Drone Tech Innovation Showcase The catalyst of innovation Program title: DroneTech Innovation Showcase Project owner:…
"Adaptation, change, and innovation"
Mining has been one of the key economic sectors in modern-day South Africa, given the country’s abundance of natural resources. Industrial-scale mining began in the 1850s with the establishment of South Africa’s first copper mine, fast-forward approximately 170 years and there are now over 500 mining operations across the country. The mining industry’s contribution to GDP equated to R361 billion in 2020 (despite the COVID-19 related economic shock) and R371.4 billion in 2019 and employed over 450 thousand people in 2020. In addition, the mining industry can claim credit for supporting approximately 20 million South Africans.
Adaptation, change, and innovation has been a powerful stimulant to aid the industry’s resilience through the years. A strategic component to achieve this was the establishment of a public-private partnership between the Department of Science and Innovation and Minerals Council South Africa that formed the Mandela Mining Precinct (the Precinct). This public-private partnership has since grown to include both the private sector and other public sector partners. It is an initiative aimed at revitalising mining research, development, and innovation in South Africa and ensuring the sustainability of the industry. To further support this aim, the Minerals Council South Africa has a people-centric modernisation strategy, of which its partnership with the Precinct is key.
The Precinct, Minerals Council South Africa, and the Research Institute of Innovation and Sustainability (RIIS) along with other partners have collaborated on various research, development, and innovative projects with the objective to foster and facilitate the advancement of the mining industry in South Africa. The relationship between RIIS and these mining organisations spans over five years of collaborative work – where RIIS and other implementing partners act as vehicles to accelerate the industry’s vision in the attainment of healthy, safe, innovative, transformative, economically viable, and sustainable solutions to advance the South African Mining Cluster.
An example of such collaboration was the open innovation challenge which was run over 2018 and 2019, seeking to improve the performance and efficiency of the most important part of the conventional mining cycle – rock drilling. In conventional mining, which still characterises a significant portion of South African mines (especially hard rock), the handheld rock drill is known for being heavy (over 30 kg), and for having significant noise and vibrations – leading to health implications for drillers. The Isidingo Drill Design Challenge asked South Africa to develop a new handheld rock drill that was lighter, quieter, easier to assemble, and more energy-efficient.
The challenge which took place over a year led to the selection of HPE and Novatek as the winners, whose innovative rock-drills met the criteria of the challenge within real-world scenarios – signalling the mining industry that South Africa is capable of developing African solutions for African challenges. Since then, the next phase has initiated including underground and operational testing.
As innovation becomes more of a necessity in the South African mining industry to address increasingly complex technical challenges, the need to identify and develop new ideas, innovations, entrepreneurs and startups for the mining sector becomes critically important. Using RIIS as one of its implementation partners, the mining industry strives to attain by facilitating:
- Collaborative research, development and innovation between the research community, mining companies, government and equipment manufacturers;
- The development of skills, capacity and capability in mining R&D and innovation;
- The development of local technological solutions for uptake by local mining equipment manufacturers; and
- The creation of infrastructure for developing and testing mining technologies for industrial training.