Digitalisation in the mining industry is not something for the future – it is immediate, and is, or should be, the here-and-now of all the work mining companies do as an industry, says global diversified miner Vedanta’s Africa Base Metals CEO Deshnee Naidoo.
“Digitalisation presents massive opportunities for everyone in the industry – we just have to be brave enough to take those opportunities when they are made available to us.”
Consequently, Naidoo will highlight the digitalisation of mining and mine operations, placing particular focus on Vedanta’s Gamsberg project, part of the Black Mountain Mining operations in the Northern Cape, at this year’s Joburg Indaba, due to take place from October 3 to 4 at the Inanda Club, in Johannesburg.
As digitalisation is crucial to the development of the mining industry, Vedanta has chosen to highlight its efforts at the Indaba to build a digitalised mine “from the ground up” at the Gamsberg operation, as opposed to retrofitting digital advancements once the operation was completed.
The Gamsberg project is one of the largest-known, undeveloped zinc orebodies in the world and will comprise an openpit mine and a dedicated processing plant. The project’s current reserve and resource is 214-million tonnes with a grade of between 6% and 6.5% zinc.
The life of mine (LoM) is estimated at 30 years. In Phase 1 – which has an LoM of 13 years – four-million tonnes a year of ore will be produced from Gamsberg’s openpit and 250 000 t/y of zinc-in-concentrate from its concentrator plant. First ore production started in July, with full ramp-up expected to be reached in 9 to 12 months.
Vedanta has been working in collaboration with digital industrial company GE South Africa to implement its digitalisation vision at Gamsberg. The system will ensure that all available information about the state of the mine, the quality of the ore, the conditions of the processing plant and the value of the output product are made available to mine management in real time and that the information is presented in such a way that it allows for minute-by-minute decision-making.
GE South Africa has taken on a key role in the partnership, with its Predix platform for the industrial Internet forming the integration layer for the smart ore movement system and further initiatives, such as cybersecurity, asset performance management and operations performance management solutions.
Mining software developer MineRP South Africa has also assisted in enabling real-time decision-making at Gamsberg through the MineRP 4.0 product set, which absorbs spatially orientated data, such as geology and mine designs, from their source systems. Leveraging the existing collision awareness system GE CAS for ore movement tracking, MineRP 4.0 will enhance the blending and grade models through live calculations to guide the contracted fleet and provide early warning notifications for the plant using the Predix platform.
The company expects that the “Gamsberg project will be the flagship and centrepiece of Vedanta’s South African and Namibian operations . . . Its digitalisation plays an important role in that”.
Vedanta has invested heavily in the digitalisation of Gamsberg because digitalisation has proven to have “an overwhelmingly positive impact” on production and a mine’s bottom line, also ensuring that mine employees are fully enabled to do their jobs.
Digitalisation, if implemented correctly, can further assist employees in gaining skills that will make them not only employable but also sought after in the mining industry.
“That is something we often forget to talk about when we discuss technology and digitalisation in mining – digitalisation should not be seen as a threat to our employees’ jobs. “If anything, it should be a tool to enhance the work employees do already.”
Naidoo will also participate in a panel discussion about the South African mining industry over the past ten years and what progress has been made during that time.
She acknowledges that while “there is a lot to celebrate, there also needs to be an acknowledgement of the work that remains to be done”.
The biggest challenge Naidoo has noted in the local mining sector has been the lack of regulatory certainty from government. Although she is enthusiastic about the “positive changes in regulatory policy in the country in the past six months”, much still needs to be done to bring about a stable investment environment, she adds.
Naidoo further advocates for support from government. While there is considerable potential for growth and development in the Northern Cape, where Vedanta operates Black Mountain Mining, of which the Gamsberg project is a critical part, she stresses that the work cannot be done alone.
“Government has to come to the party – especially when it comes to infrastructure, and community development.”
Naidoo says she looks forward to this year’s Joburg Indaba, as it is an opportunity to engage with colleagues and peers, hear views on important industry matters and, in turn, ensure that Vedanta’s voice is heard.
The company also aims to bring several of its enthusiastic young employees to the conference, as the Indaba “presents a useful opportunity to expose some of them to current debates and discussions in the industry”.