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AngloGold Ashanti plans for a mining renaissance

“The future of mining underground will change dramatically in the next few years and suppliers need to be ready for the shift”

SAMSSA Members were recently treated to a special strategic plan regarding the mine of the future by Michael MacFarlane who  is a Senior Vice President with AngloGold Ashanti which is a leading gold mining company, headquartered in Johannesburg, with a portfolio of 21 operations spanning 10 countries.  Born and educated in Canada, Michael holds a Bachelor of Engineer degree in Mining.  He previously worked for Vale Inco for 16 years in Canada where he was Director for Mining and Milling for their Canadian operations.  He became Senior Vice President with AngloGold Ashanti in 2010.

Mike was asked a number of key questions about this evolving mining event worldwide.

1. What is the key assumption you are using as a premise for the mine of the future?

Our specific view is what I had presented to SAMSSA members and addresses our deep gold mining issues in South Africa.  We are working to unlock more than 70 million ounces of ultra deep resource.  The problem we are solving is how to mine all the gold – only the gold, all the time.  My presentation was specific to technology to address these main value drivers.  Most underground mining operations worldwide are trying to automate the current mechanization process ( drill and blast). In our mind, this implies robotics and we feel this technology is not ready and is still some time off.  We think the mine of the future will be automated based on mechanical rock cutting, not mechanization and drill and blast.

2. What particular planning issue must you first clear up before actual implementation?

The future is still a few years away. We will continue to mine with hand-held cut and fill for the interim period.  We have a large internal program underway to address variation in the production process that focuses on planning, scheduling and execution of  day-to-day work.

3. What is the difference between mechanization and automation in your plan in South Africa?

Mechanization is the move from hand-held operations to a new production process where the physical effort is transferred to machines … jumbo drills from hand held drills, for example.  Automation  removes people from the production process and moves to a machine based process. Surface milling is the best example in our industry.

4. What would be the extraction model underground that we would see in five years?

In our deep South African operations,  we are expecting to be transitioning from hand held to automation.  We would have completed the prototype phases 1 & 2 and would be moving to wide-scale implementation.  On a wider view, Rio Tinto, starting about five years ago looks to be fully committed to moving to mechanical rock cutting – at least for development.  Therefore, I would expect as the very least that tunnel boring will be wide spread in five years for development work  and many operations will have moved that thinking to stopping if the mining method is conducive.

5. What do you expect from mining suppliers as you move forward?

We expect our supplier base to understand the “new reality” and with their entrepreneurial and creative skills help solve the many issues that help to fully realize the full potential of the new production process.

6. What is the design of the virtual network of support you envision?

The virtual network is designed around specific operational issues that generally arise from a strategic review.  Often companies complete a review and then try to solve the problems with internal resources.  Secondly they may reach outside their company boundaries but often stay local.  Our Global Technical Consortium is looking for the very best people worldwide to come and help solve local problems. Obviously getting the appropriate incentive system in place is key and this continues to unfold as the models are news and largely untested.

7. What political wall could you face as you implement your smart mine in South Africa?

The context in South Africa is generally two fold. First of all, the safety and health of employees is job one and we must rethink the mining process to bring about the desired improvements. On the other hand, moving to machine based mining process will probably reduce job opportunities, so we have coupled our thinking on intelligent mining processes with thinking on how new jobs can be created.

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About Dick DeStefano

Dick DeStefano is Executive Director of SAMSSA [email protected]

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