Managing the risk of downtime in mines

By incorporating sophisticated technology in the condition-based monitoring strategy of mines, operators can better detect incidents before they happen and keep production running.

Johannesburg, 15 Jan 2020
Read time 3min 30sec

Unplanned downtime in a critical environment, such as a mine, can result in a catastrophic event that affects the safety of workers and the environment on a massive scale. Production losses can spiral out of control and force the mine to close operations. A predictive maintenance strategy that incorporates the latest technology becomes essential in reducing the chances of this happening.

Unfortunately, many mines still rely on a traditional approach that sees technicians being sent out at scheduled intervals to physically assess and record critical asset findings. But given the scale and complexity of mining operations, this represents significant man hours and extensive costs. Inevitably, critical assets will either be over- or under-maintained as they rarely break down on schedule.

This is where a predictive maintenance strategy that includes distributed online monitoring becomes important. With advancements in automation, wireless technology,  supervisory control and data acquisition (Scada) systems, and solar-powered hardened devices, remote data collection from permanent sensors provides much better insight into the status of critical assets and helps keep operations flowing smoothly.

Increased sophistication

In mines, thermal imaging cameras and software can gather accurate temperate measurements and provide timely equipment condition information using heat transfer concepts. These cameras also provide better flare stack monitoring, ensuring a stable thermal profile. In the event of a fire, they can also send an alarm to operators to minimise its impact.

In hazardous environments, preventing injuries and fatalities is paramount, both for the safety and wellbeing of workers, as well as for the associated downtime cost. Certified for explosion-prone applications according to all applicable international standards, using explosion-protected cameras enable site engineers to monitor areas where accidents typically occur, such as the working of tubulars on drilling rigs. Additionally, a temperature alarm camera monitors for temperature deviations and leaks in critical assets to prevent an incident before it occurs.

Real-time monitoring

With the advancement of video imaging and processing power, network cameras provide valuable redundancy in condition-based monitoring systems. They deliver visual confirmation of sensor alerts and full situational awareness in an emergency. Edge-based video analytics enable the cameras themselves to serve as a primary sensor for human safety engineering (HSE) engineers to detect occupancy levels at a specific area of the mine or even obstructed evacuation routes.

But video is just one element. Networked speakers make it easy to communicate live and alert-based pre-recorded messages to workers in remote locations. These can warn of a safety risk or instruct miners to act on a sensor alarm. And depending on the type of speakers and cameras used, these devices can easily be integrated through a configuration process.

Being connected

The functionality of these devices can be further extended with the addition of relay modules to provide features such as fire alarms, HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning), and BMS (building management systems). This technology is particularly useful in extending the input/output signals from any field-based temperature sensor to the central Scada system to trigger, for example, strobe lighting, loudspeaker messaging and camera recordings in an emergency.

Safety also entails protecting the environment from unauthorised access. Networked cameras can incorporate an intrusion protection solution to enable a mine to safeguard the entire site. A combination of thermal, radar and PTZ (pan-tilt-zoom) technology detects, identifies and tracks intruders. Access control limits free movement in critical or hazardous areas. And audio capabilities with alarm-based pre-recorded messages deter any unauthorised entry.

A complete system of video, intelligent analytics, access control, and audio address all key aspects of critical infrastructure protection from intrusion, operational efficiency, and health and safety. This is all geared to mitigate the possibility of any unplanned downtime. By incorporating sophisticated technology solutions in the condition-based monitoring strategy of a mine, operators can more easily detect incidents before they happen and keep production up and running.

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