Industry’s embrace of digital technology enhances water efficiency
Water management is a critical part of any mining operation, and the impact and cost of mismanagement are becoming increasingly high as miners are held to a stricter level of accountability by stakeholders. Missteps in water management not only increase a mine’s power and operational costs, but they can do irreparable harm to a mining company’s reputation. In some situations, these mines have incurred regulatory wrath, resulting in closure and disruption to production and the global supply chain.
Mining operations need to ensure that good water management is a top priority focus and ensure that resources are directed towards improved water efficiency. A surge in technological advances over the past decade or two are designed to do just that. The emergence of Big Data and smart infrastructure – and the improved levels of systems intelligence they supply – will help mining companies achieve growth and sustainability goals
Making Intelligent Decisions Based on Data
The mining industry is as susceptible to aging infrastructure as any other sector. Assets from pipes to pumps eventually approach the end of their lifecycle, springing leaks and breaking down. To combat this, other industries are learning to integrate smart infrastructure – a combination of automation, sensor technology and control devices paired with data analytics – to monitor and collect data that provides situational and operational awareness. Preventative maintenance systems and data analytics will assist in this area.
Mines that invest in and adopt these innovations will be able to improve their understanding of water management and hence efficiency. By allowing mine operators to actively monitor and manage systems in real-time, these systems equip operators to make smarter operational decisions, preventing disruption, eliminating unnecessary waste, and saving time and money.
These technologies are currently in use in many other sectors. Municipal water utilities, for example, have long collected data such as advanced metering to improve customer billing and SCADA for real-time monitoring of critical systems. Today, utilities are taking it a step further, as they see the possibilities of using this data for more. In fact, according to Black & Veatch’s 2018 Strategic Directions: Water Report survey, water utilities identify monitoring performance, asset maintenance and treatment operations as the top three operational areas that would most benefit from data analytics and automated monitoring.
Mining companies would do best to take note, as a similar strategy could help lower operational costs, optimize processes, extend asset life and improve efficiency.
Overcoming Barriers to Entry
Although the benefits are substantive – major improvements in safety performance, productivity, energy savings, predictive maintenance and general operating and maintenance costs – integrating new technologies can come with its own host of challenges.
Overcoming Barriers to Entry
Finding the Funding
Although the level of investment required to integrate and implement these advanced technologies depends on the mining operation’s unique needs, expect initial costs to range from hundreds of thousands of dollars into the millions. That said, the return on investment can be tremendous – at a minimum, these investments will allow the industry to improve its predictive capabilities, anticipate failures in infrastructure, and prioritize its spend on operations and maintenance.
Although miners are famously risk averse, the fact that these systems are already in use by other sectors – in this case, water utilities – reduces the risks of early adoption and the potential impacts to safety, reliability and production.
Using Data to Inform Decision Making
Data collection systems can return enormous amounts of data, and many organizations can be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information – or worse, not utilize it to its full advantage. Data analytics platforms give organizations the ability to convert raw data into actionable intelligence, informing better decision-making at the tactical and strategic levels.
Data analytics can quickly measure asset health to inform proactive maintenance opportunities and guide long-range capital expenditure plans. For example, Black & Veatch’s ASSET360® analytics platform provides a 360-degree perspective of all raw data being collected to streamline sources and apply intelligent analytics to improve decision making. Platforms such as this allow operators to manage their asset management challenges.
Ensuring Security in Data
Increased connectivity and digitalization promise new efficiencies, but they also open the system to vulnerabilities in cybersecurity. How mining operators manage these concerns is a critical component of building a secure, interconnected system. Any mining operator that invests in smart infrastructure must also commit to developing a holistic physical and cyber security program.
Many mining operations can begin this process by first performing an accurate asset inventory, which will play a large part in helping leadership understand exactly what they need to protect.
Extending the Conversation
Mining companies must become increasingly diligent when it comes to managing water on a responsible and holistic basis. By offering insightful solutions, Big Data and smart infrastructure can help ensure improved efficiency and minimized risk. Through this, mining operations can balance social, environmental and economic factors to ensure that they are good custodians of this most precious resource.
Subject Matter Expert
Dennis Gibson: GibsonDB@BV.com