• Dylan Wingrove

Mining in The 4th Industrial Revolution

Updated: Oct 1, 2020

Reviewing the line up for the 2020 South African Mining Indaba would make one question whether this was a tech or a mining conference. The lines between technology and traditional mining have become more and more blurred over the years, with more mining houses realising the goldmine (pun intended) of digital technology.

With mining profitability becoming increasingly difficult as ore levels decline and environmental roadblocks rise, they had little choice in this matter, the words innovate or die sum it up nicely. The mining sector has chosen the former and are now reaping the rewards with McKinsey reporting a 2.8% increase in global mining productivity between 2014-16, a stark contrast to the previous 10 years of decline and zero-growth.

The rise of 4IR technology such as AI, Drones and Virtual Reality are drastically changing one of Africa’s largest industries, producing massive cost savings, increased worker safety and improving the overall efficiency of the sector. But it is not all gold and platinum, the mining industry faces several challenges including labour relations, environmental pressures and the large capital outlays which are required to successfully digitize mines. For mines to successfully take advantage of 4IR they must lay a solid foundation on which to build their digital solution, else they risk losing out on almost a third of the value creation opportunity according to Accenture.

Safety in a digital world

Safety in the mining sector has always been a top priority and South African has made major improvements in this arena with a 86% decline in fatalities between 1994-2016 according to mining review. While this improvement is impressive and has continued on a positive trajectory with 2019 only seeing 51 fatalities, even one death is one too many. Although technology cannot guarantee a zero-fatality future, it can help mines to reduce that figure as much as possible and several mines throughout the world are already taking advantage of this.

One of the most notorious is Rio Tinto’s Western Australia operation which boasts a number of digital innovations to improve safety. By utilizing drones, the mine is able to efficiently survey blast zones, ensuring no crew are left behind, saving them valuable downtime. This isn’t the drones only task, the mine utilizes them to perform high rock wall and slope inspections to identify potential hazards as well as to identify equipment issues from the air, automatically notifying maintenance crews.

Other 4IR technologies such as IoT wearables are increasing safety as well as productivity through enhanced tracking. Wearables are items such as clothing or other accessories which are networked and can be monitored from a corporate headquarters. Mines such as Exxaro are utilizing wearables in hardhats and have fitted vehicles with similar IoT devices to help reduce Trackless Mobile Machinery fatalities which resulted in 11% (the second highest cause) of the total mining fatalities in 2017.

Additionally, these devices can be used to track key vitals of a worker such as heart rate, fatigue and even load levels to ensure the worker is not at risk of endangering themselves or others. In the event of an accident, these devices allow for immediate notifications to relevant safety officers and medical teams, helping reduce downtime and ultimately saving lives.

Maximize efficiencies and cost-savings

Following Safety, efficiency and cost savings at mines are a major contributor to mining houses looking to digitize as quickly as possible. Accenture estimates that by 2026, the South African mining industry can create R213 Billion in value if they focus on core digital initiatives.

Several exciting technologies have emerged to help mines unlock this value including a solution from an unlikely source- Facebook. The tech giant's AI division established Detectron2, an image analysis tool which allowed Australian start-up Datarock to develop their Drill Core Analysis machine learning solution.

This allows mines to autonomously survey thousands of metres of drill core, quickly identifying indicators of a potential hazard such as fault or fractures in the rock. The ML platform saves valuable time of geologists and gives mines accurate information to utilize in their mining strategy.

This isn't the only way large amounts of data are being utilized to ensure efficiency in mining, with Digital Twins becoming increasing utilized. This technology allows for an entire digital instance of physical mine to be created, giving mining operations the power to plan and allocate resources far more efficiently. Additionally, these twins allow for mines to run various "What If" scenarios utilizing real-time data, ensuring that the most effective mining methods are used and allowing project planners to see how the supply chain will be affected. Exxaro was one of the first African mines to implement this solution at their Belfast operation in South Africa, this was the first of it's kind for the resource-rich country we're excited to see this technology used further across the continent.

Training in The 4th Industrial Revolution

The years of multi-day induction and training programs are behind us, with technology enhancing training to be more efficient and have a greater impact than ever before. The rise in consumer virtual reality has made this technology more available and palatable in capital outlay but too few African mines are taking advantage of this.

By using virtual environments, training becomes realistic, allowing workers to actually live through accidents or technical procedures in a risk-free virtual world. By doing so, workers are better prepared to deal with similar incidents when they arise on-site, making your workforce more efficient and ultimately safer. VR can also have a tremendous impact on developing your teams soft-skills such as conducting a business meeting, hiring or lay-off procedure, skills which are too often overlooked but equally important.

Training is not limited to your teams organisation but to the broader community. As CSR requirements continue to increase, finding ways to educate the broader community on mining, environmental and social impacts are becoming increasingly important. By utilizing available technologies, educational CSR projects are achievable, affordable and most importantly, impactful.

The mining industry must take advantage of the brilliant technologies birthed out of the 4th Industrial Revolution in order to continue on a positive growth trajectory. Mines must ensure they lay strong foundations on which to scale their Business 4.0 Solutions by focusing on data, connectivity and integration, building these elements into their broader business solution. If correctly executed upon, 4IR Technology can drastically benefit mines, making them safer, more efficient and positively impacting the communities which they serve.

How is your mine currently using or planning to use transformational technology?


BhekaDala Digital is your Fourth Industrial Revolution partner, helping organisations and cities throughout Africa & The Middle East make their digital transformational ideas reality. We've partnered up with industry leaders such as WinWin International to ensure we can provide a holistic approach to business transformation.

We’re excited to be on this journey of transformation with industry leaders and truly believe that through collaboration we will be able to empower employees and organisations to maximize their potential.

If you have a project in mind or simply just want to learn more about what the 4th Industrial Revolution is, make sure to join our mailing list and follow us on social media for the latest in transformational technology.

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