[ACCI-CAVIE] Mobile World Congress 2023: Botswana diamond mine Debswana plans to enhance its tech capabilities with an autonomous drilling solution that could be rolled out by 2023 end.
This, after Debswana deployed Huawei’s 4G eLTE private network solution, to provide stable connectivity at its Jwaneng open-pit diamond mine, with the project kick-started in December 2021.
Debswana head of information management Molemisi Nelson Sechaba revealed this during a media roundtable, to discuss the digital transformation of Africa’s mining industry, at MWC Barcelona 2023.
“Our aspiration is to have one [autonomous drilling] unit running by the end of the year. It’s an ambitious goal, but that’s who we are and the type of things that we do. We believe that by the end of the year, we’ll have one autonomous solution that is running our operations.”
Debswana has deployed Huawei’s eLTE private network solution, to provide connectivity to the Jwaneng diamond mine. It has connected more than 260 pieces of equipment, including drilling rigs, excavators, heavy trucks and pickup trucks. The system also enables real-time data collection.
Sechaba explained that among the challenges is that the mining plants are getting older, which results in high maintenance and repair costs, as well as the need to invest in skills to run a smart mine.
“We have formulated a digital transformation programme that is looking at addressing these problems using technology at its core. We have reached an understanding that we are a technology company doing mining.
“We have also had to reimagine the business of mining, so that we do it in a sustainable manner, leaving a very low environmental footprint.”
Sechaba indicated the mine is looking at how it can connect its assets in a manner that ensures the data from the systems can benefit operations. “Data has become integral to how we run our mines.
“We have set up centres that allow us to know where our people are, where our assets are and whether our throughput is according to target.
“The solution we have put in place has allowed us to add capabilities around safety…we’ve got collision management systems that allow us to improve safety at the mine.”
He added: “Our next phase is going to be an underground mine at Jwaneng. We know that underground is inherently riskier, but with the foundational technologies that we are putting in, including the LTE network, we know we’ll be able to have a safe environment.”
Southern African nation Botswana, which has a population of some 2.5 million, counts mining among the key sectors that contribute to its economy. In addition to diamonds, other mined minerals include bronze, nickel, copper, coal, semi-precious stones and granite.
Thulagano Segokgo, minister of communications, knowledge and technology in Botswana, commented that it’s good to see joint efforts to drive digital transformation in the mining industry.
“Debswana is a leading mining company in Africa that, by working with Huawei, can take the efficiency, productivity and safety of mining to the next level.
“The government of Botswana will continue to put in place facilitation measures to further support the digital transformation agenda across all sectors, including the mining industry, and welcomes international companies, such as Huawei, to participate in this agenda.”
Jun Xu, CTO of Huawei’s Mining Business Unit, stated Huawei is committed to using ICT technologies − such as 5G, cloud, artificial intelligence and internet of things − to develop smart mine solutions based on an industrial internet architecture.
Liao Yong, vice-president of Huawei Sub-Saharan Africa region, added that mining is an economic backbone for many African countries and plays an important role in providing employment.
“We believe our technology can transform this traditional industry into a more digital and intelligent one, which can bring out higher productivity, a safer environment and great cost savings.
“The hardware deployed at Debswana has the potential to be upgraded and supports upgrades to 5G that is essential for…operations with applications such as self-driving cars.”
Yong concluded that over the past five years, Huawei has provided services to mining enterprises in a number of countries in the region, including South Africa, Zambia, Namibia and Ghana.
Looking to the future, Huawei will work with more local partners to accelerate mining digital transformation and create more value in Africa, he stated.
By Simnikiwe MZekandaba and LB