The adventures of a mining technologist

I recently drove from Swakopmund, Namibia to Aggeneys in the Northern Cape. I often stop to listen and take in the scenery. It is always eerily quiet. It is a time when you appreciate your surroundings. It makes you listen.


It is often said that the harshest conditions can create absolute beauty. Look at diamonds as an example. Formed through the ages while being under pressure. Some of harshest conditions you will encounter, lies at the Southern edge of Namibia. There is very little rainfall in the area, in some places at most 10mm/annum. There is extreme heat and extreme cold. It really is a place of extremes.


Figure 1 - Drive from Rosh Pinah to South Africa


If you have ever had the chance to drive from Windhoek, Namibia to the south of Namibia and on into the Northern parts of South Africa, you quickly realize that this is not a place of comfort or luxury. This is an arid, semi desert environment that only the strongest can thrive in. This world is filled with barren plains, sand dunes and then finally Rocky Mountains towards the Orange River.


It is only when you take a stop for a while, to take it all in, that you notice there is more to this place than what meets the eye. There is a completely different world once you spend a bit of time with the people.

The people of Southern Namibia and Northern cape are a rare breed. Forged through years of semi-isolation, when it was once not uncommon for someone to not have travelled more than 400km from their hometown. I have been part of this world for over 20 years. In the 20 years I have learned a few valuable lessons.

  • Outsiders are accepted when they realize that you drink brandy and coke (Tongue in cheek but probably not too far of the truth)

  • If you can play darts or golf or both

  • If you know your rugby

  • If you love mining

It is this last part that has really sparked my interest. I started my career in a small town called Aggeneys. It is between Pofadder and Springbok along the N14, in the Northern Cape. If you drive too quickly, you can miss the town completely. It is a little oasis in the desert. It is there where I learned my trade. My trade was very much mining focused, but my trade was also about being local.


Figure 2 - 30km from Aggeneys


When Gamsberg, an enormous Zinc deposit, was opened by Vedanta in 2015, I joined the team. The Gamsberg mine is visible from the N14 but it hides the complex open cast mine, hidden in the valleys of the Insulberg. A majestic place with an exciting future. It was clear that Vedanta wanted to make this a world class mine with best-in-class technology, standards, and their approach to safety. I was part of the team leading digital transformation through using the MineRP Platform and complete system integration. Ultimately, the local Aggeneys community is benefitting from this ingress of technology, system thinking and a new approach to old problems. How do we work more effectively and efficiently? There is a long-term vision and strategy in play here. One, that the benefits will be felt 10 years from now and secondly, that the MineRP Platform will play a central role in this.


Not far from Aggeneys, a relative term in these areas, just north of the Orange River lies the small town of Rosh Pinah. The drive there, especially if you drive via the Ausenkehr road, which winds next to the Orange River, is an amazing experience. It is filled with geology that makes you want to stop and just marvel at it. At the heart it is still a barren, deserted area. Upon closer inspection you truly appreciate what this world is trying to tell you. “I have so much to offer, if you take the time to listen”.


That is exactly the approach Trevali is taking. They are looking at upgrading the existing operations to a completely digitally enabled mine. This is not just about installing technology for the sake of it. This is about unlocking real value from the large underground Zinc deposit. Again, the MineRP Platform is central to this change in process. It will change the way people see Short Interval Control, drive smarter execution and enable live information at a glance.


While doing so, it will also assist the local community to up-skill themselves and be ready for the day they must travel more than 400km from their home.


Mining is not an easy game. As it is often said “If it was easy, everyone would do it”. From this hard environment, a true diamond is being unlocked. This diamond is that of enabling the future. The future of the mine, the future of the people and the future of transformed mines.


This brings me to my final point. Is adapting to a local culture all that different compared to adopting to new technologies? I do not think so. As in the example above you need to understand the vision and roadmap of the client. You also need to understand how it will affect the day to day of the people that will be using it. If you know nothing about rugby, then learn, to make an impact with the clients. To really assist and assimilate completely into a new way of thinking, you need to be able to talk the talk. That includes listening to what the people and the environment is telling you.


It is only while being quiet when you hear the truth. It is nowhere more apparent than in this part of the world where you cannot help to sit back and try to take it all in. It is always soul cleansing when travelling through here, and I am far better off because of these experiences.


Until next time,

Happy Mining,


Paul


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