“What’s your why,” is a driving question for executives. But it’s also a good question for the industry next week as Indaba delegates unpack a push on the continent towards digitalisation. A number of speakers at the Investing in African Mining Indaba conference will put forward a case for using technology in mining.
Each speaker will have their own drivers but a few reasons are emerging: safety, productivity, funding, jobs creation and something more abstract – staying relevant.
Technology can improve safety and can be used underground; not just at the surface.
One argument put forward is removing underground mine workers from harm’s way will keep South Africa’s gold mines more “investable” by international capital sources.
Another reason to use technology is better productivity. If we’re more productive we can protect our returns and strengthen the business case for projects.
Sibanye-Stillwater CEO Neil Froneman understands there’s a new generation of workers out there that can bring their understanding to the table. And underground.
“You don't know what you don't know when it comes to these new technologies such as 3D printing, blockchain, cloud computing and artificial intelligence,” Froneman says. “But there is a generation that is coming through the ranks that embraces it and it becomes completely natural to them.”
Efforts like the DigiMine digital mine laboratory the gold producer is taking part in at Wits Mining Institute in Johannesburg is helping build those skill sets.
Froneman likes the idea of new technologies – 3D printing, blockchain, cloud computing and artificial intelligence – but for him, his “why” is keeping people safe.
“I have got to start with safety,” he says. “In my view… unless we can really make a difference to safety and reduce the risk, I have to question whether we can morally keep on mining.”
Ethics drives all of us. But so too do jobs and the success of our industry.
If we can take up the digitalisation challenge or play a part in what some are calling Industrial Revolution 4.0, we can help revive our economies in Africa.
It’s a quest worth pursuing and one that will hopefully achieve another goal — staying relevant and surviving as well as thriving.
Investing in African Mining Indaba conference starts on February 3 and runs for four days.
Yolanda Torrisi is Chairperson of The African Mining Network and comments on African mining issues and the growing global interest in the continent. Contact:firstname.lastname@example.org