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Two new mining research centres at Wits Mining Institute

The Wits Mining Institute (WMI) at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) will boost its contribution to the future of mining by hosting two of the new research centres established through the South African Mining Extraction Research, Development and Innovation (SAMERDI) strategy.

The two SAMERDI Research Centres (SRCs) at the WMI will focus their fundamental research on the themes of Real Time Information Management Systems (RTIMS) and Successful Application of Technology Centred Around People (SATCAP) respectively, and will begin their work in early 2022. These are two of the thematic areas pursued by the Mandela Mining Precinct (MMP) in Johannesburg, which is administered by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).

Ingrid Watson, acting director of the WMI, said they are proud to be involved in the foundational stage of this exciting endeavour.

“These two research centres build on the WMI’s existing expertise, and allow for further interdisciplinary research to inform a 21st century model of mining that is both sustainable and competitive,” said Watson. “Integral to the success of these efforts is the development of local capacity.”

Wits University’s roots in the mining sector extend back nearly 125 years, she said, and the establishment of these collaborative research centres is another way that the institution will support the future success of the country’s mining sector.

The SAMERDI strategy focuses on the modernisation pathway for mining to 2030, and the research centres will conduct fundamental research to create new knowledge about mining technology, data systems and processes associated with the sector, as well as a people-centric focus on the impact of modernisation on jobs, skills, environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, and stakeholder inclusivity. Each research centre will be headed by a Research Competence Lead, and will host a postdoctoral student, a doctoral student and up to four master’s students in a three-year cycle.

The outputs from the research centres will inform the applied research at the MMP, the results of which are felt on mine sites, in communities and throughout the mining value chain. These results will in turn inform the next iteration of the strategic focus for the fundamental research. The MMP is also researching longevity of current mines, mechanised mining systems and advanced orebody knowledge. MMP executive director Johan le Roux added his support to the collaborative partnership with the WMI.

“As the MMP, we are very glad and proud that we reached the stage of establishing the SAMERDI Research Centres,” said le Roux. “We believe that through these partnerships with universities and industry, we will collectively be able to contribute to the development of relevant research and development capacity in South African mining.”

MMP strategic advisor Dick Kruger also highlighted how important this initiative was for the mining industry.

“The competitiveness of the mining sector – as with all industrial sectors – will ultimately be determined by the continuity, extent and quality of innovation across the entire value chain,” said Kruger. “To achieve this, the rapid development of new systems is needed, with a strong focus on localisation of design and manufacture.”

He emphasised, however, that this innovation needed a solid foundation of basic research.

“It is my belief that the research centres will provide this foundation,” he said.

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