Technology must serve society
Rapid technological change is part of the positive disruption transforming mining, writes Mbali Tshitenge, Executive: Customer Fulfilment Services at Barloworld Equipment Southern Africa. However, new technology only has value to the extent that it supports the goals of the companies that use it.
As technology becomes an ever more integral part of the mining sector, mining stakeholders are coming to understand something quite profound about the role of technology in our sector, and in our society at large. Technology must serve humanity.
For us at Barloworld Equipment, this has also led to some interesting insights. While we are certainly in the business of technological innovation, we now understand that we don’t just sell technology. We sell solutions, and technology helps us deliver them.
We do so because we want our customers to adopt the technology and derive maximum benefit. Technology adoption serves as the driving force behind progress, fostering innovation, efficiency, and connectivity. It empowers businesses and societies to stay competitive, adapt to changing demands, and unlock new realms of possibilities.
We therefore don’t provide technology for the sake of technology. We support critical customer objectives; we help them achieve their fundamental needs for machine productivity, reliability, safety and sustainability.
While technology is crucial in today’s resources sector, it need not be an end in itself. It should be seen as a tool that helps customers achieve their business goals – an objective enabler.
Engineered for customer success
As sole dealer of CAT earthmoving machines and related mining and construction equipment across much of Southern Africa, our machinery uses cutting-edge technology backed by highly trained technology experts. But the ultimate purpose of the technology is that it is engineered for success – the success of our customers.
This deployment of technology for success also includes asset-management, digital twin-based scenario plans and operational advisory services tailored to the needs of the customer.
The solutions our customers require from us are generally about increasing productivity. Helping them achieve this usually means reducing their cost of operation, but it’s also about identifying potential risks and addressing them long before they become catastrophic and expensive.
While these principles are universal to the mining industry, it is also true that the industry is undergoing significant disruption. Where mining in Africa was once dominated by major multinationals, now smaller contract miners are entering the sector.
These businesses have particular requirements, and their demands are often driven by a singular focus on the bottom line. Our approach with these partners has been to emphasise the importance of long-term value and productivity, as opposed to short-term savings, which is often a false economy.
As this new cohort of contract miners enters the industry, they can lay a strong foundation for long-term growth by investing in resilient, high-quality equipment solutions that will last longer, require less maintenance, and significantly lower overheads.
This emerging future offers exciting opportunities, as we build relationships with new market entrants. Having spent a good 100 years in the African mining industry, we have some useful insights to share.
Indeed, sometimes our role is as much about advisory as equipment sales. Operating a mine profitably is about the equipment you use, and how you use it. Besides the resource being mined and the mining methods employed, equipment variables that must be considered include product choice, purchase or rental terms, repair options, rebuilds, after-market plant management, training, financing, automation levels, compliance and sustainability.
Helping our customers navigate this array of options, in a way that serves their strategic mission as productively as possible, is where our advisory services show their value.
Technology is certainly part of that. But I remain convinced that despite the current disruptions, mining is still about people. The better we serve the productivity of Africa’s mining operations, the better we meet the aspirations of its people.
Customers don't buy technology, they buy productivity. That requires equipment that is not necessarily laden with the very latest technology, but equipment that is fit for purpose.
The evolving industry demographic, shifting commodity prices, the energy transition, the growing importance of ESG programmes… all of these can only be reconciled by keeping the sector productive. Building a viable industry is the foundation, and everything else flows from there.
Our customers are demanding more energy-efficient products, and we are proud to be able to support them. Be it generators, solar micro-grid solutions, hybrid-power wheel loaders, or built-in load-efficiency software, there are many ways to achieve both carbon- and production efficiency.
Evolved goals, practical choices
Asset-solution advisors are perfectly positioned to reconcile these imperatives. Site visits, fleet audits, and condition monitoring checks help us to advise customers on how they might achieve their production and sustainability objectives. These are evolved goals, but they are informed by very practical choices.
Our asset management solutions employ technologies such as digital twinning, data analysis, operation modelling and purpose-built software solutions to make these recommendations.
As we all know, though, these tools exist to optimise the efficiency of our customers’ operations. It’s not about technology, it’s about using technology optimally, to better serve business and, by extension, our society.