The timeous implementation of the latest technology, particularly virtual reality (VR) technology, was key to the development of South Africa’s modernisation drive, said University of Pretoria mining engineering department head Ronny Webber-Youngman at the twenty-third international symposium on mine planning and equipment selection.
The symposium was hosted by the Southern African Institute of Mining & Metallurgy at the Sandton Convention Centre, in Johannesburg, last month.
Webber-Youngman noted that modernisation was a key topic of discussion for South Africa’s Chamber of Mines in their next-generation mining drive, as the landscape of mine planning and equipment selection had been changing because of the development of new techno- logy.
VR technology and its associated technologies, such as scanning and augmented reality (AR), as well as special information, are particularly important to Webber-Youngman.
VR technology is often referred to as an immersive multimedia or computer-simulated reality, while AR provides a live view of physical environments with elements that are supplemented by computer- generated sensory input such as sound, video or graphics.
He highlighted that mining companies would turn to new technologies to ensure a sustainable, profitable, responsible and safe mining industry.
Using information and communication technology in the mining industry was already widely adopted, Webber-Youngman noted, adding that every facet of operations was currently being monitored, which resulted in a significant amount of data being collected. “The challenge [for mining companies] is how to turn this data into information that can be effectively used.”
Therefore, scanning technology, such as quick response (QR) code scanners, would play an important role, he noted, adding that QR scanners, which were available on all smartphones, provided information “almost immediately and ensure[d] that more credible and real decisions” could be made.
Webber-Youngman highlighted that the almost instant response of such technology and using available information would result in mining operations becoming “more sophisticated”. He added that using scanning technology in conjunction with automation and robotics technology raised the possibility for management decisions “on demand”.
The information that large-data sets provide would also result in more accurate life-of-mine predictions, which could then be used to create three-dimensional plans using VR technology, Webber-Youngman posited.
He urged that mining compa- nies be made more aware of the benefits of VR technology to further advance its application in the industry, adding that the industry would derive greater benefit the sooner and more aggressively VR technology was adopted.
“Imagination is the only limitation for the implementation of this technology,” Webber-Youngman asserted.
He highlighted that the technology was already being used for mine education with the commissioning of the R18.8-million Kumba VR Centre for Mine Design, which was donated to the University of Pretoria by iron-ore miner Kumba Iron Ore.
According to Webber-Youngman, using AR would contribute significantly to future mine designs and equipment selection, and he highlighted the potential of AR to assist in maintaining mining equipment, as users would be able to scroll through different AR visuals of equipment and components using a hand-held device such as a smartphone. He added that AR technology would also provide current and historical data on the condition of equipment in real time.
AR technology would also guide users on using the correct maintenance and repair methods and remind them to perform essential tasks.
Webber-Youngman concluded that AR technology could be combined with wear-and-tear protection systems to create “information-rich, real-time visualisations” of machinery.