MEMSA Closes the gap between Mining Manufacturers and Research Institutes

Facilitated by MEMSA and Wits University, a recent tour of Wits DigiMine was designed to give MEMSA members a better understanding of its scope of research and facilities and provided a powerful business networking opportunity and introduced multiple opportunities from technology advancements to partnering with other equipment manufacturers on joint projects.

“The future of mining in South Africa lies in the hands of local South African mining manufacturers, research institutes and innovators.” 

These were the words from new Mining Equipment Manufacturers of South Africa (MEMSA) CEO, Lehlohonolo Molloyi while on a recent tour of the Sibanye-Stillwater Digital Mining Laboratory (DigiMine), situated at the Wits University Mining Institute. The tour, which included 15 MEMSA members – all local manufacturers – was a tremendous success and an example of what collaborations between business and research institutes can do for South Africa’s mining industry.

MEMSA, whose origins began in 2016, was officially launched in 2018 together with the Mandela Mining Precinct. The MEMSA cluster works with and supports local South African mining manufacturing companies. A core requirement is that member companies must source 60% locally and be South African registered. 

The DigiMine Laboratory is a one-of-its-kind laboratory complete with a ‘mock mine’ that simulates actual underground mining conditions, enabling researchers to develop and evaluate digital systems in a simulated environment. Situated at the Chamber of Mines building on the Wits West Campus the ‘mock mine’ comes complete with a surface (using the flat roof of the building), a vertical shaft (using a stairwell in the fourth quadrant of the building) and ‘mock mine’ with a control room in the basement. A life-size tunnel, stope, lamp room and other features all contribute to making the mine as realistic as possible. 

Facilitated by MEMSA and Wits University, the tour of the DigiMine was designed to give MEMSA members a better understanding of its scope of research and facilities, by allowing members to explore and share different mining technologies and concepts in an open platform. The tour provided a powerful business networking opportunity and introduced multiple possibilities to many participants, from technology advancements to partnering with other equipment manufacturers on joint projects.

All 15 members who took part in the tour had no previous knowledge of, or access to, the facility. Molloyi believes strongly that this lack of exposure to collaborations such as this one, must change. “We believe strongly that all of our members should be invited to see entities such as the Wits/Stillwater DigiMine as a matter of course because knowledge is key, and exposure to higher learning institutes and their research is critical to innovation in the sector.”  

“After visiting the DigiMine we learned that mining research methods are advancing rapidly and manufacturing companies need to keep up with this research. As a result of this visit, many of the MEMSA members who took part are now engaging with these different environments in a positive way.” 

Digital technology and research the way forward 

Research is geared to making mining safer and sustainable for the mine of the future, by transferring surface digital technologies into the underground environment. These advances create distance between mine workers and the typical risks they are exposed to, by measuring what is happening inside the mine and thus determining danger ahead of time.

Freddy Mugeri CEO of Conax Group and Fabchem, says his visit to the Wits DigiMine was a first for him. “All thanks go to the MEMSA team, whose growth and networking programs are designed to ensure everyone is well connected in the industry. To be able to physically experience a simulated mine is hugely beneficial for mining manufacturers, particularly because the likelihood of experiencing a visit to a commercial mine is virtually non-existent due to the complex security measures involved,” says Mugeri. 

Mugeri believes the value gained from this experience was useful for MEMSA members in two ways: 

  • Exposure to this type of research can lead to members converting the latest trends into new product lines for mines.
  • It exposes MEMSA members to fresh university talent being groomed at the digital mine. Members gain a sense of the skill sets that are available for possible job opportunities in their own companies.

“This collaboration has closed the disconnect between members and the higher institutes of learning,” says Molloyi. “MEMSA also arranged for some of its members to visit the University of Pretoria’s Virtual Reality Centre, which was another great success. We have come to realise that without a link between our members and these institutions, these local mining manufacturers will continue to be poorly exposed to the latest trends in research and development on mines. Thanks to this initiative, things are changing in the market.”

The Sibanye-Stillwater / Wits DigiMine has truly demonstrated that both South African higher learning institutions and mining manufacturers have what it takes to be innovation leaders. But, says Molloyi, we need to see more of this innovation occurring in South Africa. 

Mugeri concurs, “The fact that Wits and the Sibanya Stillwater Mine have developed this DigiMine shows that South Africa is ahead of most nations in the world from a mining research and development perspective. Innovation hubs such as the Wits DigiMine are boosting South African companies to manufacture products that help the country’s mines, mine better.” 

“If we can bring knowledge, innovation and companies together by working as a collective in the South and Southern Africa markets, we will succeed as global leaders in mining IP,” Molloyi concludes.