Machines might not take miners' jobs, but could save their lives

DJI Phantom 4Pro drone
DJI Phantom 4Pro drone

While much has been said about the fourth industrial revolution and its potential impact on jobs in labour-intensive industries, a technology company called Simine is working with companies, workers and young professionals that tech in mining can not only create jobs but save lives.

Simine (which gets it's name from a combination of the words "simulation" and "mine") has a residency at the Mandela Mining Precinct and develops technological solutions for mining companies to enhance operational efficiencies and safety.

One of the company’s offerings is an operational and safety solution known as "digital twinning". This solution uses camera mounted drones to capture mine shafts and other operational environments to create a simulation of that environment.

The simulation can be used to speed up rescue operations during rockfalls and other occupational hazards and reduce the number of rescue personnel as well as the risk of further injuries of fatalities. Simine also provides mentoring on the use of tech in mining to young graduates.

Simine consultant Antony Mello told Fin24 on the sidelines of the Investing in African Mining Indaba in Cape Town on Thursday that Simine served as an overarching facility assisting the mining industry to define and understand the organisation of the future.

"We are looking at developing skills to manage the complex new work environment, which no one fully understands yet. Trends from other industries are coming into mining and working but as a traditional industry, there is support that is needed," said Mello.

Mello said digital twinning was a useful component of the new mining industry, but that it did not only come into play during rescue operations or when miners are trapped in shafts.

"Rescues are just one application of digital twins, but there are many more. Safety is linked to planning and digital twins used proactively can mitigate risks and harm in the first place.

The paperless mine 

"A digital twin must also mimic what happens in real life, to allow scenario planning. You can also use these to simulate the environment and see how it reacts when you introduce changes. It's a digital twin in appearance as well as in behaviour," Mello said.

When asked if there was an adversarial sentiment around the fourth industrial revolution and technology in mining, Mello said the sector responded positively to the new solutions, including labour.

"Sentiment from companies has actually been good. Everyone is excited. Findings of jobs lost to automation and digitalisation actually show that tasks are being replaced while new work opportunities emerge. Miners are going into shafts with tablets as the paperless mine emerges," Mello said.

Mining Indaba advisory board member and former National Union of Mineworkers secretary general Frans Baleni told delegates on Wednesday that workers are warming up to automation and digitisation, especially when the prospect of skills development arises.

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