The fast-changing world of technology could be a significant challenge in the global mining industry to ensuring that graduates are equipped with the relevant skills and training to meet the changing demands of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, says the University of the Witwatersrand’s (Wits’) School of Mining Engineering associate lecturer Professor Duduzile Magazi.
“If the mining industry does not adapt to change, there is no way it can survive this ever-increasing reliance and need to include technology in various systems in the mining value chain.”
She suggests that an increase in research and development on artificial intelligence at the higher education and training level can be incorporated into mining systems to enhance their efficiency. Magazi further indicates that there are several “pockets of excellence” paving the way for technology in the mining industry.
For example, the partnership of gold miner Sibanye-Stillwater and the Wits Mining Institute to develop the Digital Mining Laboratory (DigiMine), which comprises a 24/7 digitally monitored, simulated underground mining environment will help the industry in technological advancements. Magazi adds that the Wits School of Mining Engineering research agenda to develop digital technologies for mining applications will also assist the industry in thriving in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
DigiMine was launched in March at the Chamber of Mines building at Wits’ West Campus. Its facilities include a vertical shaft in a stairwell, a tunnel and stope in the basement, and a range of communication and digital systems to allow for research that will “create the mine of the future”, Mining Weekly reported.
Sibanye’s total investment from 2015 to 2020 will amount to R27.5-million, with R9-million of the miner’s most recent investment of R15-million used to fund DigiMine research.
In addition, Wits vice-chancellor Professor Adam Habib and Wits School of Mining Engineering head Professor Cuthbert Musingwini will each allocate R3-million for student support and strategic projects.
Magazi welcomes an investment in research and technology in the mining sector, emphasising that technological advancements should take place gradually in continuous consultation with industry representatives. “The technology introduced should enhance the workforce’s efficiency and safety without threatening their livelihood through job security.”
Magazi highlights an increasing synergy between the higher education providers and relevant stakeholders, such as the Southern African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (SAIMM), which provide an opportunity for Wits School of Mining Engineering students to participate in SAIMM conferences for insights and networking.
“There is a yearly SAIMM conference held for students to present their fourth-year mining engineering projects in a conference setting. It is through initiatives such as this one that the students get a suitable platform to showcase their talents and have an opportunity to be head-hunted by people from industry.”
The SAIMM has been hosting the conference since 2002, and this year’s conference will be held in Johannesburg on October 24, to be attended by mining experts. There will be 11 mining and 11 metallurgical presentations on the day.
Wits, in partnership with SAIMM and training provider Latfure, which is cofunded by the European Union education and training programme Erasmus+, aims to strengthen relations between the local higher education systems and the country’s wider economic and social environment.
Magazi states that the three-year pilot programme started in February 2017 for South Africa and Mozambique, and it will equip the students with the practical and relevant skills to graduate as competent individuals in their specific fields.
“The Latfure programme will be an opportunity to get the representatives from industry in one room with academics, students and representatives from governments to discuss the most pressing topics,” Magazi concludes.