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Gold Fields outlines 'mine of future' - Mining Weekly

Thursday, 29 October 2015
JOHANNESBURG ( – Drones, operated like model aeroplanes both above and below the surface, artificial intelligence and robots modelled on military expertise and driverless remotely controlled haul trucks and loaders are all part of the mine of the future - and, in some cases, already the mine of the present.

In the short term, extraction and exploration will see the biggest advances through automation and digitisation.

Technology will provide the edge to change cost structures fundamentally and make mines safer.

Partnerships with original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and information technology (IT) companies will be critical as mining benefits from the latest technologies.

Human resources and mine management will have to change to reflect the new operating practices and technologies.

These and more are on the way or have already arrived for mining in the view of Gold Fields CEO Nick Holland, who envisages the control room of future mine becoming the heart of the operation.

Speaking at the Graduate Institute of Business Science (GIBS) on Wednesday evening, Holland said mining was already poised to move beyond mechanisation to automation.

Much of what he outlined at the GIBS presentation, attended by Creamer Media’s Mining Weekly Online, was already taking place at Gold Fields mines in Australia, with the high point Rio Tinto’s remote centre in Perth, which controls 69 driverless trucks in the Pilbara in a 24 hours a day, 365 days a year non-stop operation.

“The mine of the future is coming at one hellova speed and we need to get on the bus,” Holland told the well-attended GIBS presentation chaired by Buyani Zwana.

That Gold Fields is taking seriously the need to team up with technology OEMs is evidenced by the partnerships it has forged with Mine Vision Systems in the implementation of technological advances, involving rugged sensors and three-dimensional and mapping software, as well as technology company Cyest, which is providing simulation and information for interrogation at Gold Fields’ mechanised South Deep gold mine, west of Johannesburg.

“We’ve taken the easy money out of the costs and we now have to do something different,” Holland commented.

He expects the CEO of the future to devolve a lot of accountability down to the lowest operational rungs and he flashed up graphics of the envisaged small on-mine head offices that he expects will be located close to the rock face.

“At the end of the day, the money side of things is going to be an outcome and if we don’t fix the inputs, we won’t be there,” Holland commented.

On relationships with governments, he presented the 50:50 Debswana model as the likely new arrangement, the equal ownership successfully pioneered in Botswana by diamond-mining company De Beers and the Botswana government.

Already gold companies are collaborating to share know how and reduce risk and previously hated nongovernmental organisations are being embraced as part of the gold-mining family.

All employees at South Deep are shareholders and investments are going into near-mine community projects in partnership with Sibanye Gold.

In Peru, Gold Fields used local communities to build its Cerro Corona gold mine, which is providing potable water to near-mining communities supported by tax rebates provided by the Peruvian government.

Integrated thinking will mean all business linkages need to be known and boardrooms and investor road shows will be treated to three-dimensional trips through the operations.

Gold Fields has so far invested $1-billion in South Deep and is heavily involved in skills training and the study of solar solutions to put 100 MW at the disposal of the mine, which has a 50-year horizon ahead of it.

Energy storage is becoming more effective and as Eskom asks for double digits, these solutions will become more feasible.

At Gold Fields’ St Ives mine in Australia, both aerial and underground drones produce visual data for machine learning and mining software.

Shortly, Gold Fields will be able to automate geology mapping, ground support design and load-haul dumper controls.

Digital mining is going to be something mines are going to see a lot more of and conventional mines are on the way out as IT starts playing top dog.

The modernisation of the South African gold-mining industry was shown to be heading well beyond the mechanisation and innovation required to operate a mine of the future into the areas of possible organisation, ownership, skills and leadership required to run such a mine as well as the relationships with investors, employees, communities and governments to ensure sustainability.
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