Short interval control is somewhat of a buzz word when speaking with mine engineers and technical services gurus. It is a phrase that I have only really heard of within the mining industry over the last 18 months or so. So, what is Short Interval Control (SIC) and how can it assist drive efficiencies in underground mining?
According to the Global Mining Guidelines Group, short interval control is “a structured process for identifying and acting on opportunities to improve effectiveness and efficiency of mining processes (production, development, and services). The intended outcome is a continuous improvement loop of improving productivity and wasting less time.” This is then a great opportunity for mining houses to deliver improved efficiencies within their mines. That said though, what would this possibly look like?
This depends on several factors, including but not limited to:
- Size of mine (including expected remaining life of mine)
- Appetite for change
- Service provision and implementation of new systems and technologies
- Outcomes and expectations of project
Size of mine:
The size of the mine could impact the implementation of new technologies and systems due the sheer scale of the network and/or system set up. Most software/hardware systems that allow for development and production tracking generally loop back to a central database (mine control center). The modern WIFI networks that deliver this data in real time can become complex to deliver across large scale mines. It then can require a new crew of mine workers to install, maintain and extend this network as the mine develops.
Appetite for change:
With change comes risk and some businesses are less risk averse than others. With the efficiencies & transparency that SIC can drive however, there have been several good examples of implementation already in Australia.
Service provision and implementation of new systems and technologies:
New technologies that align with the deliverables that the business outlines may be hard to source or adapt for the underground environment. With all change, there needs to be “buy in” from both the mine owner and the mining contractor. The processes, change to working patterns and complexity of data entry could be discussed within the whole mining ecosystem (operator through to management level). This engagement could empower the team and allow stakeholder buy-in to the proposed SIC system from the outset.
Outcomes and expectations of project:
The mining house needs to set itself a clear goal of what it wants to achieve from implementing a SIC system within its project. This could be improved transparency of operations or ability to adjust schedules in nearly real time, yet project specific targets could be set.
The industry is currently seeing more “mine control” centers across the industry as they allow a clear interface between the underground miners and the mining surface support team. These have many benefits to an operation, but the primary role would be collecting data as the shift progresses, as well as assisting those underground with information as the shift progresses.
SIC software can leverage this data and feed back into the ongoing schedule that the engineering department has timetabled. Some modern drill rigs data and additional data capture sources (think scanned survey data or weighing bridges for trucking) can then also be added into the mix to visualise and assess progress. The ability to then envisage unscheduled delays and how they will impact the mining cycle can add significant value in optimising ongoing mining works.
The hardware associated with this data collection at the mining face can be simplified task-based apps that are input via a rugged tablet. The output from these devices can then be sent to the surface via the underground wifi network, to allow near real time updates on what is going on down the hole!
Further to this some sites now use “data hoppers” which can be fixed on vehicles that visit the remote mining face often (think HD fitter, geologists, surveyors’ utes). These then sync data from the operator’s tablet and then when back in the main mining area of the mine,can share the data from those beyond the range of the existing network.
Short Interval Control could help push new efficiencies in underground mining, not only by improving transparency of events underground, but also empowering critical decision making. Within current mining projects there will remain an element of human input and decision making and the timelier and more accurate the data that can be delivered, the better the engineering team can optimise! It is fair to say that SIC can become a near fully automated feedback loop, however until more automation is delivered at the mining face this will be some time away!
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