Mandela Mining Precinct Real-Time Information Management Systems (RTIMS) programme manager Jean-Jacques Verhaeghe tells Mining Weekly that its focus for 2021 is primarily on the implementation of baseline Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) technologies for mining.
The RTIMS programme, one of six research programmes of the Mandela Mining Precinct – a public-private partnership between the Department of Science and Innovation and Minerals Council South Africa, jointly hosted by the Minerals Council and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research –includes the development of solutions that result in efficiency gains and health and safety improvements, as well as creating Big Data platforms where the value of data and information optimisation can be realised.
“The RTIMS research programme aims to progressively and incrementally develop a unified real-time information management and control systems framework proof of concept for South African mining companies by 2022,” Verhaeghe says.
He adds that RTIMS has been developed with the South African mining industry in mind, specifically its hard-rock, narrow-reef, deep underground environments.
“We have produced a viable, implementable concept using only open-source software; open data systems and platforms for data engineering, modelling and visualisation; positioning and predictive analytics; and cyber-physical devices such as sensors and embedded intelligence systems.”
He points out that the precinct is not aware of any other RTIMS-equivalent design for the deep-level mining conditions of South African mines, making the Mandela Mining Precinct a leader in the adaptation for local applications.
The RTIMS was specifically mandated and developed within the mining industry guidance and assurance construct criteria.
Minerals Council South Africa modernisation and safety senior executive Sietse van der Woude explains that one of the key challenges during the development of the RTIMS was poor situational awareness underground.
“It is well understood that smarter decision-making and control within the context of smart-connected systems are required for multiple applications using shared information, communication and technology infrastructure,” he stresses.
Consequently, real-time information management systems are very complex, which can contribute to unnecessary vendor lock-in, leading to standardisation, interoperability, scalability and deployment issues.
Additionally, physical systems that can be used to create interoperable platforms are being investigated.
However, Van der Woude says architectures and standards within the mining environment, which are still evolving – and will likely remain in a state of constant flux – are not at a mature, baseline stage.
“This poses a significant risk to mines adopting any form of real-time information management systems and, therefore, the investment in such systems,” he says.
Other challenges include the ‘legacy systems’ – an obsessive drive for point solutions rather than an end-to-end solutions – as well as a lack of systems engineering practices.
All the challenges are being tackled through the ongoing promotion of modernisation and the better understanding of the precinct’s programmes and outcomes.
Further, multinational professional services network PwC, in partnership with the Minerals Council, released a study, titled ‘Ten Insights into 4IR in the South African Mining Industry’, in February, which discusses the status of 4IR adoption in mining.
Van der Woude concludes that the study has become a platform from which the Minerals Council and the precinct can actively discuss the industry’s current position and where progression is required if it is going to benefit from this revolution.