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IoT in Mining – A South African Perspective

As IoT has developed rapidly in the recent years, many industries have benefitted from the added speed, efficiency and connectivity it has brought along. One of these industries is mining, which could be subject to many an improvement, yet can at times be slow to incorporate new technology.

At the core of every business is profit, and so efficiency is not only desirable, but a must. The biggest change is 3D maps – engineering and designers can plan their layout and action plan beforehand, without ever entering the mine. As a result, less time is wasted on site, and the action is more accurate due to the information obtained. The very same sensors that are used for 3D mapping are useful in other ways, too. They can sense not only geographical distances, but also fluid levels, temperature and vibrations. When they are installed, maintenance can be done on a need basis, instead of a scheduled routine.

A real life example can be seen with Essar, a steel mining company. They decided to track their 3,700 vehicle fleet to see locations of each truck, as well as positions of people and equipment. Today, they are saving 5% on maintenance costs and 10% on fuel costs.

When thinking of mining, the one problem that always comes up is safety. Mining is one of the most dangerous industries, with health and safety regulations being tightened constantly. This is one of the key areas where IoT provides an easier route to staying within the law. IoT can enable remote monitored devices to decrease the risk of human lives, e.g. self-driving trucks, controlled excavators and bulldozers, and wearable sensors. When physical presence of workers is a necessity, evolved ventilation systems can be installed. These can automatically read the contamination levels in the air, adjusting the ventilation accordingly.

In South Africa, mining has not always been a smooth process. There has been a history of lengthy strikes, from The Rand Rebellion in 1922 to the more recent Lonmin Strike (10 August 2012 – 20 September 2012) culminating in the Marikana Massacre, which, aside from the huge loss of life, has caused massive financial losses to producers. It was as recent as November 2014 that platinum workers went on a strike that lasted five months, the longest in South African history. Most of these strikes have been to oppose poor working conditions and other health risks that workers are faced with every day. Such strikes can be avoided by increasing worker satisfaction, and thanks to IoT it doesn’t have to come at a huge price, either. It is also important that the mining industry in South Africa is keeping up to date with the lattest technological innovations as such a large portion of the country’s economy is still so dependent on gold, platinum and diamond mining.