The future of automated mine management

Caldwell future trends

We have just completed the nine-hour EduMine webcast on Mine Water Management. In my opinion—a highly biased one–it was a success. We had high attendance and managed a first for EduMine of seven speakers. All were excellent–again in my opinion. I certainly learnt from them.

The point to emerge from the webcast that is worth blogging about is this: the time must come when mines integrate their water, chemical, and energy mass balance management. Let me explain a bit more.

The concept and practice of mine water mass balance analysis is well accepted and often well done. I know of no mine that analyses and tracks their chemical mass balance. I am sure many mines keep a close eye on their energy usage. The issue is, can and should we analyse and manage all three balances as an integrated whole?

I can envisage a time when there will be on the mine a central control room replete with blinking computer screens that display real-time water management, chemical flows, and energy uses; all this by system, facility, and even component.

A few weeks ago a respected manufacturer of monitoring equipment phoned and asked if I thought their equipment could be adapted to be part of a mine-wide water flow monitoring system. I said yes, why not? This would, however, be just the start of the integrated, smart system I envisage.

Imagine: at each and every point of the mine where water flows, is used, and is consumed, there would be an instrument monitoring the water quantity, quality, and temperature & pressure (metrics of energy). The data would feed in to a central control system that monitors and records the whole. Associated with this would be a similar mine-wide monitoring of power use by each and every piece of equipment tapped into the power grid. Go further and add to this system weather monitoring and predicted weather events.

Back this up with expert systems that could alert you to the need to adjust, change, improve, or optimize the entire system.

The benefit that would follow would, I suspect, be less water use, less chemical consumption, reduce contaminant production and dispersion, and ultimately less power use and a more cost-effective operation.

There is a drawback: this integrated system would take much planning, expensive installation, and expert input to keep running. But if we can automate the flight of planes, surely we can automate the management of mine waters, chemicals, and energy.

A dream at this time—no doubt. But attending our course were smart young folk. Maybe one or more of them will take up this challenge and advance the future. Good for them.

Caldwell in the North

For more from Jack Caldwell, see his blog, I Think Mining

Photos: Jack Caldwell