WMI research dialogue drives mining’s digital transformation

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The WMI dialogue aims to build capacity in digital intellectual capital within the South African minerals sector

Focused on exploring research solutions for the mining sector’s ongoing technological advancements, the Wits Mining Institute (WMI) during April hosted a Real-time Information Management Systems (RTIMS) Dialogue Session under the theme ‘Bridging the Gap between Operational Technology and Data Analytics’.

The dialogue, which forms part of the WMI’s South African Mining Extraction Research, Development and Innovation (SAMERDI) research centre’s curriculum, aimed to build capacity in digital intellectual capital within the South African minerals sector.

Attended by 44 representatives from various sectors in the mining industry, the event also focused on exploring solutions to integrate remote operations centres with advanced data analytics, crucial for the South African minerals sector’s readiness for the 4th Industrial Revolution.

Delivering the keynote address, Reece van Buren, technical and commercial officer at Digital Surveying noted that the session was aimed at exploring various topics that impacted the mining economy. “There are many challenges that come with the technological evolution of the mining space, and we aim to provide systems for efficient data management to the industry,” he said.

“The mining industry – including technology and original equipment manufacturing companies, as well as academic institutions – need to work collaboratively to tackle these emerging challenges that accompanies this digital shift,” said WMI research fellow Dr. Mulundumina Shimaponda-Nawa, adding that a key challenge was the efficient management of data.

“While mining data is sensitive and must be protected, the industry needs to find models to enhance performance, and industry standardisation can be shared following appropriate agreements,” she said. Other challenges identified included reskilling and upskilling initiatives to bridge the talent gap, and the implementation of robust cybersecurity measures to protect sensitive information in an increasingly connected environment.

“The WMI is working to address this shortage of professionals skilled in operational technology and data analytics, while we are engaging in ongoing research to safeguard sensitive operational data against cyber threats,” Shimaponda-Nawa noted.

However, WMI RTIMS research lead Dr Mayshree Singh noted that this would only be possible if mine houses were more open in sharing experiences and data that made their operations more effective. “This data needs to be fit for purpose and care should be made in understanding the data use, so that the industry can gain a better handle on what variables are needed for the data collection.”

These systems also need regulation in terms of how the data is captured, stored and transferred, aimed at easing the burden of interoperability, Singh said, highlighting the need for customised solutions, tailored to specific mine operations and flexibility over proprietary software, which can often be prohibitively expensive and rigid.

Co-sponsored by HATCH and Digital Surveying, Shimaponda-Nawa noted that these events were important to academics and the mining industry alike. “These dialogues are a platform to learn industry pain-points and how to tailor research to address these issues. It also enables us to showcase current work that the industry can use to improve performance, as well as commercially develop solutions.

“These conversations must continue and implementation must be realised,” she noted.

Attending the event, Natalie Brand, GM at Earthlab Technical Division added that the company was very excited to be invited to the dialogue. “This was a valuable conversation that needs to keep going. Mining is a challenging environment and if we don’t work together, the mining industry is not telling the research institutions what they need, then we cannot move forward together,” she said.

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