Consulting engineers and scientists SRK Consulting is rolling out automated vibrating wire piezometers (VWPs) on tailings facilities, says SRK Consulting principal engineering geologist Lyzandra Boshoff.
These networks monitor seepage and the associated pore pressure regime in a tailings facility – a vital aspect in terms of maintaining the integrity and stability of the structure.
She notes that SRK’s innovations in rolling out automated VWP networks include using logging systems that send data wirelessly to cloud-based databases so that this data can be visualised and analysed in real time.
“We are taking advantage of important technical developments, as many telemetry hardware developers are improving the wireless capability and cloud technology to upload and store data.”
This allows data to be accessed quicker by engineers and management. Not only has this improved data flow and interpretation, it has also increased the potential size of the datasets that can be generated.
Additionally, Boshoff points out that previously, the South African tailings sector had used mainly manual standpipe piezometers. “These are accurate, but they must be well installed and maintained.”
She adds that manually collecting the data is subject to a level of human error and may take some time before reaching the engineer for analysis. Consequently, there has been increased use of automated sensors, notwithstanding that these still rely on manual data collection from the logging devices.
Dealing with Covid-19
SRK Consulting social sciences principal consultant Lisl Fair notes that the company has developed a two-pronged approach to assisting mines in containing the spread of Covid-19 infections – focusing on employees and host communities.
She adds that SRK Consulting believes that mining companies should play a larger role in providing moderated Covid-19-related information to host communities through their online channels.
Lockdown measures and physical distancing requirements have highlighted that information and communication technology (ICT) infrastructure in mining communities is a necessity if mines want to communicate with their stakeholders at an individual level and not only during the lockdown.
So far, SRK Consulting has been advising mines on how to leverage existing ICT infrastructure and portals to communicate widely with host communities and employees. This applies not only to Covid-19 but also other mine-specific messages, says Fair.
Another very crucial element of digital inclusion in mining host communities is providing children with free access to online educational programmes. Mines can do this by providing the ICT infrastructure – along with training for the parents and children – to ensure that children can access educational content close to home with ease.
Further, Fair notes that as the country moves into the next phase of the pandemic, mines will also have to take a critical look at their corporate social responsibility and social and labour plan commitments.
“For the foreseeable future, water, sanitation and hygiene programmes, as well as support to small, medium-sized and microenterprises, are likely to be prioritised by stakeholders and government, and mines will do well to follow suit.”
She adds that SRK Consulting has been advising mining companies on how to support informal economic activity in mining communities through capacity building.
SRK Consulting’s Water Department has also focused on the design and implementation of self-sustaining water projects in mining host communities.
SRK Consulting director and principal consultant Andrew van Zyl says that the Covid-19 pandemic is undoubtedly going to change the way we work – well beyond the lockdown period.
“Limitations to regional and international travel will be in place and mines will introduce strict access protocols to reduce the movement of people onto their sites.”
Owing to this, SRK Consulting is already finding new ways of delivering its services without actually visiting a site – by combining SRK’s experience on mining sites with various innovative tools and digital communication.
Van Zyl explains that using remote sensing technologies enables the company to collaborate closely with clients in the gathering of required data. “We have developed tools that enable a mine-based person to collect specific geo-tagged images” that are useful in analysing geotechnical properties on rockfaces.
The company has also made strides in employing drones in openpit operations to gather high-quality images that are precisely located on the mine layout.
This remote-working ability will become increasingly important, especially as mines may have to deal with local virus outbreaks and lockdowns in the months and years to come. Systems must be in place to enable consultants to continue contributing their expertise without necessarily being on site for every activity.
However, it is also vital for consultants to build their on-site experience to ensure that their solutions are relevant and practical to the workplace, concludes Van Zyl.