years. Delegates were noticeably upbeat, and there were more of them. However, it was the reconciliatory tone of the South African Minister of Mineral Resources, Mosebenzi Zwane, that took most by surprise. In Zwane’s welcoming speech, he emphasised the need to improve current geological knowledge, something Roger Baxter, CEO of the Chamber of Mines, touched on in an earlier press conference.

Stage C was the location for the panels and presentations comprising the Mining 2050 (Technology & Innovation) stream on day 3 of the conference.
Image credit: 2018 Investing in African Mining Indaba by Dave Hann PhotographyDay one of Investing in African Mining Indaba was an optimistic affair, with more delegates in attendance than in previous years.
Image credit: 2018 Investing in African Mining Indaba by Dave Hann PhotographyGift of the Givers was also present at the event, raising awareness of Cape Town’s water crisis and encouraging delegates to donate to help address the situation.
Image credit: 2018 Investing in African Mining Indaba by Dave Hann Photography

However, the elephant in the room was his failure to address the regulatory uncertainty compounded by the – now suspended – Mining Charter III, gazetted last year.

Jonathan Veeran, partner and deputy head of law firm Webber Wentzel’s mining sector group on Mineral Resources, said he was disappointed in the speech and that Zwane did not take the opportunity to say that South Africa is open for business. Although, he concedes, “I suppose Minister Zwane could not say that because of the political impasse that we are at.” Plus, the announcement by Speaker of Parliament Baleka Mbete on Tuesday afternoon that the State of the Nation Address, due to be delivered by President Jacob Zuma on Thursday evening, had been postponed, just highlighted the fraught political situation.

Jonathan Veeran Webber Wentzel

Jonathan Veeran, partner and deputy head of law firm Webber Wentzel’s mining sector group on Mineral Resources.
Image credit: Webber Wentzel

Veeran adds that there were three key elements that Zwane’s speech did not address: policy uncertainty, specifically that surrounding Mining Charter III and policy inconsistency; unclear legislation and regulation; and the trust deficit that has arisen over the past five years due to these two issues. “What you need to do in order to build a prosperous mining industry in South Africa is create a social compact between [labour, business, communities and government]. And those are for me the three key themes that the minister should have spoken [about] and highlighted because these themes need to be discussed.”

Overall, Zwane was optimistic about the future of South African Mining, saying that the mining industry in South Africa is now in spring time, and that it would be summer soon. “Those companies that invested during the winter, will now reap the benefits,” he said.

He highlighted the mining industry’s contribution to South Africa’s emergence from a technical recession in the second half of last year. “After two consecutive quarters of economic contraction, in the fourth quarter of 2016 and the first quarter of 2017, GDP rebounded in the second and third quarters of 2017, growing by 2.8% and 2%, respectively. This expansion has helped allay fears of sustained economic recession and was driven in no small part by growth in the mining sector,” said Zwane. “In fact, the mining sector was responsible for no less than 2% of the growth in the period.”

Later, during a midday question and answer session, Zwane was in a compromising mood, stating that his department’s door remains open for anybody to discuss the controversial Mining Charter. “We are willing to discuss and settle the matter outside court if we have to,” he said. But Zwane remains uninspiring, and what motivates his new narrative is anybody’s guess. If he is really willing to negotiate remains to be seen. Yet, the positive talk adds to the building wave of optimism sweeping through southern Africa.

Even Baxter believes that positive winds of change are blowing through South Africa, and that a new political order in southern Africa is a cause for great optimism. “We are definitely seeing a turn, and all the signs are there that we will have a much better 2018.”

And while in-depth surveying, geological mapping and making this information available online is essential to ensure a thriving exploration sector, Baxter stresses the need for more exploration projects in South Africa. “There are many undiscovered ore-bodies in the country, and we need to encourage emerging exploration companies to become part of the mining environment,” he says.

When it comes to getting exploration projects off the ground, the big constraint is funding, which is something that, “The government needs to address as soon as possible,” Bridgette Radebe, CEO of Mmakau Mining and official representative of South Africa’s junior mining companies, told Zwane at the question and answer session. Radebe called for a fund or even a bank for junior miners. “Agriculture has a bank, why can’t mining?” she asked.

Mining 2050

Moving on from the broader context of the event, for the first time this year, Mining Indaba had dedicated streams focusing on various pressing issues affecting the mining sector. One of these was the Mining 2050 Innovation programme, which looked at where companies should invest in the age of disruption. Industry leaders from companies such as Anglo American, Rio Tinto, Barrick and even Caterpillar took part in panels discussing the latest disruptive technology and innovation strategies.

Speaking about the decision to include this focus area in the 2018 Mining Indaba, managing director Alex Grose says, “Mining 2050 looks to the future,” adding that the aim of the sessions is to examine how the mining sector can adopt innovative ways of thinking and technologies so that it thrives. “Africa is competing for investment and commodities around the world, while the continent has a head start in terms of its resources in the ground, let’s not fall behind in terms of planning for the future,” says Grose.

Some of the topics under discussion throughout this stream include how exploration and processing are likely to change over the next 10 years and into the future; key ways that mines can use technology and big data to manage risk across the project lifecycle; the power of big data, and how companies are having to adjust their operations to take advantage of the opportunities it presents; sustainable intelligent mining; how the Internet of Things (IoT) will shape the mine of the future; and how to develop sustainable procurement strategies.

Olusegun Obasanjo

Olusegun Obasanjo, the former President of Nigeria and chairman of the Brenthurst Foundation, delivered a keynote address entitled ‘Partnership: A New Narrative for Africa’s Mining Industry’.
Image credit: 2018 Investing in African Mining Indaba by Dave Hann Photography

“The digital age is giving us the ability to collect and analyse vast amounts of important data, for instance, which makes for better engineering decisions – whether these relate to rock mechanics, water management or social impact,” says SRK partner and principal mining engineer Marcin Wertz. “The current optimism about mining’s future prospects need to be based on this more innovative and inclusive approach if it is to provide the longer-term benefits to all stakeholders.”

One of the panels also included an introduction to start-ups with new ideas on how to help optimise mining technology. A lot of the focus in this session was on different ways to use data to optimise operations, and how to interpret the data for the best possible outcomes. Jason van der Watt, co-founder of Applied Vehicle Analysis (AVA), spoke about the company’s web-based production platform, which is primarily focused on the load and haul space, where 80% of production costs lie. Van der Watt explained that the company was founded on the basis of optimising load and haul operations without the prohibitive costs associated with a lot of new technology.

“What is the future of load and haul mining?” Van der Watt asked those attending the session. “Many people say that it's automated truck and shovels, but even the most optimistic outlooks say five to 10 years' time before we see these in the mainstream, and it will take a huge amount of cost and effort to get this correct.” Considering this, AVA decided to look at another area, one that could show results now without the prohibitive cost elements.

“We took a bit of an alternative view on this and we said there's so many existing devices that are already tracking what these vehicles are doing inside the pit, can we not just use those to create a really cool web-based production platform?”

By doing this, the company separates the hardware from the software, which has the advantage of low or no capital cost on the hardware front, as well as allowing for locally supported technicians who know how the hardware works, and even for hardware to be swapped out at any point and for any reason.

“Then on the software front, that's where we put our focus,” Van der Watt explained, “because now your whole production platform becomes a variable cost, so there's no risk to you in running it. If you don't use a truck, you take it off the platform, and you don't pay for it. You can also access it from anywhere, there's no per licence cost, so you can have people all over the world that all know exactly what's going on in your production. Typically, all the assets update every 10 seconds, you can see how they move, you can fence in various areas – where they dump, where they load, what material type is associated with particular loaders, but more importantly, you can track maintenance and operational delays.”

“We can also cater to most vehicles, so if every vehicle on your site has a device, why not have them on the platform. Then you've got a full GIS with your mine plan overlay, together with your drone photos. There's a lot of focus and attention on big mines, but our technology works well for the smaller quarries as well,” he added.


Stage C was the location for the panels and presentations comprising the Mining 2050 (Technology & Innovation) stream on day 3 of the conference.
Image credit: 2018 Investing in African Mining Indaba by Dave Hann Photography

“We have worked with one seven-ADT quarry, and they've got four managers on site, so everything’s observable, everything's managed, everything’s kind of under control. But they can't measure it because they don’t have stopwatches and eight hands the whole time. So for their R20 000 a month, they got R220 000 back just in cost savings on managing their contractors correctly. That's without considering the utilisation optimisation that we did on their load and haulers, so they're getting 10 times the system costs back every single month just by using our platform. And through increasing their communication and aligning them around the same KPIs, we dropped all their overtime hours.”

This focus on the data that is currently available, and what we can do with it, carried over into other sessions, with SRK Consulting (SA) chairman William Joughin presenting a range of technological innovations developed and applied by SRK in its mining project work. Joughin highlighted the need for mines to embrace these advances as active participants in the fourth industrial revolution, and also looked at how data can form an important part of a mine’s planning. “Larger quantities of better and more reliable data – combined with specialised and in-depth engineering experience – are a real step-change in our ability to understand and manage project risk,” he said.

“Today’s technology gives us the power to collect and analyse data in previously unimaginable quantities – and with remarkable benefits. We have used drones and photogrammetry, for instance, for mapping geological structures – giving us a better understanding of the geology and more reliable resource definition. This, in turn, helps mines manage geotechnical risks such as slope stability, as more data means more accurate interpretation of geological structures.”

Jeff Hamilton, director of brand strategy and alliances at Dassault Systèmes, spoke about how the Internet of Things (IoT) will shape the mine of the future. He gave a brief overview of the areas that he believes will see great change by 2050, including increasing human population, changes in social structure (the rise of the sharing economy), human enhancement (in terms of both cognition and prosthetics), natural resource consumption (an increase in population levels will drive a decrease in per capita consumption and reuse of resources), natural resource extraction techniques, urbanisation, energy, robotics, artificial intelligence, changing labour and skills requirements, an increase in connected devices and platform considerations stemming from this increase.

According to Hamilton, there will likely be between 35 and 50 billion IoT devices by 2050, which will have a significant impact on the way society – and industry – functions. But while big data is a recurring idea that comes up everywhere these days, he was quick to stress that this is a tool, not an end game. “It’s not really about big data, it’s about actionable intelligence, which relates to whatever KPIs you're looking at for your organisation. Our view is that the mining IoT is digitally connected, it’s data driven, it’s model based, and ultimately, we get to probably the most important element here: we combine the virtual and the real. So what we can do with this … [IoT] ecosystem in 2050 is we can make a digital twin of the mine, and then model, simulate and optimise so that we can test things in the digital world before we apply them in the real world.”

Exhibitors at the 2018 Investing in African Mining Indaba ranged from OEMs to junior mining companies.
Image credit: 2018 Investing in African Mining Indaba by Dave Hann PhotographyAndrew van Zyl, partner and principal consultant at SRK Consulting and Marcin Wertz, partner and principal mining engineer at SRK.
Image credit: SRK

In summary, Hamilton stated that it is likely there will be some dramatic technological changes by the year 2050. “From an industry standpoint we really need to start innovating with digitalisation and IoT. All of the majors are talking about this, but just by listening to Mining Indaba this week, it is a recurring theme overall.”


Another topic that was prevalent throughout Mining Indaba 2018 is that of sustainability in all its many forms. Bridging the gap between technology and sustainability was Deloitte’s Jan-Adriaan du Plessis, associate director for strategy and operations – energy and resources. Du Plessis gave a presentation on sustainable intelligent mining, which he defined as addressing four main issues: the way decisions are made; the skills that will be required in future; how resources are managed; and how value is shared.

William Joughin chairman SRK Consulting SA

SRK Consulting (SA) chairman William Joughin presented a range of technological innovations developed and applied by SRK in its mining project work.
Image credit: SRK

What does this mean? He explained that digital platforms allow for more descriptive real-time information to be used for decision making. Digitisation and technology will also change the way the mine of the future works, requiring mining organisations to be more proactive in understanding what the workforce of the future will look like. Resource management includes areas such as infrastructure, utilities, energy which have historically been managed as a fixed cost.

“I think that in the future we will manage these as variable costs through the value chain, in the same way we manage material flow,” said Du Plessis. Finally, when it comes to how value is shared, Du Plessis pointed out that, “The fourth industrial revolution is not necessarily a zero-sum game. You operate within a broader ecosystem, and value should be shared with all stakeholders in that ecosystem.”

Deloitte’s Centre of the Long View business unit makes extensive use of AI technology to identify the drivers that will shape the business of the future, organised within the broad categories social, politics, technology, economy and environment. And, unsurprisingly, many identified drivers are linked to technology and to the fourth industrial revolution (Industry 4.0). Looking at why this is important to the mining sector, Du Plessis said that according to an analysis Deloitte conducted back in 2012, the impact of technology is going to be what he referred to as, “long fuse, small bang,” meaning it will take a long time to come to fruition and have a (relatively) small impact on business. “I think that the disruption for mining will come not in mining itself, but in all the supporting industries – your clients, your customers.”

Emphasising a point that was raised multiple times throughout the event, Du Plessis said that, “digital solves real business problems.” The benefits to mining organisations impact a few main areas: core processes (reducing process variability with real-time information, enhancing and augmenting decision making and automating processes and improving the whole system); the workforce (improving safety, increasing digital workforce engagement); and the broader ecosystem in which mines operate.

“I think that's probably one of the most important dimensions,” Du Plessis said. “If you're going to make investments in digital infrastructure, extend it to the community around where you operate. If you need to develop new skills and understanding for the workforce of the future, develop those skills within the community using digital platforms.” This extends to establishing partnerships within the community to develop suppliers and the workforce of the future through digital education platforms, among other solutions.


South African Minister of Mineral Resources, Mosebenzi Zwane, delivered the welcome address at the Mining Indaba.
Image credit: 2018 Investing in African Mining Indaba by Dave Hann Photography

One of the other sustainability issues in focus over the course of the event was local procurement, with the question “how local is local?” being raised more than once. When we speak of local procurement, are we talking about the national, provincial or community level? Does having South African suppliers from outside the ‘local-local’ community fulfil the spirit of the endeavour, or do companies need to focus more on those in the communities directly surrounding their operations? And if the latter, how can this be done in a manner that is sustainable in the long term?

Overall, the feeling at the Investing in Africa Mining Indaba 2018 was optimistic, with a clear focus on ways to integrate technology and innovation into mining operations and the surrounding community to build an industry that is sustainable. And with the industry, and the economy, finally beginning to recover from recent downturns, the outlook for the future of mining in Africa is unmistakeably positive.


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