Africa relies heavily on mineral resources for its economic well-being. Africa’s mineral and fossil fuel exports accounted for more than a third of Africa’s exports in 2019. About 80% of the world’s platinum, 2/3 of its cobalt, half of its manganese, and a significant quantity of chromium are produced on the continent, putting it in an excellent position to gain from rising demand. According to some estimates, Africa has the most considerable undeveloped mineral resources in the world.
As a result, most of the continent’s resources remain unexplored due to a lack of geological mapping and investigation. Mining corporations and African governments must adopt Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) technology to realize the full potential of mineral-rich African nations. Mining companies can decrease environmental harm, enhance working conditions, lower operating costs, and increase production by using artificial intelligence, automation, and big data. The mining industry has already begun to lessen its negative influence on the environment by using effective renewable energy systems. 4IR technology may help the clean-energy transition by decreasing fuel use in loading, transporting, and crushing activities. According to one estimate, the deployment of autonomous technology in mines might reduce fuel use by 10-15 percent.
Mining operations may benefit from better data and analytics. Only a small percentage of mining businesses can put their vast volumes of data to use in a meaningful manner. As a result, enhanced analytics might significantly impact mining operations by improving mine planning, boosting yields, and reducing equipment downtime. Advanced analytics helped a 30-year-old mine in South Africa increase its mineral recovery by 2% by applying it to its primary processing processes.
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Among the many sites that have benefitted from digitalization is the Syama mine in Mali. An automated gold mine was created for the first time when Resolute Mining took over operations at Syama in 2015. Management and monitoring of all processes are done using a fiber-optic network linked to aboveground control centers. Changes are intended to reduce mining costs by 30 percent and enhance overall efficiency, even if the original expenditure was high. Because the machines can run for 22 hours a day, no time is wasted during shift changes.
In the future, mining will be shaped by the use of 4IR technology. Although tech provides significant potential for increasing production, enhancing safety, and reducing mining’s negative effect on the environment, these technologies also pose serious questions. A lack of educational and training initiatives to re-educate people means that many new technology-enabled occupations demand highly-skilled workers that the labor market cannot provide.
It is suggested that mining businesses utilize the increased profit margins of new technology to educate suitable employees in AI and machine learning. In addition, a new school curriculum may educate the technology skills needed for 4IR-enabled occupations, including those in mining. Mining firms’ development of other local businesses may also help lessen communities’ reliance on mines for employment. A jewelry factory, a brick-making plant, and an agricultural cooperative are just projects funded by mining firms in Mauritania.
Industry leaders and governments must collaborate to exploit new digital opportunities. They fear that African governments cannot implement their regulations and are unwilling to engage in new projects requiring a secure regulatory environment. As a first step, governments need to alter the public’s perspective. Even governments and local communities gain from digitalization. As mining grows more productive and lucrative, national governments will have more money to invest in infrastructures, such as roads, schools, and health clinics.
Those mines that embrace digital transformation will enhance output, function more efficiently and effectively, and be more ecologically friendly. In addition to establishing new health and safety regulations for employees, educational and training initiatives might help reskill the workforce. In other words, they’ll cause havoc in the mining industry in Africa, but the benefits of digitalization will far exceed the hazards if they’re appropriately harnessed.