Saturday, 28 November 2020
How Better Environmental Monitoring Can Boost Efficiency in Mines - Part 2

How Better Environmental Monitoring Can Boost Efficiency in Mines - Part 2

This article followed on from part 1, which was posted on our website here last week. 

Better informed decisions

Armed with accurate and timely data, mine management is in a much better position to take corrective action before problems arise. Rather than relying on gut instinct or assumptions based on previous events, they can work from the perspective of having an accurate picture of current conditions.

Examples of the types of decisions monitoring will aid include:

Schedule changes: Blasting at an open-cut facility was scheduled to take place in 24 hours’ time, however modelling shows forecast wind direction and speeds will mean significant amounts of dust will be blown towards a nearby town. A decision is taken to delay the blast by another 24 hours until winds subside. Onsite weather station wind sensors and blast simulations will confirm that conditions have improved at the new blast time.

Production shifts: Work was planned to begin in a new area of the mine site close to a nearby creek. Models show that the rain forecast during the next five days could cause significant sediment runoff which would breach operational limitations. Managers opt to instead focus equipment and staff on the existing mine face until the weather improves. Local sensors will constantly report back on the amount of rain that has fallen and runoff levels at critical points around the site.

Staff allocation: Forecast modelling shows that production is unlikely to be possible for at least a seven-day period due to an approaching weather system cyclone. A decision can be taken to shift workers to another mine site or stand them down until conditions return to normal.

Improved efficiencies and outcomes

By undertaking such real-time monitoring and analysing the collected data, mining operators are in a much stronger position to make decisions that will have a positive impact on their operations.

For example, if forecast high winds are going to require a cessation of activity for a 24-hour period, equipment can be scheduled for maintenance during that time. This means the equipment is not lying idle during downtime and does not have to be taken out of service at times of peak production.

At the same time staff schedules can be altered ahead of time to avoid a situation where shift workers are onsite but have no mining activity to undertake. Alternatively, they can take part in training or refresher courses so that time (and money) is not wasted during the pause in production.

Real-time monitoring and data analysis can also help to ensure a mine site avoids any potential environmental incidents. By stopping production or shifting it to a different part of the site, harmful outflows of waste water or plumes of dust escaping the site can be avoided.

Depending on the software tools used for the data analysis, mine operators can also potentially receive automated recommendations on actions to take. If the software determines that a certain combination of factors could cause problems, a plan of action could be generated for consideration.

A more profitable operation

By following the approach of real-time monitoring and predictive forecasting, mining companies can be confident they are gaining as much output as possible from their infrastructure investments, regardless of the prevailing conditions.

Rather than constantly being in a reactive mode, operators can make proactive decisions that ensure both equipment and staff can be as productive as possible at all times.

Sensor networks and the data they provide allow the impact of decisions to be monitored at a very granular level. Should conditions change unexpectedly, plans can be altered to ensure the best possible outcome for the facility.

Instead of being an onerous overhead that adds only cost to an operation, environmental monitoring can actually deliver significant and sustained value to every mining operation.

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