A “cultural change”: that’s what Mark Gelsomini, Dundee Precious Metals information technology director, says the mining industry needs to successfully introduce automation or robotics in mining activities.
This change will be based on the buy-in of employees and will require a gradual and fully transparent introduction process so workers won’t feel alienated or threatened.
Gelsomini talked during the fourth Global Mining Technology Forum, in Johannesburg (South Africa).
When you introduce robotics and automation, you’re essentially introducing a culture change. You need to teach your workers not to shy away from it, but to embrace it.
Mining automation in the South African mineral sector has been a controversial subject for long. The industry is already affected by labour issues and the government fears that job losses will subsequently increase the country’s unemployment rate. However, Andreas Jung, ContiTech Conveyor Belt Group belt monitoring manager, says he had seen few job losses as the result of automation.
His company provides automated conveyer technology in international mining markets and Jung says that everything can go smoothly, as long as the introduction of automation is made through “baby steps”.
Not once have we had a mining company indicate they wanted to get rid of their employees and replace them with robots.
Of course, skills need to be upgraded: companies must also invest in the development of the workers know-how, so they can properly operate the new technologies. According to Gelsomini, once the technology is in place and the employees are trained to operate it, the mining company will have produced a highly skilled labour force.
As a matter of fact, these technologies could have prevented a lot of mines from closing in the last decade, assures a mining innovation consultant that also participated in the forum. Andries Leuschner says that:
Had they introduced robots, they could have mined these deep reserves, prevented closure and avoided extensive job losses. One needs to look at the productivity enhancements that automation has made to the operation to understand the benefits of automation for the workers.
Answering to the criticism regarding previous failed attempts at mining automation, Gelsomini said the failure was caused due to the fact that the technology was wrongly introduced and operated.
The reason that mining technology in South Africa has failed is simply because it hasn’t been done well.