Africa has the largest minerals industry in the world. The continent is home to vast reserves of industrial diamonds, Platinum Group Metals (PGM), phosphate rock, bauxite, cobalt, zirconium, vermiculite, gold, copper, iron ore, lead, coal, manganese, natural diamonds and uranium. These resources are all essential to the world’s new digital economy and the transition to green energy. In 2018, the transactional value of foreign investment into Africa’s mining sector amounted to a massive $47 billion. In South Africa, the mining industry is one of the largest industries, and certainly one of the most important. More than 60 different minerals are produced from over 1 000 mines and quarries. On the one hand, the industry provides raw material to a variety of domestic sectors, while on the other, large amounts of metals and minerals are exported to earn foreign exchange.
While there are currently sufficient well-trained mining engineers to meet the country’s need, the challenge is to utilise them in different working environments and disciplines. In order for the industry to reach its potential, it is necessary for mining engineering graduates to accept the challenges of developing and adapting techniques to further advance engineering solutions in mining for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). Several technical, discipline-specific career opportunities such as 3D mine planning and design, rock engineering, ventilation engineering and systems engineering are gaining increasing importance and recognition.
As a profession, mining engineering encompasses a broad spectrum of engineering work. The design of mining excavations, along with the required equipment and services, as well as the planning and management of mining operations, is the responsibility of the mining engineer. Professional mining engineers also provide expert advice on rock breaking, blasting materials, transport systems, mine planning and scheduling, mechanical tunnel development, mine climate control, rock mechanics, support of excavations, devising mining methods, and the design and development of equipment, depending on their areas of specialisation.
Automation and artificial intelligence are changing the mining landscape at an increasing pace, which means that there is a growing need to change the way mining has traditionally been done. Bright, innovative young minds are needed to take on innovative approaches to make our mines safe, healthy and productive. In this regard, mining research is changing the future, and this is where students with a different way of thinking, and who are interested in reshaping the mining industry, will be able to find a challenging and rewarding career.
Mining engineers are employed at all levels in the industry and opportunities for mining engineers exist across the world. The University of Pretoria’s academic programmes in mining engineering and applied science mining expose students to a wide range of engineering disciplines to encourage the development of new areas of expertise in mining.
- Mine managers
- Mine design, incorporating 3D visualisation techniques
- Mine feasibility studies
- Drilling, tunnelling and shaft sinking
- Mine ventilation
- Rock breaking and explosives
- Mining equipment design and manufacturing
- Mining houses
- Mining governance institutions
- Mining industry institutions
- Mining research institutions
- Suppliers in mining-related industries
- Financial institutions
- Construction and contractor companies
- Mine research institutions
Mining, minerals and a low-carbon future
The mining and minerals industry is under pressure from all quarters (government, communities, investors and environmental organisations) to adopt sustainable business practices and reduce the effect that mining has on the environment over the complete life cycle of a mine. With the growing need for minerals to fuel the transition to a low-carbon future, there is potential for sustainable growth in the sector. This future needs innovative young minds to lead the charge and develop creative solutions for a better tomorrow.
Mining, minerals and the 4IR
The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), and now already the Fifth Industrial Revolution, holds extensive possibilities for the mining and minerals industry. Without mining, the 4IR will not be possible. “Mining is not everything, but without mining there is nothing.” Not only are mineral resources crucial to meeting the growing demand for 4IR technology enablers like lithium-ion batteries, but the practical implementation of digital technologies can also bring about positive change in mine safety and environmental sustainability. Numerous opportunities have been identified in the fields of cyber-physical systems, the Internet of Things, cloud computing, robotics, artificial intelligence-based systems, additive manufacturing, virtual reality, augmented reality and even extended reality.