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South Africa’s mining market is dynamic and fast-moving, Siemens Large Drives finds

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South Africa’s mining market is dynamic and fast-moving, Siemens Large Drives finds

Tim Walwyn (right), Oliver Beck (centre) and Martin Creamer (left).
Siemens Large Drives' Oliver Beck, Tim Walwyn talk to Mining Weekly's Martin Creamer. Video: Nicholas Boyd, Shadwyn Dickinson. Video Editing: Darlene Creamer. Pictures: Donna Slater.
Photo by Creamer Media's Donna Slater
Tim Walwyn (right), Oliver Beck (centre) and Martin Creamer (left).

25th November 2022

By: Martin Creamer
Creamer Media Editor

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JOHANNESBURG (miningweekly.com) – South Africa is a super dynamic and super fast-moving market, says Siemens Large Drives global solutions head Oliver Beck, who has just completed a week of discussions with customers to highlight sustainability solutions for mining.

From his perspective, South African mining economy is at the leading edge, which is one of the reasons why Siemens has set up a digital hub in South Africa, which is allowing mining companies to attain visibility of everything from the pit to the port, Beck, accompanied by Tim Walwyn, the country CEO of Siemens Large Drives in South Africa, told Mining Weekly en route to flying back to Germany from Johannesburg International Airport. (Also watch attached Creamer Media video.)

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On the sustainability front, Siemens, which has been part of South Africa’s mining ecosystem from almost the very start, has just launched a new segment of its organisation that enters the area of green hydrogen production in addition to the far-reaching digital services and solutions it can now offer mining.

The German multinational has a long history of supplying power generation solutions and mechanical and electrical equipment for some of South Africa’s earliest mining activities. It has moved through second, third and fourth industrial revolution advances, always adapting to local conditions and engineering locally to meet South Africa’s mining requirements.

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“We really bring everything from heavy rotating equipment, electrical drive systems, power distribution, moving up the levels into automation, process control and optimisation of mining processes, and what we’re really excited about now is the scope of digital services, which span everything from advanced analytics, condition monitoring, optimisation of management processes within the mines and management information systems throughout the entire lifecycles, starting in the early design concept phases, moving right through to operations, modernisation, and maintenance of those operations,” said Walwyn.

The first of Beck’s objectives was to learn about the South African mining market to enable Siemens Large Drives to establish its roadmap – and he believes that objective has been met exceptionally well.

Mining Weekly: What impressions of the South African mining industry will you be taking away with you?

Beck: It was a really exciting week and I have to say that I’m very grateful that I had the opportunity. The team and I visited many customers and partners, had a lot of very interesting discussions to understand the market trends. What I can say is that South Africa is a super dynamic and super fast-moving market. That’s my impression. There are a lot of customers who are early adopters of new technologies. They are trying out new ideas here in South Africa, and then also exporting them and bringing them to other operations around the world. From my perspective, the market and the mining economy is at the forefront, at the leading edge, of this business, and this is really, really cool to see and experience and also be part of. That’s partly the reason why we have such a strong set up in South Africa. We have one of our digital hubs here, where colleagues are driving our digital transformation for customers, with customers.

In what way is Siemens driving sustainability?

In our product portfolio and solutions portfolio, the sustainability part is, I would say, already inherent. For example, if we’re talking about electrical motors, frequency converters, all of those are made to ensure energy efficient production, energy efficient operations. From that side, I would say, it’s already in our DNA. We are still providing diesel-electric propulsion systems, which have much better fuel efficiency and reduce the burn rate of mining trucks. That’s a side where we have been driving sustainability and, on the other side, we’ve just launched a new segment in our organisation for hydrogen production because this really is an important part of, let’s say, circularity and how we can drive sustainability. With our customers and with partners, we want to go into the area of green hydrogen production, to contribute to the energy transition.

How is Siemens responding to the dynamic and challenging business environment that is sweeping the world?

Walwyn: From the local perspective, we’re sitting here in 2022 dealing with all sorts of supply chain challenges and disruptions in terms of the macroeconomic situation and the geopolitics in the world at the moment. We haven’t had time to breathe since the worst impacts of the Covid pandemic left us. We see a constant need for adaptation, flexibility. People talk about sustainability and I think one of the key aspects of sustainability is the ability to sustain operations in changing conditions. One of the things we saw emerge very strongly in the early period of Covid was the ability of digital technologies to help companies to be able to operate in a different way to sustain remote control of operations, where before they had people sitting at the coalface. They really had to step back and be able to use technology to access information to make decisions remotely. That digitalisation aspect is enabling organisations to respond to changes much more dynamically, with much better information at their fingertips, to make decisions in short cycles, which is, I think, something that we’re going to see is here to stay. We keep getting hit with new challenges coming from all directions, and all parts of the business ecosystem, and I don’t think that’s going to change. It’s been really interesting to see South African and African customers reaching out to us and asking how can you help us, what can we do here, how do we adopt this technology. It’s almost been a leapfrog effect in terms of technology adaptation in the last few years.

Beck: What has happened here locally has also happened globally. The first crisis came with Covid and when we thought Covid was over, then all of a sudden there was the global supply chain crisis, which is still on. On top of that, there's geopolitical disruption. We’re still in this perfect storm, where everything is turned upside down, but as we go along, a lot of solutions are found to each and every one of these steps. For example, during Covid, all of a sudden remote working was possible, remote commissioning of our equipment was possible. Siemens Large Drives has quite a large production footprint across the globe. We build our components in many places and that made us quite resilient because if there was a shutdown in one country due to Covid, or there was no supply available at that time, we could balance it out. I’m not saying that we didn’t have a lot of challenges, and we still have, and from my perspective, we’re still in this perfect storm, but so far, both for our customers, our partners and ourselves, we've been able to limit the challenges and the negative impacts.

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