Mining and information: Defining the need
While the mine developer looks for bigger and better orebodies in countries offering lower risks to development capital, the operator of existing mines is looking for bigger and better ways to use his existing resources. Mining operations today utilize a variety of stand-alone systems for planning and managing their operations. In both small and large mines, payroll, accounting, inventory, planning, and engineering requirements are met using a combination of manual and computerbased systems.
Technical advances and new enabling technologies are changing how mines are doing business. PC-based systems are allowing small operations to join the larger mines in using advanced computer-based systems. Advanced monitors are being used in maintenance to track, predict and correct the health of production equipment. Production monitoring systems are used to measure the performance of operating equipment and personnel in real time. This detailed information on how
much, where, when, and by whom is being used for proactive management and planning. Ultimately, this information can be used to optimize and control the machines’ activities, eventually leading to robotic and autonomous operation of mining equipment.
As the use of technology increases in mining, specific information objectives are being met but other problems are being created. The life cycle of technology is small, and as current systems are replaced by newer ones, integration problems and additional end-user training are created. In addition, onboard monitoring systems can create large volumes of data, data which are frequently archived without being analyzed. Mine operators are also duplicating efforts applying new technologies in an effort to be more competitive, but in doing so are creating interfaces which are only compatible with their own facilities. As system development moved from the centralized mainframe computer to the PC environment, the fragmentation of these systems became more pronounced. To efficiently continue in adapting and utilizing advancing technology, the mining
industry needs to develop a system architecture that readily integrates as many sub-systems as possible. This will provide a framework for existing system integration and design guidelines for future development. The Total Mining System (TMS) concept will allow a network of stand-alone functional modules to be readily integrated with minimal effort. This paper will discuss some of the current technologies currently in use in some surface mine operations. In addition, a description of the information system and communications requirements that will be needed to integrate these components in the future, will be discussed.