Harnessing IOT in mining and manufacturing

Johannesburg, 11 May 2020
Read time 3min 30sec
Priashan Pakiriy, head of Enterprise Fixed Solutions, MTN Business.
Priashan Pakiriy, head of Enterprise Fixed Solutions, MTN Business.

As the backbone of the economy, the mining industry needs all the help it can get. Even when the COVID-19 lockdown ends, recovery is going to be very slow, but vital. Internet of things (IOT) solutions are being touted as offering opportunities to slash input costs in mining and manufacturing and scale up beneficiation.

If you strip away the noise around machine-learning, robotics, artificial intelligence, the IOT and 4IR, an array of opportunities for businesses and industries become apparent.

“The secret to success will be ensuring the resulting data is harnessed so that invaluable action can be performed to benefit consumers, businesses and communities,” says Priashan Pakiriy, head of Enterprise Fixed Solutions, MTN Business.

“The potential of these cutting-edge technologies to lift under-performing, labour-intensive industries such as manufacturing and mining in South Africa is immense.

“The mining industry, for instance, has an opportunity to improve efficiencies and reduce input costs by deploying IOT solutions not only in its operations, but throughout the value chain. While technology is an integral part of mining operations and remains a salient feature on the factory floor, IOT can take things further by being deployed to do proactive and preventative maintenance.”

Pakiriy says IOT technology can be rolled out to monitor robots, their inner workings and performance levels. The data that is collected can, pretty accurately, predict when the robot is likely to fail and be proactive before breakdown. Currently, maintenance is reactive in nature and production grinds to a halt when machines break down. This takes a toll on productivity in already stretched industries.

Mining operations are very costly, particularly in South Africa, which has some of the deepest mines in the world. At the time of writing this article, government had allowed mines to reopen and operate at 50% capacity, with the exception of coal, which is essential for power generation. This was also to address the fact that deep mines are more vulnerable to becoming unstable when left dormant for a period of time.

Considering that the costs to restart operations are considerable, these, coupled to input costs rising at a faster pace than selling prices, mean both profit margins and employment figures are severely affected.

“IOT solutions can, however, help to unlock and scale up beneficiation, a secondary industry that could conceivably integrate the workforce that has been displaced by automation. Just in time functionality can help contain the spiralling costs in the supply chain. This will obviate the need to invest a lot of capital in building up inventories.

“IOT can help with measuring and monitoring inventories and send low inventory alerts, which will help mining companies to sweat their assets and assist in saving on breakdowns, maintenance and replacements.”

Automation of the production processes through the deployment of IOT solutions will free up the workforce that was doing repetitive work to venture into creative fields and beneficiation. However, how long it will take for employees to be absorbed into other fields in the light of COVID-19 is unknown. This is the key issue to consider, particularly among the youth, given that the already extremely high unemployment facing South Africa looks set to become worse.

“Greater buy-in is needed from government, business, workers and unions and we also believe organised business and trade unions should consider joint ventures in IOT to kick-start ailing industries.

“Ongoing access to reliable data and innovation are critical ingredients to success; however, we need to harness these solutions today to maximise efficiencies and opportunities to solve local problems,” concludes Pakiriy.

“Making the most of IOT opportunities requires access to a network footprint enabled with narrow band IOT capabilities. This will support extensive coverage with low power consumption. The combination of device, cloud, network and services presents powerful opportunity.”

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