Why processes, systems and technology are material to Pan African Resources
While Pan African Resources remains reliant on human resources, technology is transforming the workplace in all industries, including mining. We recognise the importance of responding swiftly to this evolution through targeted investments in people, technologies and data-driven systems.
At the same time, we are aware that in an increasingly technological world, we face a higher risk of exposure to cybercrime and related risks. We need to take all steps necessary to protect our interests and those of our stakeholders from these risks.
Management’s key focus areas for technology and processes are to improve safety performance, deliver quality ounces, optimise the performance of Elikhulu and identify and advance value-accretive growth opportunities.
Risk management is integral to achieving safe mining systems and efficient operations. Potential new processes and technologies are scrutinised through a risk assessment process and, if adopted, are applied in line with detailed risk-based management plans. The board is ultimately responsible for technology and information governance, which is guided by an information technology (IT) charter and protection of personal information policy.
Each operation has formal business continuity and disaster management plans in place, which are directly overseen by mine general managers.
Balancing Underground and Surface Mining
As underground mining has become riskier and less profitable, Pan African Resources has increased its focus on low-risk, low-cost and efficient gold tailings processing. Our production is now more evenly split between underground mining and surface operations with an 53:47 split for the current year. This is a significant improvement from 2018 when underground mining accounted for 76% of our total gold output.
BTRP has been a major milestone for Pan African Resources as it has demonstrated its capacity to add significant low-cost ounces to the group’s production profile. In 2018, a regrind mill was installed at BTRP to improve throughput and recoveries of course fraction material from the Harper and Vantage dumps. The mill has proven successful in 2019, and has already increased tonnages and improved recoveries, restoring BTRP to 20,000oz of gold per year at an all-in sustaining cost of US$552/oz.
The BIOX® process exposes the gold in sulphide minerals for subsequent cyanidation and raises the overall recovery of gold ounces. Barberton Mines is the birthplace of BIOX®, an environmentally friendly process that uses bacteria to release gold from the sulphide that surrounds it. Given its established expertise, Barberton Mines is used as a training facility for BIOX® plants globally. The BIOX® process only works with specific ores, such as those found at Barberton and offers numerous advantages. For example, BIOX®:
◗ is environmentally friendly
◗ delivers higher gold recovery rates
◗ incurs significantly lower capital costs to develop and operate
◗ is a robust technology that is well suited to remote locations
◗ meets daily operational requirements suited to semi-skilled labour and on-the-job training
◗ offers opportunity for continuous improvement through ongoing process development.
Gas Chromatography Mass Spectrometry
Maintaining the BIOX® plant at optimum bacterial health increases gold recovery. During the current financial year, we invested in gas chromatography mass spectrometry (GCMS) technology to analyse the health of bacterial cultures at the BIOX® plant. GCMS is an analytical method that combines the features of gas-liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry to identify different substances within a test sample.
The gas chromatography (GC) instrument is effective in separating compounds into their various components, while the mass spectrometry (MS) instrument provides specific results. Our laboratory analysts use the GC instrument to separate compounds before analysis with the MS instrument, giving them access to mass spectral data. This analysis facilitates the effective control of plant conditions and optimal bacterial health, to ensure the highest possible rate of sulphide oxidation.
The plant has had no serious hydrocarbon incidents since the installation of the GC, and now the GCMS, and the recovery rate has improved to more than 98%.
Information and Technology
Underground Safety Monitoring
Our underground operations at Barberton Mines use advanced technology to monitor water and oxygen levels, lighting, ventilation systems, temperatures and air circulation. Automated switch control devices activate water pumps and fans before employees commence underground work, while fridge plants ensure that underground working temperatures are maintained at comfortable levels. Best practice in this field requires that underground temperatures never exceed 32.5oC and we make every effort to maintain our underground temperatures below 31.5oC.
While the above-mentioned automated technology plays a massive role in ensuring the efficiency of our underground operations, we acknowledge that there can be risks associated with automation and mechanical systems. As such, operators and supervisors have the ability to manually override these systems in emergency situations.
We continue to see an improvement in productivity and efficiency in the administrative and management functions at Barberton Mines. This is a direct result of faster, more reliable connectivity and improved analysis of mining data.
We previously made the decision to move away from ADSL connectivity and considered fibre as an alternative option. Fibre bandwidth restrictions in the Barberton area, however, forced us to reconsider this and we have now transferred most of our connectivity to microwave technology. This affords us significantly faster and more stable connections and the combination of the two technologies should ensure that we have at least some connectivity at all times.
The potential for cybercrime and illegal systems access is an everpresent risk that Pan African Resources recognises it needs to proactively prevent. Our entire IT and communications network is secured by means of password protection and verification, so that users wishing to access the network require authorised access certificates. We conduct regular penetration tests to identify network or system vulnerabilities and immediately address all issues found.
All Pan African Resources data is backed up onto an external, off-site server located at a data-recovery site. Should our central server be compromised in any way, or experience a fault, we are able to restore full server functionality with limited downtime using the constantly updated image on the backup server.
Challenging the way things have always been done is a priority and a value instilled in our culture. By developing new solutions, encouraging new ways of thinking and finding new ways of working, we will continue to dramatically improve our business and competitiveness.
We will continue to encourage an entrepreneurial and innovative culture across all our operations as this type of culture is essential to identifying and exploiting opportunities for the benefit of all our stakeholders.
We are in the process of improving our biometrics system with a view to better managing employee record keeping and monitoring attendance and overtime. Once completed, the enhanced system will feed into the payroll and human resource processes to improve accuracy, reliability and reporting.