Greener Mining Using Digital Technologies

Greener Mining Using Digital Technologies

How has your experience been at Sibanye Stillwater, as the head of technology and innovation?

I have been with Sibanye Stillwater since it was unbundled from Gold Fields Limitedin 2013.Aspart of Sibanye Resources’ Gold and Platinum divisions, I overseethe implementation of safe technology and innovation-related projects. I handle all the safety-related projects, mining digitalization programs, and asset standard management for mobile machinery of the Gold Division.

Could you shed some light on the recent trends and developmentsin the mining tech domain?

Today’s digital technology gives us a lot of opportunities to better understand the mining environment as a first step, and then understand how our employees are participating within that environment. Then we can focus our efforts on strengthening occupational health and safety (OHS) for our employees.

Mining incidents were mostly tackled reactively, which means actions were taken after an incident had already happened. Then, we would focus on how to remediate the situation. But now, we are taking a more proactive stance to ensure OHS. We are doing it using advanced digital technologies, continuously analyzing data to understand a working scenario better.

For instance, we have implemented a system called Proximity Detection and Collision Avoidance. As the name suggests, the systems help in generating working practices through increased safety awareness and modified worker behavior. It helps to prevent machine-to-machine collisions and machine-to-person incidents, which inturn improves overall productivity and efficiency of operations.

We are also implementing solutions to decarbonize our operations. Deep mining is a carbon-intensive industry. This creates a high demand for electricity resulting in the excessive use of coal and carbon emission. We are now looking at the electrical equivalent to reduce fossil fuel usage associated with the same.

But, with the utilities being a very large scope, there’salways efficiency arbitrage at play. We are trying to optimize the carbon emissions, whether through the replacement of equipment, optimization of processes, or efficiency ofspecific machinery.

Could you elaborate on some challenges that businesses are facing in the implementation ofthe latest technologies?

Need to understand the problem; not force-fit solutions:A lot of newtechnologies enter the market every day, but not all are designed for mining applications. One of the key things to do is identify what your primary objectives are, the problems your business is experiencing, and what opportunities exist in the market to differentiate your brand, and then start looking for or developing solutions around those challenges, problems, and opportunities.

Getting the most out of the existing technology:Our first instinct should be to check our own technologies’repositories before finding something new. Once we have identified the core issue, we need to understand if retrofitting the existing solutions can solve it. But if we interpret a problem wrong, then, even if we implement a shiny new technology, it will fail to deliver the intended ROI.

Implementing a solution versus adopting it:Implementation refers to applying something new to an existing process. Adoption is more complex; it means having your entire company embrace that new solution, wrap it into their workflow, and become more effective as a result. Right adoption makes an implementation sustainable. People are more concerned about implementing a piece of technology correctly today than ensuring its successful adoption through well-thought-out change management. 

What piece of advice would you give to yourfellow innovators in the field?

We are a market-oriented businesswith numerous clients and a large customer base.To meet everyone’sdemands, we talk to our stakeholders and work backward from there to optimize our product and satisfy theirdemands.

For a company like ours,innovation is keyto improving our bottom line.For example, we have adopted a ‘digital-first approach,’ which takes the digital transformation journey to the next level. Sibanye-Stillwater defines a digital-firstorganization as one that not only adopts innovation and digital technology, but as one that creates cultures, structures, and processes to support digital transformation and applies technology or digital solutions to seize an opportunity or to solve problems.

Every company should work toward creating a cohesive understanding of its digital journey and make it a part of its business strategy, before moving ahead with its execution. 

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