There is a need for effective change management in the opencast mining industry to assist clients in adapting to new technologies and technological capabilities, says equipment supplier Epiroc surface and exploration drilling business line manager Hedley Birnie.
“Challenges facing the South African market regarding technology are change management and the perception that automation will take away jobs,” he tells Mining Weekly.
The Epiroc Drilling Solutions division supplies surface drilling machines that are autonomous and operated from a remote control centre that can be positioned outside the mining area, thereby creating a safe working environment. “This is being used successfully in a few countries, including South Africa,” Birnie highlights. Epiroc also offers a smart option on its smaller production drill rigs.
He contends that there is a “definite push for technology” locally and that Epiroc’s technology is being used at some of the iron-ore mines in the Northern Cape, as well as platinum mines in the Southern Africa region. The company has sold about 30 smart drill rigs to the South African market since April last year, he highlights.
However, he notes that some mines are adopting technologies faster than others. “Some opencast mines may not want to adopt new technologies, owing to their particular circumstances, others are resistant to change and sometimes the correct infrastructure is not in place.”
The correct level of support is crucial to success when a client decides to adopt a certain technology. Birnie advances that it should be a partnership between the supplier and the client, and Epiroc believes in creating long-term partnerships with clients, while adding value to their operations.
Further, the operational environment of mines is different and they face different challenges, with some possibly requiring more time to adapt. Epiroc offers customised automation solutions on every level and for any condition, Birnie enthuses. Mines can start by collecting data, automating part of its fleet or opting for full autonomous operation.
Automation holds “massive potential” for Epiroc to grow in the opencast mining market in South Africa, he says. Moreover, the company can provide the necessary client and equipment support through the establishment of its Regional Application Centre (RAC) in Johannesburg, which is one of five centres based in key cities globally. “The RAC will strengthen our position in the market and our ability to offer world-class service on automation and technology.”
Epiroc is continuously considering new products that will enhance mines’ capabilities for maximum performance, reliability and output. The company has new products, mostly aimed at automation capability, in the pipeline, that will be tested and launched soon.
Birnie notes that there are several obstacles to overcome regarding technology as there are mines in the Southern Africa region that are interested in embracing the company’s technologies, but they are not quite prepared to do so yet.
“Epiroc will walk the walk with these clients and assist them in reaching the goal of moving to technology and to full automation,” he concludes.