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Trust the data

Integrated planning delivers predictable outcomes. By integrating data and plans from different divisions and across planning horizons in a constantly updated operational plan, Sibanye- Stillwater creates a stable and productive environment.

Like most mining companies, Sibanye- Stillwater often experiences operational disruptions from unexpected working conditions or unplanned delays. An optimal, coordinated response requires fast and smart planning that spans operational silos and timelines. Sibanye-Stillwater has partnered with specialist mining software company MineRP, a subsidiary of Epiroc, to implement an Integrated Mining Enterprise (IME) solution. The project’s objective is to support a standardized operational model through actionable insight and rapid integrated planning capabilities.

We brought Sibanye-Stillwater’s Senior Vice President of Corporate Mining Strategy and Technology Tom van den Berg and MineRP’s Mining Executive Francois Naude together to discuss pitfalls, learnings and successes achieved so far.

How did Sibanye-Stillwater come to partner with MineRP to implement an IME solution?

Tom van den Berg: “If we go back in time, MineRP was once one of the company’s suppliers. Sibanye-Stillwater was looking for a solution for its gold mines, where disruptions are often caused by unexpected rock conditions, seismic events, and so on. These disruptions cause lots of variability in production, and combatting this variability requires constant replanning. The idea was to work out how to replan quickly and know what to say to our stakeholders.”

Francois Naude: “Yes, Tom. As you said, the relationship with Sibanye-Stillwater was not new. As we developed our product, our clients had the opportunity to move from legacy systems to the new MineRP platform. In Sibanye-Stillwater’s case, the upgrade came with new capabilities that were identified as quick wins. Life of mine and business plans could be rerun much quicker, and planning and scheduling could be integrated. This helped us to create greater confidence and start responding more proactively to identified challenges ahead.”

What challenges were identified and how were they tackled jointly?

Francois Naude: “Implementing an IME is bigger than replacing software. It becomes a discussion about changing organizational structures and business processes.”

Tom van den Berg: “The company had to understand that it was engaged in a cultural shift across a number of business units. Sibanye-Stillwater is effectively six legacy companies pulled into one. The first challenge was resistance to change. We had to implement the system and demonstrate how the IME process works.”

Francois Naude: “Yes, that’s why we bring in a team of mining and technology experts and configure the platform for you while you run your mine. Then we operate it so you can see how it works before we hand it over. Tom, the benefit you and I have is that we don’t see each other as client and service provider. We’re working for the same outcome. You invite me to internal sessions. We talk about how we can navigate these challenges through this big organization. Then we put a plan together.”

You have implemented the system at Saffy Mine and Thembelani Mine. What improvements were realized?

Tom van den Berg Senior VP, Corporate Mining Strategy and Technology, Sibanye-Stillwater

Tom van den Berg: “Our purpose is to safeguard global sustainability through metals. Our values are innovation, commitment, accountability, respect, enabling and safety. By creating a safe and enabling environment through these values, we create value for all our stakeholders. One of the improvements you see is that planned work is safe work. Through this process, we can save lives, save mines and generate value.”

Francois Naude: “At Saffy, staff turnover was higher than usual recently. At that level of churn, you normally see lower production rates and higher safety incident rates. But Saffy Mine has maintained its performance. The risk has been reduced because better information is available, which means new staff are brought up to speed much faster as long as they stick to the plan. The data doesn’t lie.”

Tom van den Berg: “As you say, Francois, even if people are replaced, the new arrivals can take the steering wheel with greater insight and have the confidence to start driving.”

Francois Naude: “Another thing we realized is that the system will identify problems that exist in the organization, but it is not going to fix them. You need to do that.” 

What issues did the system identify at Thembelani Mine and Saffy Mine?

Francois Naude, Mining Executive, MineRP

Francois Naude: “At Saffy Mine, we came to realize after numerous runs of the MineRP Planner that it would take more time to change from an up-dip mining method to a breast mining method. Previously, the technology only updated the life of mine once a year. This is now done monthly. We realized that there were not enough available reserves to maintain the current production rates, and we were able to adjust the plan to access older areas while opening up further reserves. That was a massive benefit. At Thembelani Mine, the productivity rate of the stoping crews was a challenge. The IME process highlighted that we needed to increase the production support services by increasing pipe sizes for compressed air and also improve rail conditions to enable the crews to work at their full potential.”

Tell us about future rollout plans?

Tom van den Berg: “The Proof of Concept was accepted. We were given the opportunity to do two mines, and we’re going to do proof of concept on a third mine. As we move on to new areas, it goes a lot faster. The tipping point probably will come at around six or seven mines. We can now turn around and say: let’s go and look at what happened at Thembelani Mine, at Saffy Mine. People are asking: when’s this process coming to us?”

Francois Naude: “The official rollout schedule is to complete all the conventional platinum shafts by the beginning of 2025. And as you say, Tom, once you’ve done that, you’ve reached a tipping point and there’s no turning back.”

In Focus: Sibanye-Stillwater
Sibanye-Stillwater is a major international precious metals mining company with operations in the Americas, Southern Africa, Europe and Australia. Its portfolio initially consisted of gold, before then adding platinum group metals and later lithium, copper, nickel and zinc. In 2021, the company acquired interests in lithium and nickel projects in line with its battery metals strategy.
The company’s global mineral reserves of 70.6 million ounces and mineral resources of 389.5 million ounces support a long life for its mines.
• 84 481 employees
• Founded in 2013 in South Africa
• Adjusted EBITDA US$2.5bn in 2022

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