mining industry

South Africa’s mining industry was facing challenges before the pandemic hit – but could COVID-19 now accelerate the automation of SA mines?

Many in the industry believe it will.

How the pandemic has impacted mining worldwide

At the peak of the lockdown, analysis by GlobalData showed that operations were suspended at more than 1,600 mines worldwide.

It’s hard to measure how this impacted production but some companies have released estimates and reports.

Coal India reported an 11.2% decline in production in May 2020 compared to May 2019.

Mexico’s mining chamber estimated that output for the country will fall by 17% in 2020.

Impact of COVID-19 on South African mining

South Africa is expected to see similar declines in production.

Minerals Council South Africa CEO Roger Baxter said that mining output is expected to fall by up to 10% this year.

This figure was later amended to between 15 and 25%.

SA industry at crossroad

This has put the mining industry at “a fork in the road”, says Business for SA.

Innovative decisions need to be made about future investment and growth.

These measures could include moving towards automation as part of future infrastructure investments in the sector.

Automation benefits for SA mines

If there had been more automation before the pandemic, many mines may have avoided closure.

Syama in Mali, the world’s first fully automated mine, was unaffected by the lockdown.

Its production remains on target for 2020.

Even beyond COVID-19, automation could have benefits for SA’s mining sector.

Mines that implement more automation can expect:

  • increased productivity (rises of 15 to 20% have been reported)
  • a decrease in expenditure (fuel consumption going down)
  • better safety (fewer miners in risky situations)
  • increased value for the mining sector (through increased productivity and better safety).

Automation challenges for SA mines

With the benefits of automation would come pitfalls.

Jobs would be lost.

Automation could destroy entry-level jobs that underprivileged miners rely on to enter the industry.

Job losses are already on the rise in the industry.

Total mining employment fell by 10% in the past decade in South Africa.

Job losses may be offset by new jobs created for automation, but these roles would require extensive training.

Automation requires significant investment

Shifting to more automation requires a significant financial investment.

Mines that can’t afford this would be left behind on a local and global scale.

This could negatively affect the demand for South African mining commodities going forward.

KH Plant

Time will tell how COVID-19 will accelerate the automation of SA mines.

But cost-saving is essential across the sector.

At KH Plant, we specialise in restoring Caterpillar 140G, 140H and 140K motor graders and components to as-new condition – so you can 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.

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Call us now on +27 83 274 4882 or email us.

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