By Sesona Ngqakamba
A robot platform known as the "Monster" is one of the technologies that the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) hopes will improve safety in mines.
This is according to the CSIR, which on Tuesday showcased the technologies that would aid the country's mining sector at the Mandela Mining Precinct in Johannesburg.
Principal researcher at CSIR Dr Shaniel Davrajh said robotic technology in mines would be able to reach areas not easily accessible during an incident.
"A robot equipped with safety inspection sensors will enter the mine during a safety period. It becomes very difficult and dangerous for humans to enter into the mine after an incident," Davrajh said.
Davrajh said the Monster also has the ability to assess and identify risks in underground mines.
Other technology that was showcased was a ground penetrating radar (GPR). The radar is used for rock mass stability investigations.
40% of fatalities caused by fall of ground
Geophysicist Dr Michael Van Schoor said the GPR would provide valuable information regarding immediate hanging wall integrity.
He added that there was a need for reliable rock mass stability determination in mining.
"Managing health and safety risk in a mine requires real-time monitoring and quantification of the underground hazards and the exposure of personnel and equipment to such hazards," Van Schoor said.
He said 40% of mining fatalities were caused by the fall of ground, a statistic which could be reduced by GPR technology.
Glass rock technology was also showcased. According to the council, the technology will allow miners to see through rock faces where reefs are located.
Van Schoor said most of the technologies were still early experimental prototypes that would first need to be proven effective and then commercialised before being eventually taken underground.
Mining companies 'positive'
"Some of the technologies like the GPR are very much more mature. In fact some mines are already using GPR technologies," Van Schoor told News24 during the exhibition.
He added that the organisation was working on improving the technologies every day.
"Because it's not that easy to use these technologies, some mines will buy it and use it on a needs basis. But we encourage mines to implement these under routine basis. In order to do that we have to modify them," Van Schoor added.
He said the council would probably, for the next decade, work towards finding more solutions that would help the mining industry.
"There are different programmes for different technologies. Some focus on safety and others on production improvements," Van Schoor said.
He added that mining companies were positive towards the technologies that would improve safety.
Spate of mining deaths
"Many years ago, mines were a bit careful to just bring any technology to the mine, which is understandable, because you cannot just take anything underground, it must be proven, safe and must add value to them," he said.
Van Schoor added that mining companies were, however, now more excited about and interested in most of the technologies.
The CSIR believes that the technologies it has developed can play a major role in mitigating fatalities in mines.
In the latest spate of mineworker deaths, six workers died after a fire broke out at the Palabora Mining Company mine in eastern Limpopo this month.
Meanwhile, the death toll at Sibanye-Stillwater's operations this year alone stands at more than 20 – close to half of the fatalities in the entire mining industry.