The continuous focus on improved productivity and efficiency in the mining industry in the face of decreasing ore grades, deeper deposits, harder rock mass and increasing environmental and social awareness, has given rise to the need to consistently enhance mining processes.
Innovation plays a crucial role in mining production enhancement by providing suitable solutions to ensure the continuity and sustainability of mining activity in a changing environment.
Current trends shaping the mine of the future include:
- The transition to the digital era commonly referred to across all industries as the “4th Industrial Revolution”, or the “Internet of Things”. Common terms used in the mining context include digital mining, artificial intelligence, real-time data capture and trend analysis.
- Increasing social and environmental awareness is forcing mines to find cleaner, more sustainable, safer and more efficient mining methods.
Innovations resulting from this trend include:
- The move from internal combustion engines which make use of diesel fuel to “Electromobility” – the increased development and use of electric-powered vehicles
- Invisible zero-waste mining. Historically, mining has focused on minimising surface waste by utilising the waste for backfill operations. However, despite backfilling, mining typically always generates excess waste that necessarily disposed of on the surface. In-situ mining methods, such as in-situ leaching or in-situ recovery, seek to generate practically zero waste
- The contribution of water and energy costs to operating expenditure
- Continuous mining. Continuous extraction and material handling systems to improve productivity and reduce operating costs are not new; however, such equipment has traditionally been associated with operational inefficiency and low utilisation of equipment. Pockets of excellence, where such systems successfully ensure continuous mining do exist, such as the coal mines. Work in this area will continue.
Read more about the technological trends in the mining industry
Using innovation to drive mine productivity and sustainability
Innovation is an important factor in continuously improving the productivity and sustainability of mining operations.
In the past, mining companies largely focused on in-house technology development. Currently, customer-centric supply companies are playing a greater role in providing creative and innovative solutions to the growing needs of mines.
Watercare Innovations (WI) is a customer-centric water treatment supplier, providing tailored solutions to the mining industry.
Our tailored solutions are driven by our in-depth understanding of our customers’ mine water systems, together with the challenges they face in the fields of productivity, efficiency, environmental and social.
Research, product/process development, commissioning and lifetime servicing and support are core competencies of our company.
The mine of the future is better equipped to face environmental challenges that emerge as the mine’s lifetime progresses.
Many ore deposits and mineral reserves extend vertically to depths that were not originally realised during prospecting. Converting surface mines to underground operations significantly extends the life of the mine and the associated return for investors.
It stands to reason that the “mines of the future” – those with advanced technology in equipment and processes – are better positioned to benefit from the opportunity of moving from surface to underground mining.
The two mining methods vary significantly in geological excavation, ground stability risk management, infrastructure development, and surface and groundwater effects.
All too often, surface mine water reticulation systems, such as settling ponds, are planned for underground application with little consideration of the associated excavation cost.
Using OEM tech to improve mine water management systems
A unique alternative approach to underground water management is one of a holistic integrated water and fines management system that combines innovative OEM industrial water equipment technology including:
- High-rate clarifier (WI)
- High-flow de-grit plant (WI)
- Automatic flocculant dosing plant (WI)
- Automatic powder dosing plant (WI)
- Electric control and instrumentation coupled with remote monitoring (WI & Scamont)
- Positive displacement sludge pumps (Scamont)
- Multi-stage centrifugal clearwater, and dirty water pumps (Scamont)
- Submersible slurry pumps (Scamont)
The equipment has a small footprint, is modular and requires limited excavation, ensuring ease of installation (Figure 1). The integrated system approach incorporates operation, maintenance and training support services.
Our objective is to produce quality water that is recyclable, and which may be reused for the underground operations for which it was designed.
The solids separated from the water by WI’s integrated fines recovery system are managed by the mine’s mud handling system, which returns the mud to the mineral processing plant for mineral extraction.
Sánchez, F & Hartlieb, P (2020): Innovation in the Mining Industry: Technological Trends and a Case Study of the Challenges of Disruptive Innovation, Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration (2020) 37:1385–1399, https://doi.org/10.1007/s42461-020-00262-1 Published online: 23 July 2020
Planning Considerations For Transition From Open Pit To Underground published inline by Peter Terbrugge: https://www.srk.com/en/publications/planning-considerations-for-transition-from-open-pit-to-underground
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