Legacy sectors, like mining and resources, remain a staple of South Africa’s economic growth and the growth of its road transport and logistics systems, along with the dominant manufacturing sector. The need for AI-enabled telematics solutions is urgently needed to get the most out of our existing roads, as well as those under development. Webfleet South Africa sales director, Justin Manson, takes a glimpse into the future of digitally designed and managed roads and fleet management systems.

The South African economy has long been characterised by an over-reliance on its resources sector, transporting its wealth of minerals reserves directly to its harbours along the eastern and western coasts for export, without much value-adding.

Although manufacturing has now grown to be the largest sector, utilising South African freight and logistics systems, the fastest growing sectors include the oil, gas, mining and quarrying sectors.

According to a study by Mordor Intelligence, the entire commercial transportation sector is expected to experience a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6.19% between 2017 and 2029, with manufacturing as the largest sector and resources as the fastest growing, at 7.61% CAGR for the period.

Natural resources will likely remain a large generator of South Africa’s income, at least into the medium-term. This, however, should not mean a return to old production methods, but a commitment to sophistication at every leg of the value chain.

Even mining has evolved since the settler days, which were thick with the fever of an international gold and diamond rush into the continent, and thin on the tech side of things.

Artificial intelligence-powered telematics systems that guarantee progressive improvements in vehicle traffic flows, supply chains and overall efficiencies in the running and maintenance of equipment over the years, has now become a crucial component of maintaining margins at ageing mines.

This technology can further help improve safety and reduce ecological impact by enabling predictive maintenance of equipment, real-time monitoring of environmental conditions and automating dangerous tasks. Additionally, AI-powered simulations can aid in training workers to handle emergency situations effectively.

The South African mining industry, like any other, needs continuous innovation just to stay above water. In the National Infrastructure Plan 2040 (NIP 2050), government will be spending US$146.07 billion (nearing the three-trillion mark in rands) in 276 projects over the 10 years from 2020. A comprehensive review of the entire road system serving logistics operators from mining shaft and access design, including public roads, as well as the mine’s own internal network. Roads need to bear greater loads, while being safer and more suited to high-volume transportation.

This thinking needs to be applied to ports, manufacturing facilities, warehouses, national highways and the municipal roads that form the last mile of access for manufacturers and extractors alike. From fast moving consumer goods, agricultural producers, retail traders as well as the fishing and forestry industry, all will be strong drivers of the economy.

Leveraging the power of a growing artificial intelligence ecosystem can alleviate a lot of the dispute of opinions. The design, development and maintenance of roads, as well as the daily management of road traffic, will be done on a single, live system that is able to detect even minor changes in road quality. This system would then tell navigational tools on nearby vehicles to collectively redirect traffic while assessments are carried out on the same platform.

This is the inevitable future of telematics technology, where the old silos between these various supply chain functions are truly broken down and managed centrally.

Transport operators able to connect their fleets to a centrally managed telematics platform will have the opportunity to not only be at the forefront of these rapid technological advancements, but over the long-term, they will unlock fuel and maintenance cost savings, more reliable delivery of goods and, above all, the safety of drivers, motorists, passengers and other road users.

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