How Better Environmental Monitoring Can Boost Efficiency in Mines - Part 1
by Robin Ormerod (Managing Director of EnviroSuite)
Throughout the world, mining companies are coming under increasing pressure to improve the performance and efficiency of their operations.
The challenge stems from fluctuating customer demand and shifting commodity prices. Keeping production costs down is a top priority to ensure profit margin can be maintained.
To achieve this, attention must be given to all facets of the operation. Extraction, processing and transportation all need to be as efficient as possible and work together as a cohesive whole.
The importance of monitoring
Increasingly, mining companies are coming to realise that better monitoring of the environment in which they are operating can have a significant, positive impact on the bottom line. By truly understanding what is happening across a facility, more informed decisions can be made about its operation.
Monitoring becomes even more powerful when external data sources such as weather forecasts are also utilised and related to day-to-day operations. This can help when scheduling works to ensure that the most appropriate activities are carried out at the best possible time.
Effectively monitoring a mine site can be greatly improved by the installation of a network of sensors. Using a sensor network to gather data and feed it in real-time back to a centralised information platform allows a clear whole of facility picture to be understood reducing risk and extending traditional operation monitoring capabilities. Sensors that can be deployed on a mine site include:
Mining equipment: Attached to earth moving and extraction equipment, these sensors can monitor the location, level of noise and emissions being produced.
Site perimeter: Situated at the edge of the mining facility, these sensors can gather data on the amount of dust being generated or other fugitive emissions associated with mining activity.
Weather: Positioned at strategic locations on the site, these sensors can provide real-time data on everything from wind speed and direction to temperature and rainfall intensity.
The power of forecasting
Data gathered from sensor networks can then be stored and analysed by sophisticated simulation tools for weather and air dispersion. When real time site based data is added, the potential insights that can be gained are significant.
The tools can provide graphical details on what any changes in conditions could mean for operations. Modelling of potential events can clearly show the impact decisions will have both on the mine itself and the surrounding area.
Some of the typical scenarios that could be covered include:
Strong winds: There have been strong winds forecast for the area to occur in the next 48 hours. Modelling shows that this will cause significant dust to be generated and impact local air quality. By knowing this preventative dust management actions can be put in place to reduce risk of the event occurring.
Heavy rainfall: Forecasting the likelihood of heavy rain allows preparation of stormwater and sedimentation management infrastructure to be actioned ahead of time. Practical operational actions such as preparing road surfaces, reducing sediment pond stored volumes to capture new storm generated run off, or moving equipment out of pit areas subject to runoff inflow or groundwater ingress can be implemented to keep operations running.
High temperatures: Forecast high temperature risk – advise onsite staff and refresh heat stroke training. Prepare and check critical equipment cooling systems. Check fire systems and consult with the community on potential fire risk and preparation.
In each of these scenarios, the network of sensors across the mine site will provide a real-time picture of exactly what is happening and combined with forecasting and simulation, the potential impact of upcoming conditions to make appropriate changes to operations and reduce risk.
Real-time sensors are then able to monitor and track the result of operational actions to ensure site conditions are kept within acceptable limits to keep operating. For example, the amount of dust actually being produced can be graphed, as could the volume of water being discharged off the mine site as a result of the rainfall.
Keep an eye out for part 2 next week.