By Bryan Nyamayedenga and Paul Matshona
In the era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (41R), mining is undergoing a significant transformation. 4IR in the context of the mining industry is referred to as Mining 4.0. which entails the introduction of automation and digitalization into the mining processes leveraging research and innovation to increase efficiency, sustainability, and overall productivity. This has evidenced by adoption of zero-sum mining practices, semi-autonomous and autonomous equipment, telecommunications infrastructural developments in a bid to maximize on data acquisition, and utilization in decision making.
In that transformation the role of training and education to upskill and reskill the existing workforce and new entrance is critical. By integrating digitalization and automation into its training programs, the Zimbabwe School of Mines (ZSM) is responding to Mining 4.0, helping mining companies to enhance safety, optimise resource extraction and environmental protection. This article explores the journey of ZSM in the industry and how it is reshaping an age-old conventional mining system into the digital age..
The ZSM is a leading training institution, whose mandate is pivotal to the socio-economic development of Zimbabwe. Close to a century, from its inception in 1926, the School still prides itself in producing competent mining practitioners who are extremely in demand in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region and internationally. With a total enrolment of 1165 students in 2023 alone, the school has noted significant growth for the past three years. Overall female enrolment increased from 30% in 2022 to 34% in 2023 showing strides in promoting the woman participation in the mining industry enhancing just transition in the mining sector.
Amid the ever-evolving digitalisation of the economy and the mining sector, the school stands at the forefront, embracing the industrial revolution. With an innovative approach, ZSM is transforming the mining industry into a realm that is not only efficient but also environmentally friendly. Thriving on the introduction of a first-of-its-kind diploma in mining engineering for Shaft Technicians. Mines will benefit from skilled practitioners, with vast hands-on experience in Shaft Engineering making the mining environment safer and efficient. Gone are the days of manual labor and hazardous working conditions. ZSM has ushered in a new era of mining, where automation and digitization are the keys to success. The School has aligned its training programs to include robotics and artificial intelligence (ROAI), seeing an increase in students developing projects using new-age technologies. To enhance continued learning, the school has a vibrant ROAI club that has partnered with local and international organisations to capacitate students.
Autonomous locomotive, project done by Clayton Jakata- 2023 third year mining engineering
Zimbabwe School of Mines also seeks to expand its Drone Training and Technical Services providing a variety of drone training programs for all levels of the mining industry as well as surveying solutions. This initiative will assist the industry to survey and monitor in accessible areas on surface enhancing productivity in tacheometry.
ZSM’s commitment to embracing the industrial revolution is evident in its investment in research and development of new training programs that are conversant with industrial changes. The change requires managers in the future of work to be adaptive and dependent on data to make decision. With efforts to reskill mining practitioners, the school has developed a training program for miners, an Executive Diploma in Mine Management designed to equip technical mining professionals with the competencies that will enable them to operate versatile, sustainable, and cost-effective mining operations. ZSM is constantly pushing the boundaries of what is possible in the mining industry.
ZSM’s embrace to the industrial revolution will not only transform operations but also shape the future of the entire industry. The introduction of autonomous equipment requires robust spares and components that may be fabricated locally to enhance circular economy. The re-imagination of the industry requires skills in iron and steel making and foundry technologies. The school has developed a diploma in Iron and Steel Making, and a diploma in Foundry Technologies to reduce skills gap in iron and steel sector. This will be supported by the ZSM Foundry Innovation hub. The role of safety and health in the future of works and life after mining is imperative. With the development of a Diploma in Mine Occupational Safety, Health and Environment Management, the skill set acquired will help to promote utmost safety standards and occupational health that ensures sustainability of communities in which mines operate. Implementation of the ZSM Mine Rescue Club has seen the school producing highly qualified practitioners with skills in First Aid and Mine Rescue as students compete with Mines. This helps to drive a safety and health culture among the students required in the future of works. New opportunities are going to be unearthed due to the increase in skill sets and employment opportunities in the mining industry.
Students at the 2023 First Aid Zonal competitions
Mining 4.0 promotes beneficiation using a minimum dosage of mineral processing reagents. Effluent in tailings dam has a significant environmental impact. To drive efficiency in processing, the school has well-equipped Assay and Geochemical laboratory that is used for training, ore sampling and analysis. The laboratory services the Mining Industry as a second opinion. Capable of conducting tests for about 200 mineral products and related raw materials, the laboratory is specialized for elemental and oxide analysis using the X-ray fluorescence (XRF), Fire Assaying with Atomic Absorption Spectroscopy (ASS) finish, Acid Digestions, Solution samples analysis, Water analysis, Sample Preparation and Analysis, Soil Analysis, Cyanide Leach Tests, and Carbon Analysis.
Energy transition in the mining sector is important and the advancement of the extraction of lithium and battery minerals (LBM) will help the industry to adopt clean energy that support new equipment and mining processes. ZSM is fostering dialogues to promote extraction and processing of the LBM. The school successfully held a LBM Conference whose theme was “Powering Zimbabwe’s Future: Exploring Opportunities and Challenges for Sustainable Development in Lithium and Battery Minerals Industry”, a conference which attracted international audiences and local stakeholders as minerals are going to lead the growth of the global economy. This is an annual conference; the dialogue continues into November 2024.