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Get smart with digital water monitoring solutions

Digital technologies undoubtedly have tremendous potential to move mining to greater heights and deliver exceptional customer and environmental value and this is no different to water monitoring technologies.

Environmental monitoring and control for mines is even a bigger issue now than it has ever been.

This article first appeared in Mining Review Africa Issue 8, 2020
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Governments are increasing regulatory restrictions on new developments, and the social license to operate mine sites is leaving operators with no choice but to ensure they have zero environmental breaches.

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It is in the industry’s best interests, from a public image as well as from a cost and efficiency point of view to deploy the latest, most efficient technology for water monitoring.

There are two main sources of water monitoring information on a mine site – tailings or wastewater data and water body data. A small amount of contaminants or a process that has gone wrong for a few hours can negatively influence the quality of waste or bodies of water on mine sites. As a result, accurate real-time monitoring of sensitive instrumentation data is integral to the elimination and prevention of any environmental breaches.

Automation ensures better data acquisition

To this day, it is still common practice to manually monitor the water and moisture levels in the dam wall. This presents two common issues. The first being sporadic monitoring due to the time it takes to check all points required and the second being the inconsistency in manual measurements and reading of values performed by the operator.

With the possibility of each operator using a different methodology and procedure to conduct the reading, recording, interpreting and transferring of results onto digital storage, the quality and integrity of information can be greatly impacted.

There are plenty opportunities for errors in this manual procedure. In addition, if measurement is not done frequently enough, the water or moisture level data then becomes unreliable.

In this scenario, introduction of automation technology is key to ensure data is collected more frequently and far more accurate measurements are achieved due to the standardisation of automated systems, which in turn improves safety and reduces costs in the plant.

 There is a much greater opportunity for automation in a tailings dam, where a variety of measurement solutions such as flow, level, displacement and strain are needed.

Smart solutions can provide online data to the control system, eliminating human errors involved with reading and noting data values. Look at the example of ground water level measurement using WirelessHART solutions.

In this application, a hydrostatic level sensor that is equipped with a WirelessHART adaptor is installed in a PVC or any other type of tube within the water well.

The adapter provides power to the level sensor which can be programmed to measure in shorter intervals providing constant data feed an ultrasonic level transmitter can be used to measure the level of the tailing dam, again sending the information with a WirelessHART adapter.

This solution helps to decrease the cost of investment in automation without the need for major changes to existing infrastructure. A gateway maybe used to collect the data and send it to the control system as well as the cloud.

Endress+Hauser provides wireless solutions that enables simple setup of the wireless networks and ensures that all the information can easily be integrated into any control system through open protocols, such as OPC or Modbus. The wireless solution does not only provide all the measurement values, it also provides device diagnostic information.

In addition, Netilion Health empowers plant personnel to be ready and effective in case of unexpected events in the plant. With Netilion Health essential information on the operational health of devices can be viewed via the app from your smartphone, tablet or laptop.

If anything happens with a measuring point, an immediate alert is sent. Custom visualisation formats can also be created and, information can be integrated into other platforms to receive immediate notifications in case of failures.

There are now out-of-the-box solutions to monitor water quality in the field that can be used which includes all hardware, software and cloud support subscriptions, making it extremely easy to integrate and cost effective to operate.

The flexibility and simplicity of the IIoT, coupled with advances in edge devices and sensor technology has greatly improved the ability for operators of tailings and waste facilities to cost effectively monitor their processes while reducing risk and improving their environmental reputation.