Few areas of a mine operation present a greater sustainability challenge than the tailings storage facility - where water usage, environmental impact and dam stability rank among the concerns.
Therefore, it is no surprise that tailings-facility management is one of three key focus areas for OREN, a Shell/IBM venture offering digital technology solutions to help mining companies achieve sustainability performance goals.
The OREN Tailings Storage Facility (TSF) Management Intelligent Solution integrates data with advanced analytics, enabling operators to understand performance and risk in tailings management, as well as proactively identify environmental and operational impacts when operating, during construction and right up to and including reclamation.
"OREN is Shell's digital pillar to help mining companies drive change today to realise a sustainable, low-carbon future. We are leveraging Shell's industrial and energy knowledge and IBM's data, digital and platform expertise to support using that data to manage and optimise performance throughout that ever-changing tailings lifecycle, to review, understand and manage risk," explained Dan Leybourne, product owner from Shell at OREN.
"Tailings properties change spatially over time, requiring constant review against targets to ensure we have those meaningful metrics linked to preventative controls; this is where we believe we can help organise the data and use the information to understand performance, identify and analyse risk, and most importantly make sure we communicate that risk. Part of what we're looking to do with our TSF Intelligent Solution provides transparent information to provide more clarity and make proactive decisions easier to help manage risks."
Addressing three key data challenges
OREN's TSF Intelligent Solution focuses on three key data challenges, according to Leybourne and colleague Tanmoy Dutta, lead architect from IBM for Oren.
The first challenge is improving the quality and management of collected information - or, in other words, overcoming data siloes.
"Our mining customers have data from different sources in various formats. This creates siloes. [For example], data from operations, dam monitoring, risk management - unifying them to serve an overarching purpose is manual work," Dutta said.
"What we want is to resolve this silo concept. We create a virtualisation layer which facilitates information exchange between systems to monitor and manage TSF end-to-end performance. We use our industry information model as a reference to identify the information gap and enrich the data so that it works for you by helping to understand and improve the operations and activities associated with tailings management. Data enrichment becomes easy when you can connect the disparities and merge isolated or connected data to obtain information which then translates into an operational improvement."
Next is the need to optimise operations to manage tailings risk.
"It's a challenge around utilising trusted data to make those decisions. Increased information quality means we can make decisions earlier to manage risk more effectively," Leybourne said.
"This information is not specific to one site. We know every tailings site has variations, but there are commonalities we can leverage to implement [insights] on other sites to share learnings and scale at speed," Dutta added.
Finally, there is the need to quickly deliver digital solutions to realise these TSF performance improvements - a challenge addressed through OREN's TSF modular approach.
The modular approach comes from an appreciation that "each tailings facility has different challenges depending on their environment, or they're producing, which is where we can tailor modules to specifically address the pain points that they're trying to improve" Leybourne said.
"We deliver a combination of proven digital solutions, combined and integrated into one complete end-to-end tailings solution. Modules include data collection, advanced analytics and risk prediction right up to a dynamic digital twin of your TSF." Leybourne said.
OREN tailings solution in action
Looking under the hood, Leybourne said OREN's TSF Intelligent Solution is broken down into three main components.
It begins with a single interface where users can get all their tailings information in one place.
Behind the scenes, the OREN data platform integrates data and enriches the information, so that other digital capabilities and digital solutions within the modules can be leveraged.
"The understanding is delivered through different modules [which are] dependent on the mine sites need. It could be that there is a data gap, so we could provide sensors to acquire the critical data. It could be about processing the information, by applying advanced analytics we can work with the different datasets (multivariate) to give us [an] understanding of what's happening or [of] emerging risks across your tailing's lifecycle," Leybourne said.
Lastly, to help users deliver value, OREN partners with users every step of the way to not only implement the solution but also formulate new ways of thinking.
Drawing on a recent case study, Leybourne said it helped a client understand critical information requirements and how building on what they already had could be translated into a dynamic view of tailings operations to identify and automate "trigger points" where the client would need to take action to mitigate risks.
Risks that develop gradually are the ones most likely to go undetected in a manual environment, according to Leybourne.
Ultimately the focus with all clients is on risk management, and these risks are multi-dimensional, Dutta noted.
"It's about assessing tailings management as a whole and making meaning out of it. There are [other digital] solutions that can do it separately, but they don't have the span to consider all the factors. We build out [a complete end-to-end solution] as we fully utilise all the information in our hand - it means we take into account not only the tailings storage itself but its wider and associated impact."