South Africa’s mining industry is increasingly making use of innovative and cutting-edge technologies to run more efficient operations, to manage risk, to improve health and safety, reduce the cost of maintenance and extraction, as well as bringing about a skills uplift.

Minerals Council CEO Roger Baxter. Image credit: Minerals Council

Minerals Council CEO Roger Baxter. Image credit: Minerals Council

The COVID-19 pandemic has further accelerated the digitisation of the work process, as well as the adoption of automation and other innovative tools in the mining industry.

These are some of the key findings from a report issued jointly by PwC and the Minerals Council South Africa.  The report – ‘The State of Digital Transformation in the South African Mining Industry’ – was compiled with the aim of gaining an understanding of how the mining industry visualises the impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) on its people, processes and technologies; how they perceive the evolution of 4IR on their businesses in the years to come; and what steps they are taking to transform their businesses in anticipation of these changes.

According to Minerals Council CEO Roger Baxter adoption of innovations emerging out of the 4IR did not go into lockdown during the Covid-19 pandemic. “In fact, the Covid-19 pandemic accelerated the application of 4IR technologies helping Minerals Council members and others to manage the pandemic more effectively. South African mining needs 4IR. We need to be globally competitive on costs and on environmental, social and governance issues. Over the last decade, multi-factor productivity in South Africa has fallen by 7.6%. Mining cost inflation was 2-3% higher annually than general inflation, leading to two thirds of our output being on the upper half of the global mining cost curve. Mining output declined by 10% and minerals sales contracted by 11%,” says Baxter.

“The Minerals Council advocates a people-centric, 4IR enabled approach to modernisation of the sector. With the high levels of unemployment, poverty and inequality, a pure technology-focused approach will not be socially acceptable. It is hence encouraging that this report does not only focus on technological issues, but also on issues related to culture and the upskilling and/or reskilling of the workforce,” Baxter adds.

Andries Rossouw, PwC Africa Energy Utilities & Resources Leader says that South Africa’s mining industry is set to undergo significant transformation in the next decade. Advances in technology and innovation will drive a lot of what we currently see in the mining industry going forward. With the digital world presenting so much opportunity and disruption, mining companies will need to be more agile when thinking about how to align technology with their business needs, as well as making the right choices on partnership and implementation. “Mining companies that genuinely understand technology and leverage it strategically will be the winners,” says Rossouw.