automation in sa mining

In the Australian mining industry, driverless trucks and haulage rigs have been fully operational for quite some time.

Here at home, major players in the copper, coal, diamond and platinum extraction sectors are testing a variety of automated machines and software systems designed to improve efficiency and safety in mines.

Heightened market acceptance of automation in mining 

Thanks to a government initiative linking researchers, mining equipment manufacturers, and mining companies, the shift towards automation and digitalisation in mines is gaining traction.

Although South Africa still has a way to go before advanced technologies - robotics, real-time information management systems, and the Internet of Things (IoT) - become commonplace in mines, market acceptance of mechanisation is at an all-time high.

Let’s take a look at a few examples of how South Africa is fine-tuning the transformation from manual to automated mining operations.

CSIR’s Mining Precinct is driving R&D  

The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), in collaboration with equipment manufacturers, the Chamber of Mines, and government, is driving research and development that focuses on maximising output and safety in mines.

A host of research streams, testing the feasibility of technology in mining, are being conducted under the auspices of the Mining Precinct, and include:

  • real time information management systems, such as an IoT for underground applications,
  • mechanised drilling and blasting, and 
  • the implementation of a Technology Map - a blueprint that ensures local mining companies do, in fact, adopt high tech innovations developed for the industry.

In addition to the government-funded R&D, the CSIR has already developed a robotic prototype that can detect hazardous, loose hanging rocks using acoustic sensors and thermal imaging.

SID, an automated Survey and Detection device, is another CSIR innovation that can be used to identify damaged or faulty underground railway tracks in mines, thereby preventing ore carriers from derailing.

Leveraging digital technologies to improve efficiency   

Companies in South Africa are developing intelligent machines and software suites to optimise mining operations. This so-called ‘digitalisation of mining’ takes the form of driverless, remote controlled vehicles, and real-time data streams that can be analysed to identify trends, and enhance performance.

Modular information management systems, capable of providing real-time views of underground operations, have already been rolled out in local mines.

So too have sophisticated software suites that enable the remote control of single pieces of mechanised equipment, through to the autonomous operation of fleets of trucks, loaders and drill rigs – above and below ground.

Testing and implementation in mines

Driverless mining in South Africa is no longer a pipedream. A fleet of fully automated, remote controlled trucks have been in operation at the Finsch Diamond Mine in the Northern Cape for more than a decade.

Along with automated vehicles, mining giants like Anglo American and De Beers are already testing a wide range of mechanised tools, systems and equipment at their South African operations, such as:

  • Continuous Rapid Mine Development Systems (RMDS) that enable maximised ore extraction
  • Remote controlled rigs capable of three times the output of conventional drill and blast methods
  • Continuous Haulage Systems that connect RMDS to fixed ore conveyors
  • Slot borers purpose-designed to drill narrow vein hard rock ore

Can automation transform SA mining into a ‘sunrise industry’?  

There’s no doubt automation can boost mining in South Africa, especially as regards safety. But is mechanisation the proverbial silver bullet for the industry?

One major hurdle is the stranglehold trade unions have on government policy. In their view, automation translates into major job losses. With that in mind, full automation appears to be some way off.

So how does one transform mining in South Africa from a sunset into a sunrise industry?

According to one commentator, it will take a combination of advanced processes and procedures, the "up-skilling" of workers and use of both old and new technologies to save the local mining industry.

What we do at KH Plant

At KH Plant, we’re not involved in mining or its automation. Instead, we rebuild Caterpillar 140G, 140H and 140K motor graders and components.

Even amidst revolutionary technological advances, the humble but hard-working grader continues to play an important role in creating and maintaining haul roads for mines – even if in the near-future, trucks using those roads are driverless.

KH Plant’s stringent reconditioning process makes it possible to get the benefits of a new motor grader at a fraction of the cost of a new machine. Contact us for more information or to discuss your needs.

Contact us for more information