Today, we’re speaking with Dr Tony Harwood, President and CEO of Montero Mining & Exploration in Vancouver, Canada. Montero Mining is focused on the exploration and development of rare earth elements in Tanzania and phosphates in South Africa. Tony also runs his own mining consultancy, Zander Invest, based out of Johannesburg.
Following our participation in Mining Indaba, we talk to Tony for his take on the themes and challenges in the African mining industry.
What are the big themes in the African mining industry today?
With the current downturn in commodity prices, the big themes are usually around safety, cost reduction and improved efficiency. These factors are typically within our control at mining operations and are being embraced by the wider industry too.
Safety themes revolve around the monitoring of the work force – this can be their location, work outline and work efficiency, but also could extend to health such as body monitors. Already we are seeing mines using facial recognition technology to monitor work force entry and exit to mines and work places.
The reduction of downtime on machines and manpower will inevitably reduce and drive down costs as efficiency improves. The advent of 24/7 robotics will also drive down costs. Manpower and energy are the biggest costs on South African mines and the most unpredictable, so the reduction of this risk will in turn cut costs.
Improved Efficiency through Equipment & Process Technology Enhancements
Equipment and process technology enhancements, as well as associated innovations, are huge drivers in mining and metallurgy. However, our understanding of how ore bodies can be better mined is also progressing with imaging technology such as drones and UAVs.
The collection and use of Big Data will enhance the efficiency of all operations, as with the IT integration of all aspects of a mining operation – from imaging resource modelling through to mining, beneficiation and sales. However these are often dealt with in silos largely due to management not understanding the benefits of big data and not reaching out to technology providers.
I believe that “limitations are only in the mind” and that mining companies who embrace big data will win as the industry needs to now be able to rationally coordinate big data to reduce costs and take mining into the 21st century, rather than a “pick and shovel” mentality.
Technology is the way forward, like it or not, to reduce costs by increasing efficiencies and maximizing productivity.
What can local mines do to maximize productivity and efficiency?
Mines need to analyze and understand their business flow and implement control and monitoring systems to increase efficiency and productivity.
A mine-scale IT system would have inputs from all parts of the business flow and provide real time data on the productivity performance of the operation. Many systems today do not take into account the big picture of the entire mining operation and relate this to financial outcomes that can be interrogated by the management and board.
You may also be interested in our recent roundup of themes covered in the African Mining Indaba in Cape Town.