Preventative maintenance and remote equipment monitoring can help make operations cost-effective in the beleaguered African mining industry.

Africa has long been a centerpiece of the global mining industry, but several recent continental and foreign affairs have contributed to put mining operations in turmoil. The region is still rich in gold and mineral reserves, but many mining company mainstays have deemed the pressures and costs of doing business in Africa to be prohibitively expensive. While some of the concerns are of an socioeconomic or political nature, many mining operations are plagued by productivity issues. Better mining equipment maintenance strategies can help organizations curtail spending on machinery and devote resources to other problem areas.

Mining operations are essential to sustained economic growth in Africa, according to Mining Technology contributor Heidi Vella, and stabilizing operations there will have benefits for businesses and consumers worldwide. Currently, Africa possesses about 30 percent of global mineral reserves, including 88 percent of all diamond and 42 percent of all gold reserves. However, corruption, secret deals and other illicit activities have cut down on legitimate operations and above-board profitability in the region. The instances and strategies of this corruption can range from large-scale coordinated attacks on transport of materials to corruption at an individual mine. Vella wrote that the best way to retaliate against widespread illicit, clandestine activity is through a process of demanding more clarity and transparency on a comprehensive level.

"It's well known that improving accountability and transparency is the most efficient way to combat such practices, but is this something the industry is comfortable with?" she asked. "In the past, it has often resisted transparency measures."

Companies are understandably reticent about some transparency measures, particularly those proposed by federal and international trade-regulating agencies. Because of the value of their products, however, it is likely the case that more accountability is needed. Organizations can promote internal transparency and protect their investments by acquiring remote equipment monitoring systems. This way, valuable assets can be monitored in an effective, non-invasive manner and a system controller can receive and be in control of accurate readings. The more accountability measures in place, the easier it is for organizations to police themselves.

Spotlight on South Africa
Preventative predictive maintenance measures may be especially warranted in South Africa, where the gold mining industry has been declining amid increased external costs, inconsistent supply and political turmoil. While South Africa housed the world's largest gold mining operation for a century, including a time in the 1970s where the country accounted for nearly 80 percent of all global production, it lost its top spot to China and 2007 and now ranks only sixth, with only 6 percent of global gold production, Reuters reported. Although profits held on for some time, the last few years have seen outside pressures causing revenues to dwindle.

"South Africa's gold mines were able to earn tidy profits in 2008 and 2009 when gold was $1,000/oz, but costs - notably labor and power - have ballooned," reported the news source.

While not a panacea for political and social pressures that must be sorted out, mining equipment maintenance software can help cut down on some of the operations costs, like rising electricity demands and asset investments, than can contribute to industry decline.