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Mining disciplines unite to provide innovative mining solutions - EE Publishers

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Innovative technology solutions for the struggling mining sector are the focus of a new unit at Wits University. The Wits Mining Institute (WMI) will house the school’s Digital Mine project – already well advanced in developing a mock mine within the Chamber of Mines building on Wits University’s West Campus – and a college network to develop 21st-century skills at artisan and technician level.

According to Prof. Fred Cawood, head of WMI, the institute’s mission is to make mining safer and more sustainable by harnessing fast-developing technologies and practices from different sectors – which are sadly not always incorporated into mining applications quickly enough to address the industry’s many challenges.

He said the breakthrough that the WMI had made was to forge working links across the university’s schools and research units so that mining issues could be addressed in an integrated manner. This has taken some time to achieve, but the WMI now draws upon a formidable battery of expertise and insights from disciplines like architecture, public health, law, global change, population migration, urban development, electronics and computer science, said Cawood.

South Africa’s deep level ore bodies posed particularly difficult challenges to mining operations. But Cawood argued that encouraging progress was already being made to show the path forward for both established and new operations.

According to Cawood, work on converting “indoor” positioning systems to underground applications is already underway, for instance, paving the way to developing an automated tunnel for mining at depths no longer viable or safe for humans to operate.

Cutting edge software, sensors and related high-tech infrastructure were allowing developments like real-time underground airflow modelling, and access systems that could automatically exclude personnel restricted by health issues or legal compliance requirements.

The mock mine at Wits University currently includes a 67 m life-size mine tunnel called “Nick’s Tunnel”, a stairwell equipped as a mock vertical shaft, the NCM stope, lamp room and control room – which are used for both teaching and research into aspects such as security, systems integration, and video analytics.

Skills development by the WMI will focus on modern skills required to install and maintain the various new technologies being implemented or considered by mechanised and digital mines.

The major funders of the digital mining infrastructure to date are Gold Fields, Aveng Mining, the Minerals and Education Trust Fund, Wits University, New Concept Mining and Sibanye Gold, who is currently the largest sponsor.

The research agenda is significant, with a total of 16 postgraduates who use/used the facility for their research and ten undergraduate students who will graduate at the end of 2016 with a digital mining competence.

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