Technology and innovation have become important benchmarks of efficient and sustainable mining operations, says consulting firm Frost & Sullivan Africa.
The company notes that, with the significant decrease in profitability in the South African mining industry over the past two years – owing to factors such as rising energy costs, labour unrest, the demand for increased wages, and older and deeper mines resulting in more costly operations – companies are increasingly using hosting and outsourcing services to achieve cost savings.
Frost & Sullivan Africa information and communication technologies (ICT) industry analyst Joanita Roos states that outsourcing enables mining companies to focus on their core business while relying on service providers that have the desired skills and capabilities to provide technological and hosting services.
This removes the burden of ownership, and the maintenance and servicing of ICT resources.
She says in 2013 South African mining companies’ ICT spend was about R1.78-billion and, at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 2.3%, it is expected to grow to R2-billion by 2018.
Meanwhile, cloud-based services are expected to increase at a CAGR of 27% from 2013 to 2018, she says.
“Cloud computing is one of the technologies that could improve operations, efficiencies and operational accuracy for mining companies, hence the visible movement towards the cloud,” says Roos.
She adds that mining companies that have implemented cloud technologies are showing significant improvements in operations, reduced running costs and a greater return on investment.
Further, in terms of automation and real-time data, the large amounts of sensors and control systems also enable mines to achieve increased productivity. Real-time data analysis also leads to shortened decision cycles, says Roos.
She says mining companies are starting to take more advantage of the information that they have through better modelling and simulation of data. “Measurements will go into systems to better achieve goals within mining operations.”
The growing uptake of mining-specific technologies includes time and attendance solutions, enterprise integration solutions, modelling, simulation and planning and condition monitoring, says Roos.
“Condition monitoring of machinery identifies a developing fault. It is a key component of predictive maintenance and is increasingly becoming important in the mining industry as a tool for extending the life of equipment.”
She concludes that there is a pressing need for skills improvement in the mining industry, particularly in light of the increasing use of technology and the skills associated with it.