Mining opportunities ahead – but productive solutions must pave the way

08 March 2017 – Johannesburg: There was clearly more positive talk at the recent Investing in African Mining Indaba in Cape Town about ‘dusting off’ shelved mining projects – another sign that better times were imminent; but as importantly, mines were also starting to see the future potential for productivity gains made under the pressure of recent conditions.

“There was certainly a sense that mining companies were starting to shift gears in response to an improving climate,” said SRK Consulting managing director Vis Reddy. “It was also encouraging to hear that technical innovations and solutions at mine level were being implemented that could create a firmer foundation for sustaining and growing the mining industry.”

Reddy highlighted the maturity of the South African mining sector, with its attendant problems of ageing infrastructure and deeper, more problematic deposits. While a cyclical upswing will bring higher commodity prices, the sector needed better technology and solutions to make itself more competitive in terms of its cost base and productivity.

“There is wide acceptance of the need to innovate in mining and to transform the sector in various ways – from the application of technology and mechanisation, to the forging of stronger social and environmental impact strategies and solutions,” he said.

He said the changing economic climate was allowing mining companies to revisit their exploration databases and – with ever-improving computing power and modelling technology – to uncover even more value in these prospects. 

Another area of technical progress was reducing the proportion of waste ore mined, delivering immediate productivity improvements. Options for mechanisation and automation were also being increasingly tested, leading to progress in terms of both efficiency and safety.

The application of new communication technology was allowing valuable channels of contact between surface and underground staff – facilitating quicker decisions and the transfer of important information in ‘real time’. This digital communication was also creating instant links to underground equipment, opening the door to automation and remote mining.

“Growing distances between a shaft and the working areas it serves tend to erode productivity as workers spend more time getting to the workface – especially in labour intensive operations,” he said. “Mechanisation of certain workface functions, when supported by digital communication links, will allow remote operations so that distance becomes less of a factor in underground mines.”

The increased application of technology is raising the level of skills that mines require, and is requiring certain roles to upskill into more productive and higher-paying levels.

“This process is feeding constructively into the high priority placed on safety in mines,” said Reddy. “As machines can start being deployed in those high-energy and more dangerous locations in mines, workers can be gradually withdrawn from those areas.”

He highlighted that safety had a direct impact on a mine’s productivity as a result of mine stoppages resulting from accidents or unsafe conditions.

Vis Reddy, Environmental Geochemist
Vis Reddy

Managing Director and Principal Scientist
SRK Consulting, South Africa

Specialisation

  • Environmental geochemistry
  • Hazardous waste management
  • Sub-surface contamination assessment and remediation
  • Aqueous Geochemistry,
  • Human Health Risk Assessments and Air Quality Modelling and Management
 
SRK Africa