Digitalisation tipped to save SA mining firms R213bn in six years, according to study

SOUTH Africa’s mining industry could unlock R213bn in economic value in six years by digitalising its processes, according to a study by Accenture, a consulting firm.

Eric Croeser, Industry X.0 MD for Accenture Technology in Africa, said in a telephonic interview that COVID-19 has accelerated the adoption of data-led mining.

This is the process whereby a mining company’s “… extremely integrated and sequential granular activities are captured in a single view”. The aim is that in understanding how the value chain works, potential losses can be tracked.

“We don’t believe that COVID-19 is going to be gone in six to 12 months. We believe that this is the new normal and organisations, and particularly mining organisations, will start looking at how they could reduce the number of on-site people on a continuous basis by actually making them augmented and remotely operational,” said Croeser.

The Accenture study, based on data from Oxford Economics, demonstrates that while mining firms have poured millions into new technologies, they haven’t realised the economic benefits.

Mining firms can save R153bn through seven digital initiatives that include increased output, reduced personnel cost, improved asset utilisation, reduced downtime and fewer health and safety incidents.

The balance of the total savings would benefit society by way of cost and time savings for customers, productivity gains, jobs created and reduced carbon emissions.

  • Autonomous operations – mining companies can realise R44bn in value in the form of increased throughput, safer operations and improved productivity levels by deploying autonomous trucks, trains, diggers and drills to perform a large number of tasks with a great degree of autonomy for extended periods and without human intervention.
  • The connected worker – seen as the second largest driver of value for South African mining is expected to reduce costs by R37bn. This is where field workers equipped with AR/ VR or some wearable mobile device, fed with real-time data, can carry out more targeted and efficient extraction and exploration and repair faulty equipment through real-time assistance, for example.
  • Remote operation centres (ROCs) – by using ROCs to facilitate round-the-clock operations through integrating diverse data sources to support real-time decision-making, mining companies can unlock R9bn in cost savings, improved productivity and with fewer accidents.
  • Advanced analytics – South African mining companies can unlock a massive R28bn in value by using machine learnings and artificial intelligence to better understand operations across the value chain, for example using data insights to identify operational bottlenecks or waste patterns, and making plant operations more efficient.
  • Smart sensors – critical data collection from vehicles or equipment across multiple processes can provide insights into potential failures. The Accenture study shows SA miners can cut costs by R9bn through improved equipment utilisation, better predictive maintenance and safer operations.
  • “The ability to integrate data within an integrated platform also came out as one of the seven; and finally, all of these things are underpinned by cybersecurity,” Croeser said.
  • Cybersecurity is critical to ensure that sensitive information generated by connected systems, operational technologies and other digital assets are safeguarded. “This is particularly crucial as mining companies increasingly deploy connected assets, such as computing devices, equipment infrastructure and sensors for intelligence gathering. By eliminating the risk of these assets being hacked or information being stolen, cybersecurity initiatives are expected to help South African mining companies reduce costs to the tune of R3bn,” the study shows.

Digitalisation is already a feature of the sector and has been implemented successfully when the CEO is on board and where the technology was used to to provide specific positive business outcomes. Reskilling the organisation was also a feature of successful implementation, Croeser said.

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