Connecting the Connected Mine

Wireless communications help tie together all aspects of large and complex mining operations

How do you connect operations that cover vast stretches of land in some of the world’s most rugged and remote locations?
That’s the question many mining companies are asking today as they look to create a connected mine. They want to take advantage of greater data access, real-time analytics, autonomous systems and services such as remote monitoring, but they first need a network infrastructure that will tie all of those technologies and capabilities together.

Their challenges are unique. Not only do mining operations span great distances, but they are often located in remote areas with minimal or no communications infrastructure. The very nature of mining operations, with continuous digging or blasting, also means that the landscapes in which communications must take place are constantly changing or expanding. And the need to maintain network uptime is vital to both a mine’s productivity and safety.

The first step for mining companies is to converge their information technology (IT) and operations technology (OT) systems into a single, unified network infrastructure. This eliminates silos of information and, as result, enables seamless information sharing across an entire mining operation.

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Winning the War Against Wear

‘The best defense is a good offense’ applies to many activities, including games and military combat. Metal wear generally can’t be defeated, but proactive product selection can be effective in battling abrasion to a draw.

Mining takes its wealth from the Earth, which in turn imposes its own expensive toll on the equipment used to dig, move and crush ore — wearing down parts and equipment at a rate that costs the mining industry untold millions in replacement costs and downtime. In the most extreme mining conditions, it can be a race between abrasion and corrosion to see which process can destroy a part faster (see sidebar article, p. 69).

Miners typically employ a three-pronged approach — prevention, detection and repair — to battle the problem, and industry suppliers are providing new weapons in all three areas. Here’s a look at the latest wear-protection products and technology.

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A New Paradigm in Sulphide Processing

By classifying flotation feed at a point where coarse recovery deteriorates, the existing flotation circuit can be optimized to improve performance

It has long been established that copper sulphide processing follows a logical progression — crush, grind, float, regrind and refloat to produce a final copper concentrate. The justification for this approach is well-based as conventional flotation technology has a defined particle size range over which it can effectively recover floatable particles. Work by numerous experts has shown that currently available flotation technology is effective over a size range of approximately 15 to 150 microns. An example of these findings is shown in the well-recognized “elephant curve” (Figure 1). Particles outside this critical size range are typically lost in industrial operations and rejected to tailings streams due to inherent constraints associated with the physical interactions that occur in the pulp and froth phases of conventional flotation equipment.

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Modern Underground Blasting Methods

What face round would work best and why?

Underground mining and construction projects face several challenges unique to the underground environment compared to the surface environment. The goals are the development of an effective blast pattern that minimizes cost, maximizes face advance, and provides the desired fragmentation and face profile. In addition to these goals, mines must consider the very real operational problems that occur, such as drill deviation, ground vibration, and deadpressing1 or sympathetic detonation2 of explosives. These operation problems lead to increased costs and decreased production in the mine, hurting the bottom line.

Combined with these problems, underground blasts can be difficult to monitor and evaluate due to tight spaces, dust during the blast preventing video, and the need to evacuate the immediate area with no clear line of sight to observe performance. This creates an environment in which most mines know that blasting can be improved in their underground operations, yet most are hesitant to change due to fears of the shot freezing, misfires and questions about how to achieve a proper design. Unlike with surface blasting, the explosives companies, and shot service providers also offer limited assistance or knowledge in the underground blasting realm, leaving underground operations in the dark. It is for these reasons that most underground operations are operating decades behind the current technologies and incurring significant costs, both real and hidden, from their blasting operations.

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