Why Situational Awareness is Essential to Short Interval Control in Mining

Decades of easy profits in the mining industry have come to an end. The industry’s last major push of exploration projects came back with disappointing results. There just aren’t as many easily accessible rich ore bodies as their used to be, and lower grade deposits come with higher operating costs when using traditional extraction methods.

This fairly recent profit squeeze has forced many companies to look to innovation to drive their operational costs down and preserve profits. Some companies have already begun to transition their operations into the digital age. While others look to them for leadership, a common thread in this conversation has been the importance of Short Interval Control (SIC), and how it can drive exceptional results.

What is short interval control?

Short Interval Control (SIC) is a system of processes designed to help your workforce identify and act on opportunities to improve efficiency of your operation. It’s front-line focused and engages team members to review production data three or four times within their shift to assess where they need to focus their efforts right now to improve overall productivity.

A key feature of SIC is the use of real-time production data to guide instantaneous front-line decision making. SIC was born out of the manufacturing industry, where the focus was on optimizing equipment usage or OEE (Overall Equipment Effectiveness). However in mining, SIC has a slightly different focus: Asset and personnel utilization.

A successful implementation of SIC will have the following benefits:

  • Improved Asset Utilization
  • Improved Production Per Worker
  • Reduced Cost per Ton
  • Operational Agility - Fewer and smaller production setbacks

Short Interval Control in Mining

With a focus on asset and personnel utilization, what tools can operational mines give their front-line miners, geologists, engineers and supervisors to be able to enable SIC?

In principle it’s quite simple really: give them the ability to see where everything is and what it’s being used for.

  • Location of vehicles, who is using them and what they are being used for.
  • Location of equipment and what it’s current state is
  • Status of environment (air quality, ventilation, rockburst hazards, flooding, etc)
  • Location of other crews and crew members, and what headings and jobs they are working on

When you piece it all together, what you realize is that in order for crews to be able to adapt on the fly, they need to be able to see what’s going on in the mine around them in real-time. They need better situational awareness.

How to achieve better situational awareness in your underground mine?

In order to reach real-time situational awareness across your mine you will need to invest in multiple areas of IT. Here are the building blocks at a glance:

  • Underground Wireless Network (Wi-Fi)
  • A streamlined ISA99-compliant policy for bridging IT and OT networks
  • Networked vendor products that are able to report their real-time status in a standardized way to other systems (vehicles, machines & sensors with “open APIs”)
  • Management execution systems that are able to report their real-time stats in a standardized way to other systems (Execution, Technical Services, Maintenance, Materials & Process)
  • A program for effectively managing system-integration projects in an agile manner
  • A platform to organize, communicate and visualize the situational information in real time (or multiple platforms integrated together)

This is how Newmont organized their system at their Chelopech Mine using ISA 95 as a framework:

Image depicts ISA 95 Hierarchy of systems at Newmont's Chelopech Mine.

Image depicts ISA 95 Hierarchy of systems at Newmont's Chelopech Mine.

This may sound daunting, but the reality is you don’t need to bite it all off at once. By adopting an open platform that is capable of scaling, your company can invest into it in smaller increments over time (reducing risk and speeding up benefit realization). For instance, you could start with just vehicle location and telemetry, then add environmental sensors, then add production metrics, and keep adding different systems and data sources until you eventually can see everything from one intuitive interface.

What does it look like?

In the end, it looks like every employee (from mucker to CEO) being able to see exactly what's going on in the mine right now.

Who is currently underground and where

Who is currently underground and where

What vehicles are in use and where

What vehicles are in use and where

Air quality anywhere in the mine

Air quality anywhere in the mine

What headings are being worked and their progress

What headings are being worked and their progress

And so much more...


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To learn how Vandrico can help your mine improve it's situational awareness and achieve short interval control, please leave your details and we will get in touch.

Automated Hazardous-Substance Exposure Monitoring in Underground Mining

Recent advancements in sensor and wireless technology have created new and better ways to monitor short-term exposure limits (STEL) and long-term exposure limits (LTEL) for underground miners. Additionally, safety regulations in several countries are creating stricter and more robust requirements for monitoring environmental hazards and protecting underground workers from them.

This article will provide a brief overview of some high-level methods to advance your STEL and LTEL monitoring based on your mine’s broader technology infrastructure investment strategy.

The primary factors in evaluating the effectiveness of your exposure-limit monitoring strategy are accuracy of data collected and automation of measurements and alerts to reach real-time awareness.

Environmental Sensor Readings as Shown on ConnectedWorker™ Vizualization

Environmental Sensor Readings as Shown on ConnectedWorker™ Vizualization

Semi-Automated Monitoring

The obvious way to track long-term exposure is to do periodic sampling of the environment and cross-reference with logs of workers' time spent underground. Depending on the mines processes this could be a manual endeavor. This approach is most commonly used to monitor against diesel particulate matter (DPM) in the Canada and US as well as coal dust in several countries. 

The challenge with long-term exposure monitoring comes from combining data sources which may be prone to human errors. Ideally, some sort of worker tracking system is involved to provide an error-reduced record of who was underground and when. In order of accuracy these historical logs can be derived from shift-schedules, tag-in/tag-out logs or Real-Time Location Service (RLTS) logs.

Some products, such as the Smart Tagboard, can automatically log time spent underground for each individual worker and export it into common programs such as Excel. Once in Excel, it can be cross-referenced with environment sample logs to determine personalized long-term exposure metrics. This semi-automated system can work well for many small-to-mid sized mines that lack capital to invest in an underground RTLS system.

Many RFID-gate systems used for RTLS can also export historical records of time-spent underground. However, these systems often come with significantly higher investment costs which are comparable to the installation of a wireless network.

Image depicts the scaling costs and abilities of exposure monitoring systems.

Image depicts the scaling costs and abilities of exposure monitoring systems.

Fully-Automated Monitoring

Fully-automated monitoring can be made possible by combining nearby environmental sensor data with worker location in real-time. This approach can be extremely effective at both STEL and LTEL monitoring. 

For mines planning underground Wi-Fi network investments for short-interval control and better communication, the most cost effective approach is to use open-standard environmental sensors and a modern RTLS system. 

Products such as ConnectedWorker™ Vizualization can then combine the two information sources into intuitive interfaces and to provide personalized STEL and LTEL alerts to underground operators, their supervisors, and safety managers.

Screenshot of ConnectedWorker™ Vizualization asset status page, showing the recent activity and environmental status of an underground worker.

Screenshot of ConnectedWorker™ Vizualization asset status page, showing the recent activity and environmental status of an underground worker.

More Information

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