A call by Mineral and Energy Resources Minister Gwede Mantashe on South African mining companies to improve safety in the mining industry has underlined the crucial importance of Collision Awareness Solutions and associated technology currently being developed and rolled out in this sector.

That’s according to Doug Hanson, VP & General Manager, Digital Mine at Wabtec Corporation, commenting on the minister’s speech at the Joburg Indaba mining conference recently.

“Mining is dirty, dangerous, difficult and diseased,” Mantashe told delegates. “Once you understand that you have a solid starting point… Human intervention can lead to a fatality-free mining industry. But we must first understand the nature of the industry and mitigate against the problems.”

Hanson welcomed the minister’s frank acknowledgement of the dangers inherent in the industry and his assertion that deaths and injuries were not inevitable once these risks were understood and steps taken to counter them.

“As the minister pointed out, mining has always been seen as a risky business, whether undertaken on the surface or deep beneath the earth’s surface,” Hanson said. “But thanks to a combination of government regulation and a concerted effort by mining companies and Original Equipment Manufacturers, combined with cutting edge technology, it’s becoming a lot safer.”

He added that in several respects, South Africa is leading the way in this drive towards the ideal of a safer mining industry and that collision awareness is a crucial component of this quest.

“Collisions Awareness Solutions are an integral part of mine safety management tools which help workers make the right decision at the right time. Solutions being developed by Wabtec go beyond proximity detection to increase productivity, improve operator situational awareness, minimize false alarms and mitigate collision risk,” Hanson said.

Mantashe also called on South African coal producers to cut prices to help take the pressure off indebted power utility, Eskom, thereby helping to curtail excessive electricity price hikes. “At these prices of electricity, this economy is going to collapse… Coal producers must contribute in ensuring that is actually addressed,” he told the conference.

Hanson said that while he couldn’t comment on the merits of the minister’s call, it represented one of numerous cost pressures facing mining companies in South Africa and underlined the importance of cost efficiency and productivity enhancement measures.

“In addition to political pressure, mining operations everywhere are also experiencing renewed profitability pressures from continued commodity pricing volatility and global demand variability,” Hanson said.

This, he added, had caused mining companies to re-evaluate business models and seek smarter, more efficient modes of operation that focus on sustainable cost management practices and improved productivity.

“Mining isn’t unique in this regard. Many of the world’s leading industries—manufacturing, oil and gas, healthcare, and others—have also recognised this need for change. While the exact improvements vary from industry to industry, the path to transformation is similar: an emphasis on process improvement through the application of leading-edge digital technologies across the industrial internet value chain.”

Hanson said that by harnessing the combined power of machine sensors, edge-to-cloud connectivity, advanced data capture, and powerful analytics, like those found in the Wabtec Digital Mine suite of products, these technologies are already delivering deeper insight, safety enhancements and cost savings to mining operations around the world, several of them in South Africa.

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