Six Reasons Underground Mine Managers need to use Face Utilization as an Operational KPI

The key objective of every mine manager is to get maximum tonnage from mines and achieve the best safety performances. Strict implementation of activity schedule, sequence of activities, face utilization, and advance rates are vital elements to increase productivity, safety performances, and lower costs. 

Underground mines are the black boxes by nature of the operation. Due to poor visibility in underground mines, under-utilization affects both the miners’ production and safety. Mine managers must be extra careful about underground operations and keep themselves updated with real-time operation and safety KPIs. Mine digitization solutions provide required insights for the mine managers to make data-driven decisions in real-time.    

The advent of mechanization helped to achieve increased productivity and improved safety. The percentage of face utilization has increased after mechanization, and there is still room for improvement. Understanding the bottlenecks and delays and proactive corrective actions contribute to increased face utilization and improved safety for workers. Continuous collection and analysis of face utilization data are mandatory for this. 

Traffic congestion at working faces is high and lots of sequential activities such as drilling, blasting, face preparation, supporting, loading, hauling, cleaning, etc., take place at the face. Any break in this sequence of activities contributes to the poor utilization of working faces. Proper tracking of this activity sequence is essential, and a mine digitization solution can manage it. Real-time capture of this data in a centralized system helps mine managers get a clear view of the operation status, tonnage mined, and safety-related information. Good communication is key to enabling real-time/near real-time data transfer. 

In underground mines, there are several consequences of face under-utilization.

1.  Low NPV and ROI: The gestation period in underground mines is much more extended than in surface mines. Under-utilization of the faces results in delayed production and more time for capital recovery.

2.  Loss of Revenue: Mechanization has improved the overall productivity over the traditional mining method. However, lower equipment utilization leads to lower productivity and significant revenue losses in highly mechanized mines.

3.  Rock Mass Failure: If the roofs and side walls are kept unsupported for a long time due to poor utilization, it may cause rock falls due to dynamic load. Optimal face utilization becomes very important in coal mines, where the load on the pillar develops lateral stress and causes side falls if not appropriately managed. 

4.  Spontaneous Heating of Coal: It depends on the incubation period of the coal deposit. If a coal deposit incubation period is nine months, the extraction of a mining panel in a district should be completed within nine months. Otherwise, spontaneous heating will start, forcing management to close the panel before the expected extraction. The loss of coal due to unexpected heating can be avoided by improved face utilization and extracting the coal within the stipulated time.

5.  Spontaneous Heating and Fire: Coal can interact with oxygen in the air at ambient temperature, liberating heat. Suppose the heat is allowed to accumulate, the interaction rate increases and may lead to fires. Thus, spontaneous heating in the panel endangers lives. 

Continuous monitoring of face utilization and schedule of activities is mandatory for safe and efficient mining operations. Mine digitization solution enables the mine owner to keep track of these activities and maintain a centralized database. Real-time analysis of these data generates insights for data-driven corrective actions to bring things on track in case of any deviation. This eliminates the negative consequences due to poor face utilization.

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