Donovan Waller, group head of technology at Anglo American flanked with Michelle Ash, the chief innovation officer at Barrick

CAPE TOWN - Robotic process automation and artificial intelligence will transform the traditional way of production in the African mining industry by 2050, said the group head of technology at Anglo American, Donovan Waller on Wednesday.

Waller, along with Michelle Ash, the chief innovation officer at Barrick, were the panelists looking at what the mining industry will look like by 2050, considering technology utility in mines, community involvement and sector skills.

During the discussions, it was revealed that mining industry has been for a very long time lagging behind in terms of transformation and innovation. This has left the industry with a great of deal of catch up with the other industries influencing it.

The Deloitte 2018 mining trends report reveals that the mining executives understand that innovation is necessary for the industry to transform. This isn't confined to just technological innovation; it includes the adoption of more innovative approaches to engaging with stakeholders, re-envisioning the future of work, and identifying the commodities that will be in greatest demand going forward

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Ash said that at Barrick they have introduced some developments on channels of communications. Supervisors are now able to communicate with the underground team through Tablets for real-time reporting. "When we first rolled out this project, one of the supervisors thought that his role would be compromised". She explained that supervisors are no longer required to travel meters down underground to communicate in order to engage with the team.

To apply innovative technology at their sites, Ash added that their company has adopted the step-by-step approach which involves the board, management and employees. This includes conceptualising the technological machine, involving engineers and availing the machine for testing on the ground. 

She said this approach minimises risks of developing a technological machine for millions which will, in turn, be rejected or be unfriendly to employees on the ground.

Donovan said, "I feel like we have been lagging behind for a very long time, now for the next 32 years we need to leverage with the other industries who are ahead of us".

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Donovan has also encouraged other mining companies to tailor the landscape concurrent to their production. This could include taking water out from the underground and storing them for future use. He added that there's potential for waterless production in the future of mining.

As concerns around water availability grow, communities and environmental groups are turning the spotlight on water-intensive industries, including mining. In light of these challenges, mining companies must enhance their approach to water management.

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