Autumn Skies Iron Ore (ASIO) mine.
JOHANNESBURG - The Fourth Industrial Revolution is knocking on African miners’ doors, with the advent of a digital mine increasingly becoming an imperative for survival and success.

According to a Deloite report on the future of mining in Africa, mining digitisation will bring about data-driven planning, control, and decision-making. “Mines are likely to adopt digital innovations to not only improve safety, operational efficiency and profit margins; but also remain competitive,” the report says.

It says current mining processes lack visibility to real time, accurate information. This hinders the ability to track resource performance and increase equipment uptime. More complete, timely, and insightful information and leading indicators enables leadership and frontline teams to intervene more proactively

The rapid advance of mining digitalisation, coupled with regulatory changes, will change the way that African mines operate and require careful consideration of the impact of those changes to mining stakeholders.

“The digital age is set to disrupt the lives of individuals, communities, but particularly organisations. Mines are no exception to this rule, with far-reaching implications and important opportunities. Mines on the African continent need to be cognisant of both the impending changes to their business, and of the impact of those changes to the societies in which they operate,” the report says.

It says the Fourth Industrial Revolution presents African mining companies - which have navigated a combination of a commodity price downturn, challenging labour conditions, regulatory changes, upward cost pressures and unpredictable international politics - with a new set of challenges and opportunities.

Mines’ ability to improve their businesses is currently constrained because of poor access to accurate, complete, timely data or business options. “The result is a reactive response with inadequately informed decisions, with mines continuing to follow the approaches of old – sweating their remaining assets and working harder for smaller gains,” it says.

However, the digitisation of mines is likely to lead to job losses. The report says the number of jobs mines create, and cut, remains a key focus point for companies, national governments, communities and trade unions. “In many instances, adopting digital technology reduces the human input required, and in the minds of many role players, there is an immediate assumption that it will lead to increased mining job losses, and a negative socioeconomic impact for communities dependent on mines for economic opportunities.

It says the Fourth Industrial Revolution is not a zero-sum game where mines win and communities lose, “(but) rather an opportunity for greater socioeconomic impact.”