On the 24 and 25 May 2023, Mining Equipment Manufacturers of South Africa (MEMSA) brought together key South African mining and manufacturing industry role players at the 2023 Mind Shift Conference, incorporating the Innovation for Mining & Manufacturing Excellence Awards.

Lehlohonolo Molloyi, CEO MEMSA, talks to Sharyn Macnamara of Mining Africa about the objectives of the 2023 Mind Shift Conference. Video credit: Sharyn Macnamara | African Mining

With a focus on innovation in both mining and manufacturing, the conference drew

together a wide range of stakeholders from the mining industry and supply chain, research institutions, the skills sector and government to build a shared understanding of the opportunities and challenges of 4IR, and the strategies required for succeeding together.

MEMSA’s Manufacturing Excellence and Innovation for Mining Awards were presented at the conference, which was supported through the Mandela Mining Precinct’s South African Minerals, Extraction, Research, Development and Innovation (SAMERDI) initiative, a partnership between the South African government and the Minerals Council of South Africa.

The South African mining equipment industry is historically well respected for its innovation and technological advancement. While overall investment in mining research and development has declined, the conference and awards demonstrated that the South African supply chain possesses remarkable resilience, and the ability to innovate and solve problems despite resource constraints. Innovation by emerging and small enterprises was particularly notable in this round of awards.

Lehlohonolo Molloyi, CEO MEMSA, opening the 2023 Mind Shift Conference, incorporating the Innovation for Mining & Manufacturing Excellence Awards. Image credit: ©Sharyn Macnamara, African Mining, incorporating Mining Mirror

Lehlohonolo Molloyi, CEO MEMSA, opening the 2023 Mind Shift Conference, incorporating the Innovation for Mining & Manufacturing Excellence Awards. Image credit: ©Sharyn Macnamara, African Mining, incorporating Mining Mirror

Manufacturing 4.0 and digital technologies

Day one centred on Manufacturing 4.0 and the effective integration of digital technologies in manufacturing and customer service applications. While South African manufacturers are generally in the early phases of this journey, speakers and award winners demonstrated that strategic use of new technologies available to them can hold tremendous productivity and competitiveness benefits, and that expertise to support decision making, implementation and skills development is available to South African companies. The reality of the skills shortages, however, must be tackled collectively and was mentioned by several speakers and panellists. Speakers included Dr Nimrod Zalk acting DDG Industrial

Competitiveness dtic; Johan du Toit of Syspro; Tapiwa Samanga CEO of Production Tooling Association of SA (PtSA); Gideon Potgieter CEO of Resolution Circle, Tebogo Mahluli at NextGenOpX, and Dr Ajith Gopal of the Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR).

The Manufacturing Excellence Awards 2023 sponsored by Syspro recognised successful application of digital technologies in manufacturing and customer service and were open to any company engaged in manufacturing for mining. The independently judged awards were given in the following categories, for:

  • Digitised Services – NTGR Engineering Products, an SME company, for demonstrating improved and transformed customer services through digital technologies.
  • Manufacturing 4.0 – African Mixing Technologies (Afromix) for commissioning digitised equipment and robotics in their manufacturing process, leading to improved quality, productivity and business expansion.
  • Future Skills Development – Bell Equipment Company for developing 4IR-related skills and initiatives to offer manufacturing competitiveness for the mining sector.
  • People-Centred Growth – Buraaq Mining Services for creating quality employment and learning opportunities as they incorporate digital technologies in their product design.
  • Bell Equipment Company were further recognised once again as Manufacturer of the Year for consistent excellence across all categories.

Winners emphasised that new technologies should be employed where called for by business strategy, and the upskilling of staff to embrace digital tools and methods were enablers of business growth and keys to success.

Bokang Kelepa of Baletsema Mining led a discussion on ‘Making the most of digital in South African manufacturing, with Philippa Rodseth of the Manufacturing Circle; Dr Ajith Gopal; Dr Shaniel Dhavraj of UJ; Steve Jardine of RSA Clusters, and Andrew Mbatha of Productivity SA on the panel.

Innovation for mining

Day two of the conference focused on innovation for mining, and began with an inspiring speech by Dr Adam Pantanowitz, head of the Wits Centre for Innovation and an iconic biomedical and electrical entrepreneur. His themes of scarcity and necessity sparking innovation, and bravely exploring the art of the possible, spoke strongly to the South African audience and were echoed throughout the day.

JJ Verhaeghe, Real Time Information Management Systems (RTIMS) Programme Manager shared findings on the 10 Insights into 4IR, while Alex Fenn of Sibanye-Stillwater motivated for a regulatory and institutional environment which supports innovation and innovators, and Ahsan Mahboob of Sibanye Stillwater DigiMine at the Wits Mining Institute shared how collaboration between mines, manufacturers and research partners can powerfully drive digital innovation.

Tiaan Tromp of Nerospec chaired a panel including JJ Verhaeghe; Hugh Maleka (RamJackTech) and Mahboob on the urgent need for standardisation and coordination in the development of equipment and software, to ensure that data from diverse sources can be integrated. Open-source technologies have an important part to play in building inclusivity. There are opportunities for smaller companies and start-ups, as they can be more agile and can bring disruptive technologies to the market.

The prestigious MEMSA Innovation for Mining Awards entries were judged by a panel of mining technology experts on innovation, its expected impact, and relevance to core challenges faced by the mining industry.

Awards were given in the following categories:

  • Innovation in Hard Rock Mining Equipment (the Navin Singh Award) – Nkangala Mining Equipment for their design of an Intelligent Bolter. Based on the quality of entry, it was decided to include a runner-up award in the same category. This was presented to Buraaq Mining Services for its low-profile Mechanised Roof Bolter. Notably both companies are SMEs who have built expertise and experience through refurbishment, and now provide their own OEM solutions to mining customers.
  • Innovation in Soft Rock Mining – Nkangala Mining further won the Merit Award for the fuel-saving and environmental benefits of their Hybrid LHD.
  • Innovation in Surface Mining – Bell Equipment Company for their ADT Conversion for its Collision Warning and Avoidance Interface.
  • Innovation in Mineral Processing – AZMET Technology and Projects, won the award for the second year running, this time for a Carbon to Metal Converter recovery system.
  • Digital Solutions for Mining – Graf-In Tech, another SME, for their end-to-end business intelligence driven fleet management solution for mines.
  • Innovation by an SMME – Kapabrake was awarded the Chairman’s Award for its locally manufactured customisable Mine Winder Brake Pad.

A discussion with the winners revealed that self-funding innovation is a slow process, and they require partners who are willing to share the risk, partners who can increase the potential for success. From the perspective of innovators, funding and commercialisation are major challenges – a strong commercialisation partner can be the difference between success and failure.

The final panel discussion was moderated by Umeesha Naidoo of IDC and included Sietse van der Woude of the Minerals Council of South Africa; Alex Fenn; Tebogo Kale – 2022 award winner Gravitas Minerals, and Sibongile Ntsoelengoe. The panel was impressed with the quality of the entries, the calibre of companies and their innovations. As Van der Woude said, “It takes real bravery to be an entrepreneur and an innovator. Resilience seems to be the most important and abundant characteristic of the people within the room.” He

further highlighted that safety has now become one of the greatest drivers of innovation, “As a country we have decided that it is not acceptable to have even a single fatality in our mines.” Mine safety takes a concerted effort and commitment from the entire value chain.

Alignment of regulations and legislation can create greater certainty and a supportive environment and stimulate greater innovation. In the South African context, new technologies do not need to replace employment by mines but can enhance human decision making and safety. Machines can be sent into depths and areas too risky for human operators and by manufacturing and sourcing equipment locally, quality jobs are created in manufacturing.

Collaboration remains key, and MEMSA, a member-based cluster together with a wide range of innovation partners such as the Mandela Mining Precinct, is helping to drive innovation and competitiveness in the local mining equipment manufacturing industry through activities such as the first Mind Shift Conference and facilitating technology development partnerships.