Lab Data: The Key to Unlocking the Modern Mine

As global companies continue to increase demand for mined-ore based commodities such as zinc, lead, aluminium, silver and copper, the mining industry faces a wealth of new opportunities and the pressures that come with them.

Combined with a growing economic and political climate for investment in remote parts of the world, the global need for raw manufacturing materials has driven the mining industry to excavate areas that were previously inaccessible to large-scale development. With mining already a high-risk endeavour that demands the measurement of human and environmental exposure to toxins and contaminants, it is essential that modern mining operations are equipped with the tools to help them manage and monitor their internal and external processes effectively.

In order to assure the quality/certification of products, optimise the efficiency and throughput of continuous processes and comply with industry,international or governmental product and safety standards, the modern mine must control its processes with rigorous testing and real-time monitoring.

Laboratory Information Management Systems (LIMS) are key components in the day-to-day management of a modern mine, not only to provide increased productivity, but also to help operations comply with the myriad of regulatory requirements related to everything from documentation and instrument calibration to environmental monitoring.

Regulatory Environment

There are several critical areas of compliance for any mining operation, including security, instrumentation calibration, maintenance of electronic records, traceability of procedures and personnel, environmental and equipment monitoring.

The ability of laboratory managers to have control of this vital information is an important aspect of the mining operation and ensures production can continue uninterrupted by personnel changes or equipment that falls out of calibration.

Most modern mines are governed by local and international regulatory requirements. Common to all large process industries is Good Laboratory Practice (GLP). It requires companies to conform to a number of external regulatory disciplines, including ISO 9000, which establishes a standard for the quality process in any manufacturing or laboratory environment.

Additional releases of ISO standards, which also fall under GLP guidelines, relate to environmental monitoring (ISO 14000), and ISO 17025 regulates testing and calibration laboratories, which directly affects any major mining operation.

Being able to electronically manage the data produced in a mine’s laboratory,in addition to managing the ongoing recalibration processes for key instrumentation,will greatly improve the functionality of the lab and provide lab managers with the validated documentation necessary for compliance with any local or governmental regulations, as well as ISO and GLP requirements.

How the LIMS Manages Data

Laboratory Information Management Systems (LIMS) offer a centralised data-management system to electronically access and share data generated by the laboratory’s instrumentation, enabling more efficient and productive management of the lab and its personnel.

In some mining laboratories, manual processes are still the norm for collating information and preparing reports related to product quality,production output and environmental analysis.

Time spent preparing these manual reports, added to the unavoidable human error factor in manual work, can render the laboratory too slow to alter processes or respond to compliance issues stemming from out-of-calibration instruments or equipment.

A LIMS can offer time and cost savings and help laboratory managers increase productivity, thereby contributing to the overall financial position of the mine.

A LIMS installed in a modern mining operation will support the automated reports and information analysis used in production-management decision-making for process and product quality.

Modern LIMS support existing enterprise Quality Control systems,such as SAP or Oracle, and can interface to other ERPs (enterprise resource-planning systems) across the organisation, as appropriate, such as MES (manufacturing execution systems) and PIMS (process information-management systems).

Conclusion

The future of mining depends on the industry’s capacity to maintain a balance between profitability and preservation of new, secluded environments.

Human capital also needs to be protected, both on-site and in the surrounding communities, where measurement of human and environmental exposure must be monitored.This requires risk assessment at all stages to ensure any effects on the environment and people are always understood.

Laboratory Information Management Systems address these requirements, serving as a tool to manage mining data, which enables laboratory and mining operations managers to obtain faster results, improved efficiencies,increased margins and certification of the end product.

An automated information-management system can ensure documented and validated regulatory compliance with the many requirements imposed on the industry.

A LIMS can also provide the audit trail to assure those regulatory authorities that the company’s mining activities have no negative impact on the environment.

Modern mining operations will realise these benefits and deliver increased value to their shareholders when they automate their laboratories with world-class LIMS.

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