Schneider Electric, through its Mining, Metals and Minerals division, is helping African miners to maximise the potential of their assets by deploying digital, sustainable solutions
Writer: Tom Wadlow
Project Manager: Donovan Smith
“We have been in the market for a very long time and have never seen this high level of opportunity and excitement.
“Mining companies have had a challenging time due to drops in commodity prices, but fortunately this has been turning around in a sustainable way for the last three years. It has been tough, but it is improving all the time.”
Marc Ramsay and Schneider Electric (SE) are vehemently optimistic when it comes to the African mining industry.
As VP of Industry and End Users in Angolphone Africa for the French multinational’s Mining, Minerals and Metals (MMM) division, Ramsay is witnessing a shift in what is a very mature industry, made up of customers looking to maximise returns in the shorter term and mitigate safety risks on their aging assets.
“We are very excited to see that the mining industry is transforming from the traditional major mining houses that dominated the landscape to a more inclusive environment of mid-sized localised mining companies,” he continues.
“We also are encouraged to see the progress that has been made between government and the mining industry in working together to find long-term solutions that provide a stable base for investment, investment which will benefit the African economy and direct communities surrounding the operations.”
Ramsay joined Schneider Electric in 2013, moving to the MMM unit in 2015 and bringing with him a wealth of first-hand industry experience, especially in the realm of deploying technology across the mining value chain.
Lured by the company’s commitment to sustainable industry and reputation for being an employer of choice, the two also share the same outlook when it comes to tackling pressing issues in the mining sector.
“I felt that SE had the most ambitious and forward-thinking approach to addressing mining questions, like reducing carbon footprint through the efficient utilisation of energy through the business. It also has the most insightful commitment to open architecture and open standards in its technologies, such as the adoption of ethernet as a communication protocol, long before the market standardised on it,” Ramsay adds.
“This has proven to be a significant validation of the strategy as we have seen with the latest trends relating to IoT and industry 4.0.”
Ramsay’s comments on Schneider Electric’s innovative ethos is no better demonstrated than by its EcoStruxure open standard and open protocol IoT platform.
An enabler of scalable digital services that can be easily accelerated via the cloud, EcoStruxure is built into all new products to ensure they are connected, integrated and automated.
This facilitated two major recent use-cases which help miners to optimise operations.
The first revolves around application and analytics, solutions which aggregate data and convert it into operational intelligence and insights across categories including energy control, asset performance and supply chain management.
Second, EcoStruxure provides a level of hardware and software interaction with connected products to allow critical real-time automation and control decisions to be made at the operational level.
Such connectivity can be seen on the ground, Ramsay pointing to an example with Australian miner Roy Hill, which recently integrated its supply chain at its enormous iron ore operation in Pilbara.
“SE helped build a remote operations management environment that manages the entire 55 million tonne per annum iron ore mining value chain from a remote location, approximately 400 kilometres from the mine site,” he adds.
“Another recent project saw us work with African Rainbow Minerals for the development of a centralised control room to improve operational efficiencies, increase systems availability and redundancy and improve collaboration.”
Partners for life
Another key point of difference identified by Ramsay is the company’s ability to provision for a mine’s entire asset lifecycle.
Whether it’s upstream 3D design, simulation or the building of assets, or technologies geared towards optimising operations and monitoring production, Schneider Electric MMM is expertly-placed to serve as a loyal partner in every stage from project conceptualisation through to mine closure.
Key to this has been the recent merger of a leading British-based software firm AVEVA, and its wide-ranging and agile design, engineering and construction solutions capabilities, amounting to around 4,500 people in 40 countries.
This, however, is just one example demonstrating the power of Schneider Electric’s network.
Worldwide the company utilises the expertise of more than 55,000 partners which are already ahead of the curve when it comes to deployment of IoT solutions and other industry 4.0 technologies.
The MMM division in Africa also relies on partnerships, with anywhere between 1,500 and 2,000 points of sale being part of a large and structured partner network based on specialisation and technical capabilities, 200 of which are classified as top-tier and more than 50 of those specifically experienced in African mining solutions. Together, this forms an unrivalled base of localised response and knowledge through which SE can deliver for clients.
“Further, in Q2 2019 we will be launching a technology market place portal called Exchange, which enables partners to develop applications and market them via our digital portal,” says Ramsay. “This is a really compelling aspect for Africa and its burgeoning hub of digital entrepreneurs.”
Supporting local innovation is central to the legacy Schneider Electric wants to build on the continent, Ramsay adding: “Access to education has been improving across East Africa particular over the past five years, which is opening up opportunities for us to invest in new entrepreneurs for the new digital economy, which is very positive. But we do need to remain vigilant on developing on developing foundational skills like engineering and artisanal qualifications to maintain the stability in the core industries.”
Much, if not all of Schneider Electric MMM’s work is carried out with some aspect of sustainability in mind, be it environmental, social or economic.
Ramsay explains: “Sustainability is a large subject with many dimensions, from production and operational efficiency through to the micro-economic ecosystem surrounding the mine or plant and the individuals within the local communities living nearby.
“Safety of the people that work with electricity on mines is a concern for us, and we are doing everything we can to improve electrical safety, such as introducing more automated and remote management of power to take people out of high-risk situations, and decentralising the electrical protection to minimise human impact.”
Coming back to local populations living near mine sites, Schneider Electric operates with a ‘Life is On’ mantra, with more optimised use of energy and more access to energy.
“This has led us to develop easily deployable products and solutions that enhance the life of local communities,” Ramsay continues. “By utilising our alternative energy management technologies and safe and simple distribution, we can provide individuals and households with free access to energy through the power of the sun, and sunlight is an abundant asset for many parts of Africa.”
An example of this philosophy in action comes from collaboration with the University of Johannesburg to build improve lives in the local community of Gwakane in Limpopo. The two organisations worked closely together to develop local business interests such as bakeries, develop better access to water and reduce malaria infections.
“The success of community outreach projects not only depends on the technical solution provided but also on the social and cultural acceptability of the solution and of the solution provider,” says Professor Johan Meyer, Head of the School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at UJ.
“Initially, we trained entrepreneurs from the village to sell and maintain our solar powered portable LED lamps, with its mobile phone charger, the Mobiya TS 120S,” adds Zanelle Dalglish, Head of Sustainable Development for Schneider Electric Anglophone Africa. “The units are especially suited for the demanding rural environment of Gwakwani, as it is an energy efficient, eco-friendly and robust portable lamp producing 120-lumen light output.”
Training and education also form an important pillar of the company’s efforts to drive local sustainable development. “We have a Schneider Electric Academy here in South Africa and offer globally accredited training programmes,” Ramsay says. “We also provide free online and certified education through our Schneider Electric Energy University and partner with local institutions to participate in post graduate research.
“It is a no brainer to advance skills, and schemes such as an upcoming hackathon-style events to help progress ideas about energy issues will generate new perspectives and do their bit to help address this dynamic environment.”
Internally, the company also runs employee development programmes based on electronic online courses mixed with external cooperation with tertiary educational institutions like Vaal Technical College.
“The educational aspect also applies to our mining customers,” adds Ramsay. “With all this technology coming on board, we must educate, not overwhelm, showing the true value that digital solutions can have on a mining business. It is about framing the problem and then choosing the right technologies.”
By continuing to work with mining players across Africa, both in educating the benefits of digitisation and deploying Schneider Electric’s industry-leading power management solutions, the MMM division is primed to deliver growth across the region.
Ramsay plans to extend its reach to new markets and remains optimistic about the wider picture that is the region’s socioeconomic development. Excited about the role Schneider Electric and his MMM unit can play in this, he concludes: “We are very optimistic about South Africa and Africa at large.
“This is a very diverse and erratic environment which requires a long-term view and short-term agility, but there is absolutely no doubt that this continent can be the largest combined economy on the planet leveraging extended periods of peace, ongoing eradication of corruption and cross-country collaboration.
“The building blocks are there and when utilised will lead to unprecedented prosperity for a continent that suffers from poverty but also has great wealth.
“We see a huge flow of urbanisation and are excited to play a leading part in providing electricity to those that do not have access, because we believe that this is a key to human development. After all, my kids remind me that without electricity there is no Wi-Fi.”