Research chairs

Harmony Gold Chair in Rock Engineering and Numerical Modelling

This research chair was established in the Department of Mining Engineering in 2015 as a vehicle to assist the South African mining industry to conduct research in rock engineering, and specifically the use of numerical modelling techniques within the field. It will ultimately serve the whole mining industry and evaluate substantially more rock engineering issues than originally intended.

It is focused on directed research into specific rock engineering problems and the associated solutions. Specific objectives include promoting study and research in the field of rock engineering, furthering education and learning in the field of rock engineering at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels, and furthering the interaction between academic institutions and the mining industry.

It is in its third three-year funding cycle by Harmony Gold, which will continue until the end of December 2022. The acting Chairholder is Prof Francois Malan

Research undertaken in this Chair includes developing new mine design criteria for deep gold mines, exploiting remnants in old mines and a study of mining rate.

Research topics include the following strategic projects:

  • Developing enhanced design criteria for mature deep-level mines.
  • Investigating the use of a limit equilibrium model to simulate pillar and remnant behaviour in gold mines.
  • Investigating the use of closure data as a proxy measure of energy stably dissipated during fracture formation and stable movements on discontinuities such as bedding planes.
  • Investigating the use of underground instrumentation as a diagnostic measure of rock mass behaviour.
  • Testing the newly developed concepts and criteria in a number of practical situations at Harmony Gold operations.
  • The continuous development of the inelastic constitutive models used in numerical codes. Investigations to improve the ability of the code to handle large-scale mining areas while providing accurate and detailed results will be undertaken. 

The Chair has the strategic aim of developing specialised rock engineering research capacity at the University of Pretoria. Any suggestions of applied or fundamental research topics within rock engineering can be submitted to Prof Francois Malan at [email protected]

AEL Intelligent Blasting Chair in Innovative Rock-breaking Technology

This research chair was established in the Department of Mining Engineering in 2018 to channel the support of AEL Intelligent Blasting (AEL) into new technologies that would synergistically benefit the research capabilities of both the funder and the Department. In the process, it would allow AEL to exploit the University’s virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) expertise and facilities. These visual technologies can be applied in several areas, such as the training of AEL personnel and other stakeholders and the 3D scanning of mine environments, which would enable analysis and visualisation in an immersive, virtual setting.

The Chair supports groundbreaking projects that, through the sharing of the expertise of AEL and the Department of Mining Engineering, can resolve pressing issues within the mining industry. It is in its final year of a three-year funding cycle by AEL Intelligent Blasting. Negotiations are underway to enter into a second funding cycle, which will extend until the end of 2023. The Chairholder is Prof William Spiteri.

The focus of the Chair is on three projects in particular:

  • Developing a quantitative measuring technique to physically capture and study the in-flight motion of flyrock in order to improve on predictive models and to better understand the causative factors. (Read more
  • The application of VR technology to enhance the learning process of AEL personnel and related stakeholders (such as customers). The assembly and operation of the Detnet electronic detonator system and components was identified as an initial pilot project. Game-based programmes would allow problem scenarios to be interactively solved and trainees’ performance evaluated. (Read more
  • The development of techniques to convert visual data (such as video footage obtained by a drone flying over an open pit mine) into 3D VR and AR images. (Read more)

Murray & Roberts Chair in Industry Leadership 4.0

This research chair was established in the Department of Mining Engineering in 2019 to provide specialised skills and capacity building that are essential to the implementation of optimised systems related to the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) through defined leadership strategies.

It is in its first year of a three-year funding cycle by Murray and Roberts, which comes to an end in December 2022. The Chairholder is Prof Ronny Webber-Youngman.  
Dr Johann Uys
 is employed as a senior researcher in the Chair.

The following initiatives will form part of this research chair: 

  • Short-term research related to technology adoption and implementation in the industry 
  • Short courses and workshop interventions to provide delegates with sufficient levels of personal readiness; guide leaders to become strategists and implementers of new technologies; do global benchmarking in Industry 4.0 senior leaders’ acceptance of technology principles; and steer change management 
  • Long-term research with specific leadership adoption in a changing industrial world, with the purpose of preparing leaders for the new high-technology landscape 
  • Training and continuing professional development initiatives that will make use of the Department’s virtual reality facilities 

The establishment of this Chair illustrates the Department’s innovative approach to grooming future leaders on a broader scale in the engineering and construction industry: taking account of the exponential advancement of technology in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) environment. By understanding the importance of leadership in the implementation of new technologies, the Department aims to develop introspective leaders, who will continually challenge and develop their analytical ability and leadership effectiveness. This will contribute to their companies becoming more competitive and sustainable in an industry that is being transformed by high-tech innovation and disruptive technologies. The Chair collaborates with the Department’s Mining Engineering Leadership Academy (M&R MELA).

Exxaro Chair in XR Technology

This research chair was established with the support of Exxaro in 2020 to establish more efficient and inventive coal mining practices. It is a joint chair located in the Department of Information Science in the Faculty’s School of Information Technology. It focuses on research related to extended reality (XR) technology, with the obstacles associated with mining-related challenges as one of its key initiatives.

As the all-pervasive nature of XR technology and its applications are becoming increasingly evident, their relevance in mining-related challenges focus on optimising the resources of companies like Exxaro, one of the top five coal producers in South Africa. The chair will therefore concentrate on providing expertise in the following areas:

  • Selecting the most appropriate XR technology for the specific application, and then designing interactions that can enable intuitive interaction with virtual environments.
  • Extensive user testing of proposed solutions to ensure that the solutions address as many of the challenges as possible.
  • Exposing users to the technology through creative interactive paradigms and introductions to the experiences to ensure accessibility to the technology.
  • Educating and training the next generation of developers and researchers with real-world projects that are unique to XR technology and immersive learning in student programmes, postgraduate research projects and industry projects.

The chair will offer a twofold framework: Firstly, it focuses on how the XR technology can be used to address the respective challenges, and secondly it identifies which of the available technologies will best serve the solution.

The following are some examples of the different technology trade-offs:

  • The application and utilisation of individual or shared virtual reality (VR)
  • Mobile VR versus tethered VR versus cave setup
  • Using VR to communicate/facilitate or interact/influence
  • Tracked versus untracked VR space
  • Hand tracking versus full-body tracking

The chair will make use of the Virtual Reality and Interaction (VRI) Laboratory, which is hosted in the Department of Information Science, and will apply XR technologies to design interactive user experiences for numerous real-world practicalities. The emphasis is on using commercial XR technologies for user-centred problem-solving to find solutions to intricate academic and industry-related problems.

With further support, the process will be extended to increase education opportunities, advance the development process and promote the number of project-based research outputs. The chairholder is Prof Ina Fourie, Head of the Department of Information Science, with Prof Ronny Webber-Youngman, Head of the Department of Mining Engineering, as acting advisor to the chair. Mr Koos de Beer of the Department of Information Science and Mr Jannie Maritz of the Department of Mining Engineering are overseeing the chair’s researchers and consultants.

Published by Marietha Hicks

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