In an age governed by speed and quick fixes, customers are demanding real-time information, improved production, increased safety and optimum levels of efficiency from their equipment.
This is juxtaposed against a backdrop of a tough operating environment, which has forced customers to sweat their assets. This means that an increasing number of customers are looking at technology to help achieve the required equipment performance, Komatsu Mining Corp’s Athol Weideman tells SA Mining.
“Given that this is a low-growth market, it is critical that as original equipment manufacturers we get better at what we are doing to ensure that we remain ahead in the market space and exceed customer expectations.”
As a result, Komatsu Mining Corp Africa, the Southern African Soft Rock division of global capital equipment manufacturer Komatsu, recently released three new key section advancement tools. These are Joy Connect, a system that interconnects different pieces of equipment with each other to ensure improved efficiency and give a mine a full view of the total mining system by collecting data of all machines; Assisted Mining Cycle (AMC), a software package that works to improve production by ensuring that the equipment operating at the coalface does so optimally; and a brand new Remote Machine Monitoring system, which provides people situated on-surface with a view of the fleet of equipment operating underground.
These systems have been tested on a client’s coal operations in the Witbank and Secunda areas.
Following the exceptional results being achieved from the test runs, Komatsu customers were eager to upgrade their existing equipment with the installation of the new systems.
According to Weideman, the company’s smart service centre, located in Emalahleni, which has been operational since 2009, is well placed to provide customers with real-time big-data solutions that have a direct real-time impact on mining operations.
“Algorithms are used to analyse real-time data and summarised reports are dispatched to the various management levels on a daily basis. This ensures that proactive production improvements can be made in real time,” he explains.
Given South Africa’s intention to reduce its coal footprint and therefore with an increased focus on renewable energy, the equipment producer, which develops products predominantly for the local coal market, is looking to expand its underground equipment footprint.
However, owing to a largely undeveloped African underground coal mining sector, the company’s expansion strategy remains largely limited to its current geographical footprint, which includes Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique.
Given that South Africa’s power sector is largely coal-dependent and will remain so for the next decade and more, Weideman, who keeps a close eye on the performance of the coal and equipment market by ensuring that the latest data and statistics are on hand for perusal, believes that coal will continue to dominate the African power agenda for many decades.
But as the country makes the slow shift away from coal as a power source, the equipment manufacturer continues to modernise and improve equipment efficiency to ensure increased productivity.
“With industry baying for zero-fatality rates and driving the move for personnel to be situated away from the coal face, the onset of driverless vehicles is imminent. Komatsu for instance already has autonomous trucks on mines in Australia and as soon as our mining environment is ready, the equipment will be supplied to the local market,” Weideman says.
Komatsu Mining Corporation (formally known as Joy Global) has made significant investments in South Africa. The Wadeville plant on the East Rand has a 47 000m2 footprint with all the essential services including an engineering team to work closely and directly with its customers. While the fully compliant company (according to the latest Mining Charter III) equipment producer is largely focused on the South African underground coal sector, the equipment manufacturer of continuous miners, shuttle cars, feeder-breakers and roof-bolters is keen to consider options beyond the Southern African regions.
Training and skills development
The manufacturer of construction, mining and utility equipment is aligned with the requirements of The Department of Trade and Industry’s scorecard and continues to invest heavily in training and skills development, training 79 apprentices per year at its facilities in Wadeville.
Together with the Komatsu Foundation Trust, which holds a 25.1% stake in Komatsu Mining Corp. and Komatsu South Africa, the company invests just under R20-million a year in the form of bursaries and community-based projects, including school upgrades and prosthetics for the disabled.
“Komatsu is a global entity and as such we have access to an international skills pool and to stay up to date with the latest industry changes, we are in constant interaction and sharing knowledge with colleagues across the global branches. As part of training and up-skilling, South African teams are often afforded the opportunity to attend courses and seminars and conferences around the world (especially USA).”
The original equipment manufacturer produces and rebuilds equipment locally, with its contribution to local content around 60%.
Komatsu’s highly skilled team consists of just over 1 000 local employees for the underground environment and together with Komatsu SA there are over 2 449 employees.
“Our commitment to quality and reliability is part of everything we do, making it possible to provide the mining industry with unique and unrivalled products, service and solutions. Together we are revolutionising mining for a sustainable future and continued industry advancement.”