Kumba Iron Ore has put R500m into in­no­va­tive technology to

CityPress - - Business - JUSTIN BROWN justin.brown@city­press.co.za

Kumba Iron Ore has spent about R500 mil­lion on technology im­prove­ments, in­clud­ing re­mote-con­trolled ro­botic ma­chines that drill blast holes and drones for aerial sur­veys, at its two key mines in the North­ern Cape since 2014. Themba Mkhwanazi, the CEO of Kumba, said dur­ing an in­ter­view this week that the au­tonomous drills would lead to lower costs.

“This technology also im­proves safety by al­low­ing lim­ited ex­po­sure for op­er­a­tors as they no longer need to phys­i­cally sit inside the drill – now they will be in a safer and air-con­di­tioned en­vi­ron­ment, where they will be able to op­er­ate the drills re­motely.”

Mkhwanazi said that, in South Africa, in­tro­duc­ing au­tonomous drilling was a chal­lenge as it was seen as a move that would re­sult in the po­ten­tial loss of jobs.

“We found, though, that our au­tonomous drilling pro­gramme hasn’t re­sulted in a loss of jobs – it has en­hanced the life of our op­er­a­tors by im­prov­ing their safety and health,” he said.

Glen McGav­i­gan, Kumba’s ex­ec­u­tive head of tech­ni­cal and projects, said there were six au­tonomous drills that made holes be­fore blast­ing took place at Kumba’s Kolomela mine near Post­mas­burg.

The work­ers who used to op­er­ate the drill now sit in a con­trol cen­tre at the mine and op­er­ate the drills re­motely.

Bongi Nt­soe­len­goe, Kumba’s man­ager of technology, said dur­ing an in­ter­view that at the Sishen mine near Kathu, two out of 20 drills had been con­verted to au­tonomous drills dur­ing the sec­ond half of last year.

A de­ci­sion about con­vert­ing the rest of the drills at Sishen would be made in the first half of this year.

It was most likely that a fur­ther seven to eight drills would be con­verted, Nt­soe­len­goe said.

Kumba was the only com­pany in South Africa that was op­er­at­ing au­tonomous drills in open­cast mines, McGav­i­gan said.

The only other iron ore mine in the world that he was aware of that used au­tonomous drills was BHP Bil­li­ton’s Yandi mine in Western Aus­tralia.

Nt­soe­len­goe said that the cost to con­vert each drill to au­tonomous mode var­ied from R9 mil­lion to R11 mil­lion, so this would put the cost of con­vert­ing the eight drills at be­tween R72 mil­lion and R88 mil­lion.

Nt­soe­len­goe said that the to­tal cost of do­ing the au­tonomous drilling to date was R220 mil­lion at Kolomela and R30 mil­lion at Sishen in­clud­ing net­work up­grades as well as the con­struc­tion of con­trol rooms.

McGav­i­gan said the au­tonomous drills had in­creased the num­ber of hours of drilling in a day by more than 20%.

In the past, us­ing hu­mans to op­er­ate the drills, 14 hours of drilling could be achieved a day, but with the au­tonomous drills, op­er­at­ing time in­creased to 17 to 18 hours a day.

Part of the rea­son the au­tonomous drills could con­tinue for so long was that the per­son op­er­at­ing the drill rig only needed to sit in the con­trol cen­tre, rather than hav­ing to be dropped off and picked up at the drill rig, McGav­i­gan said.

Nt­soe­len­goe said that, as a re­sult of the ex­tra drilling time, two fewer drill rigs would be re­quired over the life­span of the Kolomela mine, and this would ul­ti­mately re­sult in sav­ings.

McGav­i­gan said that Kumba was us­ing drones to con­duct aerial sur­veys at its mines.

These drones were help­ing to col­lect a new set of in­for­ma­tion and data.

Mkhwanazi said: “What it [us­ing drones] does is that it al­lows us to have far greater cover­age in terms of the sur­vey­ing. It takes away hav­ing to ex­pose an in­di­vid­ual to walk­ing on stock­piles.”

Kumba has a to­tal of 10 drones, of which four are used at its Kolomela mine and six are used at its Sishen mine. The com­pany has trained five of its staff to be pi­lots of these drones and they re­ceived li­cences from the SA Civil Avi­a­tion Au­thor­ity to use the technology, McGav­i­gan said.

The com­pany has fixed-wing drones, which have cam­eras in­stalled on them, and quad­copter drones, which have on-board cam­eras and a laser scan­ner, which is used to cre­ate three-di­men­sional im­ages.

McGav­i­gan said that the drones were be­ing used to fly over the mines and help mea­sure what rock had been mined out and where min­ing had taken place.

Drones could also be used to sur­vey an ac­ci­dent scene as well as ar­eas that could be un­safe for work­ers to en­ter, he added. He said that Kumba had spent R6 mil­lion on the 10 drones in­clud­ing at­tach­ments.

The com­pany’s first drone flight was at Kolomela in De­cem­ber 2015.

Kumba ini­tially leased drones be­fore the com­pany bought its first drones in Novem­ber.

As a way to im­prove safety, au­tonomous brak­ing for Kumba’s haul trucks is an­other in­no­va­tion the com­pany is look­ing at.

Nt­soe­len­goe said that the con­trol cen­tre could de­tect the move­ment of the trucks and, if there was the pos­si­bil­ity of a col­li­sion or ac­ci­dent, the whole truck would au­to­mat­i­cally come to a stop.

Kumba had been de­vel­op­ing the technology for four years and 10 trucks had been fit­ted with the bark­ing sys­tem.

INTO THE FU­TURE Work­ers in­stall and test a re­motely op­er­ated drill rig at Kumba’s Kolomela mine near Post­mas­burg

EYE IN THE SKY Drones are used for aerial sur­veys at two of Kumba’s mines

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