Exxaro joins fourth industrial revolution

Exxaro’s Belfast coal project in Mpumalanga is on target to start producing its first thermal coal in 2020.

The operation, about 10km south-west of Belfast, will be the first mine in South Africa to have a ‘digital twin’ (a complete digital replica of reality). The project is more than 20 years in the making and Exxaro will pay about R3.3-billion to develop the mine. Belfast will unearth of what is thought to be the last big reserves of A-grade, high-yield coal reserves in Mpumalanga. The mine will export close to 2.7 million tonnes of thermal coal a year and has an estimated life of mine of 17 years.

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Exxaro’s Belfast mine is on target to start producing its first thermal coal in 2020.
Image credit: Leon Louw

According to Johan Meyer, executive head: projects and technology at Exxaro, the mine will use the latest technologies to deploy a digital mine operations management system. “This system will generate insights and reports to improve decision-making that will reduce the mine’s costs and ensure it remains low on the cost curve, while increasing productivity,” says Meyer.

The mine’s ‘digital twin’ is a complete digital replica of reality, allowing relevant people to connect to it from anywhere in the world. Even specialist consultant and subject matter experts can view the operations and data and make recommendations without physically visiting the mine. Benefits of this hyper-connectivity include reduced downtime and increased safety.

Meyer says that artificial intelligence would eventually manage the mine and make decisions on its own. “This is where the 6D and 7D capabilities that are built into the project will make their real value felt,” he says.

The Belfast operation is Exxaro’s first greenfields mine since 2007 when Inyanda, near Witbank, was developed. According to Mxolisi Mgojo, CEO at Exxaro, it might not be the last. “We have a long-term journey in coal. It remains one of the pillars of producing energy in our country,” says Mgojo. 


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