"Our software development program focuses quite heavily on process optimization through digitization, which has been accelerated by the onset of the pandemic."
Can you highlight some of BME’s achievements since 2020?
One of the main areas of focus this year was manoeuvring through the Covid-19 global pandemic. In South Africa, we faced a challenging lockdown and we had some cross-border challenges. However, despite these issues, we managed to maintain our supply chain service offering to our customers. A highlight for BME is that the company maintained its impeccable safety record and in November 2020 we received a CAIA safety award for sustained performance, which we are incredibly proud of. We also enjoyed a world-class recordable case rate at 0.11 which compares well to our peers in the market.
From a product offering perspective, we announced the launch of our Blast Alliance brand. We already offer a wide range of high-value products, equipment, capital, technical services and technologies to the market. The Blast Alliance brand brings all this value into one space. From a software perspective, our progress in digitization technology has been quite phenomenal. In current times, digitization technologies have gained a significant pace by default, and we have aligned ourselves to the new norm of working and are moving in the right direction together with the market.
Can you elaborate on BME’s BLASTMAP product and why you saw a need for it in underground mines?
From a value and revenue-generating perspective, it has been predicted that smart mining technologies will grow fourfold in the next three years. Our BLASTMAP and XPLOLOG software play a fundamental role in supporting real-time reporting in the mining industry. BLASTMAP is essentially the start of the cycle for the process of blasting and allows you to easily design and predict the outcome of blasts. The information is sent to the XPLOLOG system, which then applies it in the field so management can see what is happening on the block and during blasting in real time. This becomes very important in underground areas which are difficult to reach but where management nonetheless needs operational information in real time to make informed decisions.
Other significant features in our software development are data storage and data mining, where historical data is organized to build trends, model them, and make precise predictions. From a digitization perspective, all these aspects help you in optimizing your entire mining process.
On the other hand, autonomy and operating machinery without human intervention are in our pipeline for the future. However, the application of robotics is not advanced in some SADC markets where in some cases it is difficult to access narrow reef underground operations, for example. With regards to surface mining, BME is developing autonomous bulk emulsion units. Our software development program focuses quite heavily on process optimization through digitization, which has been accelerated by the onset of the pandemic.
What is hindering the move towards smart mining for a jurisdiction such as South Africa?
Due to the rich mining history in the SADC region, there is generally an excellent availability of skills. However, when it comes to digitization and automation, skills may be lacking. This is not only in the SADC region but is rather a global phenomenon. South Africa’s mining market is unique in terms of ultra-deep mining in underground operations, which create their own challenges; the deeper the ore body, for instance, the more difficult it becomes to implement automation and digitization technologies.
As BME celebrates its 37th anniversary in 2021, what is the company’s vision for the next three years?
BME would like to grow in the mining digitization technology space and be perceived as a partner to the mining industry, adding value by optimizing productivity. We would also like to diversify across our regions, commodities and currencies.
From a strategic initiative perspective, sustainability is the priority. Our emulsion product uses recycled oil that is collected, processed, and utilised in some of our solutions in order to remove the used oil from the environment and thus has financial and environmental benefits. Within the next two years, we will also have all our plants utilising renewable energy, decreasing our carbon footprint significantly.