Delivering rapid ROI with intelligent strata monitoring
The cyclical mining industry is on the up, with production levels rising and a recovery in commodity prices leading to a 23% rise in revenues for the world’s Top 40 miners during 2017, according to PwC’s Mine 2018 report. The resultant inward investment is positive, but that investment comes with higher expectations, not least when it comes to safety: stakeholders want to ensure good practice to reinforce brand value.
With firms remaining somewhat cautious about capital expenditure, management and shareholders alike are looking for fast return on investment (ROI). Safety must be an investment priority - not only to protect brand reputation but because improving safety has a quantifiable impact on efficiency and production. Just consider – when a reduction in injury incident reports by 65% can lead not only to a 25% increase in uptime but a 40% boost in productivity, that’s an ROI within just months.
As Group CEO, Glyn Jones at Trolex confirms, a safe mine is an efficient mine and adding intelligent strata monitoring to the existing real-time monitoring infrastructure reduces risk, minimises downtime and significantly boosts productivity.
While mine safety continues to improve, roof and rock falls remain a major contributor to fatal and serious accidents in underground mines, with one third of all underground coal mining fatalities caused by falls of ground according to the Office of Mine Safety and Health Research.
These rockfalls occur despite the widespread use of instrumentation to monitor ground movement and support performance. In part this is due to the lack of any formal systematic design in mining ground control and the difficulty in applying conventional design processes in typical mine conditions. From the variability of rock structure to the lack of insight into stress loading in any specific area, GeoTechnicians often simply do not have the depth of information required to tailor designs to a specific site.
The lack of insight into rock movement is in direct contrast to the growing use of intelligent remote monitoring used for other aspects of mine safety. From gas detection to air flow and operator position, mine operators have recognised the power of real-time information in improving not only safety but the quality of the working environment, reducing downtime and improving employee well-being.
Limitations of Manual Monitoring
The continued reliance on manual readings of strata telltales is flawed in many ways – from the constraint associated with hundreds, even thousands of telltales, which means most are read no more than three times per day, to the limitations of a visual reading which is unlikely to pick up movements of less than 1mm.
In addition, this information must be manually updated and analysed; by default, it is going to be some time out of date, creating significant risks of rockfall for workers. Indeed, due to the sheer number of telltales, mines tend to analyse this information across discrete areas, creating a very piecemeal view of the overall mine which can lead to trends in movement being missed.
This lack of up to date, accurate data affects not only worker safety – the impact on productivity is significant, including unnecessary interruptions due to rockfall, evacuation or repositioning supports.
Intelligent Strata Monitoring
The latest generation of intelligent strata monitoring can monitor roof displacements in real time to confirm the stability of mine tunnels. In addition to the continuous reading of the telltales across the mine, the devices provide far more precise readings. This information is continuously analysed to provide a full pattern of strata movement across the entire mine, with built in alarms ensuring workers can be evacuated in a timely fashion.
For workers in an Australian mine, the intelligent monitoring recently proved its worth: with graphical real-time analysis flagging a risk of rockfall, the workers were evacuated just hours before the fall occurred. Using manual telltale recording, based on just a handful of readings per day, that risk simply would not have been discovered in time. Indeed, safety the benefits of the technology are compelling, with an independent study of the Australian mine revealing a 65% reduction in injury and incident reports.
There is a very strong correlation between reducing incidents and improving efficiency. The 65% reduction in reports outline above, resulted in a 25% jump in uptime and a 40% improvement in productivity. These figures alone provide an incredibly fast ROI, but that is just the start of the payback: on going cost benefits associated with better mine planning are considerable.
To date mines have lacked the information required to accurately plan the best number and location of supports for a new area. Without a good understanding of how the strata behaves in a particular area, GeoTechnicians have no option but to recommended blanket support across the mine, with the associated risk and costs. Deploy too few supporting rockbolts or standing supports and there is a risk of rock movement leading either to dangerous rockfall or the need to go back in and shore up the mine. In both cases this will lead to an interruption in operations affecting productivity, as well as the cost of additional collateral. In contrast, over specifying the number of rockbolts required up front will also incur unnecessary cost.
With rapid access to deep historical data based on incredibly accurate intelligent monitoring, GeoTechnicians have a far better understanding of trends in strata movement. The ability to confidently identify areas of problem or potential problem should enable far better mine planning, reducing both risk and cost. By distributing support collateral only to the places where it is needed, mines will be able to optimise the number of rockbolts required, reducing costs whilst also ensuring operative safety. In the Australian mine, the use of intelligent remote monitoring and deep analysis of strata movement resulted in a 49% cost saving as a result of deploying standing supports only where required.
Timing the Investment
According to PwC, indications are that this current upward cycle within the mining sector has several more years to run. Steady global annual GDP growth over the next five years, along with significant infrastructure growth in emerging economies, is expected to underpin continued demand for mining products.
The opportunities for those companies that grasp the chance to further boost productivity – whilst improving safety – are therefore significant; and with the ability to achieve ROI within months at current production levels, timing is critical.
A safe mine is an efficient mine – and by adding intelligent strata monitoring to the existing real-time monitoring infrastructure, mining companies can deliver a safety policy tailored to the specific operating environment, reducing risk, minimising downtime and significantly boosting productivity.