Automation in mining – the key to South Africa’s competitiveness on a global stage

Maureen Phiri Automation has the potential to revolutionise South Africa’s…


Maureen PhiriMaureen Phiri
Maureen Phiri

Automation has the potential to revolutionise South Africa’s mining sector, improving efficiency and productivity while also reducing cost. Human life is now also taking centre stage, fuelled by technology that can help improve working conditions, minimising human exposure to hazardous conditions, and reducing the risk of accident and injury.

Automation will enable South Africa to compete on a global scale with international mining organisations, decreasing the lead time on manufacturing and production and improving the efficiency of delivery. Not only will this boost productivity in the mining sector, but it will also attract foreign investment and contribute positively toward education, the economy, and society in general. It is imperative to speed the adoption of automated technologies to drive South Africa’s mining sector forward.

Core to the economy

Mining is a significant contributor to South Africa’s Gross Domestic Product, accounting for a substantial proportion of economic output. It is also a major employer, both directly and indirectly, particularly in less developed rural areas of the country. The infrastructure developments associated with mining, such as transportation networks, power, and water supply, have historically benefited economic growth and benefited various other sectors, and exporting minerals is an essential revenue generation tool for the country.

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Despite its criticality, the industry has been fraught with challenges in recent years, including declining productivity and profitability, labour disputes, safety concerns, environment issues and more. Efforts are underway to address these challenges and promote sustainable mining practices. Government interventions, industry collaborations, and technological advancements are being explored to enhance productivity, improve safety standards, and ensure the long-term viability of the mining sector. However, automation could potentially help address challenges in every one of these areas and this needs to be embraced.

The opportunity for automation

Far from artificial intelligence (AI) and automation taking over from people, it will assist with economic empowerment and improving participation. Strategically leveraging automation will not only assist in enhancing human safety and productivity, and improving the profitability and yield of mining, but it can also contribute to the creation of new job opportunities that necessitate specialised skills for managing automated systems. To do this, however, it is essential for government, educational institutions, and industry stakeholders to focus on upskilling and reskilling workers on the skills required.

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It is important not only to ensure skills are strengthened in the existing workforce, but that there is a pipeline of skills for the future, which means that prioritising Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education is paramount. It is also important to foster partnerships between industry and academia to help bridge the skills gap, by aligning education and training programs with the needs of the industry.

Collaboration is key

Mining is a critical sector for South Africa and one that needs to be urgently addressed to keep up with global technology advancements. This transition requires close cooperation and collaboration between the various stakeholders, as well as government bodies and labour groups, to effectively manage change and minimise disruption and conflict, as well as to protect the rights and interests of the workforce. In addition, since automation, by its very nature, will replace certain manual tasks and job roles, it is important for all parties concerned to work together to identify opportunities for job preservation and creation and mitigate the social impact of a transition toward automated mining processes.

Automation has the potential to vastly change the landscape of South Africa’s mining sector for the better, but it needs to be approached correctly. Adopting the right strategic approach toward technology, change management and reskilling is key to successfully making this transition and enabling the country to continue to compete on a global scale.





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