Presented by Huawei Enterprise

Huawei and mining stakeholders discuss AI, IoT and the future of mining in South Africa

The African Mining Indaba returned to the Cape Town International Convention Centre with a bang after a brief hiatus due to Covid-19.

Huawei, one of the Indaba’s newer participants, hosted a CXO panel discussion with mining industry stakeholders to discuss how cloud, artificial intelligence and 5G internet can create safer, smarter and more productive mines.

The first session, titled “Value of IoT for Mining Production and How Network Connectivity Supports Efficient Digital Mining Operations”, featured insightful discussions on the problems that the Internet of Things (IoT) could solve.

One of the key points raised by all panellists was that the IoT can be very useful in terms of predictive maintenance.

By collecting machine data, mines can identify when machines are not as productive as they should be and schedule maintenance before a disaster occurs.

This not only saves the costs associated with machine repair, including losses due to downtime, but also ensures the safety of miners working with this equipment.

Another important point raised by the panellists was the importance of integrated data, or what Huawei Mining’s Chief Technology Officer, Mr. Xu Jun, called a unified reference architecture.

Everyone present agreed that machines that communicate with each other can make for more efficient mining, as the equipment can better support each other to achieve the highest productivity.

While this is an exciting prospect, the reality is that the IoT cannot be applied in the same way in all operations.

Mrs. Karina Geyser, Information Management Manager at Royal Bafokeng Platinum Mine, said it is not as easy to apply IoT in conventional mining as it is in mechanical mining.

Still, all is not lost, as the IoT can be applied via sensors that collect data to monitor safety and productivity.

Transferring data to the surface is another major challenge for stakeholders, who mentioned that there is currently no reliable network that can do this.

This was quickly addressed by Huawei, which can solve this challenge with solutions such as Tech Fibre and Wi-Fi 6.

The biggest concern expressed in this context was the security of the data. Stakeholders are concerned that data will fall into the wrong hands or potentially be sabotaged.

While this is a possible reality, it is not an area in which Huawei is inexperienced. As a communications technology giant, Huawei has taken extensive measures to ensure the security of its customers’ data.

The second topic of this panel was how AI can help mining production reduce costs and increase efficiency.

One of the most exciting points raised in this discussion was how the use of AI could take the industry into uncharted waters.

By using AI, mines can explore areas such as deep-sea mining where it is unsafe for humans to mine. It can also be used in mine safety.

One of the stakeholders noted that they currently employ security guards who watch the surveillance screens 24/7 to make sure there is no illegal activity in the mines, including illegal miners or Zama Zama’s.

With AI, any illegal activity can be easily detected and flagged by the system, which would be much more efficient.

This, of course, raises a concern that has been around since the computer age. Will AI replace humans in mines and lead to unemployment?

The answer to this question is yes and no. Through AI, certain functions currently performed by humans will be taken over by machines that can perform them much more efficiently.

This provides the opportunity to train workers and deploy them so that they can work with the machines to ensure that the mine is operating at peak productivity.

As excited as the attendees were, the industry is slow and tried to catch up when it comes to AI advances.

One of the panellists explained that this reluctance is due to how two-dimensional AI pitches are.

As long as AI is presented as a slideshow or pamphlet, the industry will be slow to pick it up, he said. Stakeholders need to see the technology in action and experience what it can do for them.

Also, a holistic approach is needed to integrate technology into mines. It does no good to introduce a new technology if the rest of the value chain remains the same.

To get the most out of technology, mines need to change some of their systems to support it.

Perhaps one of the most important points Huawei raised was the need for partnerships.

Mr. Victor Thobakgale, Executive Technology Operations Lead at African Rainbow Minerals Limited, mentioned that mines do not need service providers who just check off boxes and do what is asked of them.

Mines need partners and qualified consultants who can provide solutions to mine challenges, not just keep the lights on by doing the bare minimum.

The session ended with a great show of gratitude from stakeholders who appreciated that a company the size of Huawei takes the time to listen to their challenges and work on solutions to address them.

A statement made by Thobakgale during the meeting aptly summed up Huawei’s Mining mission.

He said, “You have to rethink the way you work and be willing to let go of archaic ways of working if you want to be more productive.”

If this one meeting says anything, it’s that the future of mining in South Africa is bright and Huawei is one of the best partners along the way.

Click here to learn more about Huawei’s Intelligent Mine.

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Huawei and mining stakeholders discuss AI, IoT and the future of mining in South Africa