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20 September 2018

When thinking of fibre optics, many will consider their use in lightning-fast broadband connections that allow users to swiftly connect to the Internet. But fibre optic capability extends far beyond entertainment and technology. It has a large part to play within the mining sector that delivers the components able to build computer, televisions and mobile phones.

Thanks to their quick delivery and sensors, fibre optics have a huge role within the industrial sector, particularly in mining, as they are able play the part of an all-seeing eye, able to deliver important information about operations from a mine site back to the control centre.

With this unique capability, fibre optics play a big part in Anglo American’s ongoing operations:

Fibre optics are crucial to the delivery of the Waterless Mine. Mining is heavily dependent on water, which is becoming an increasingly scarce resource. To cut down on our water usage and align with our FutureSmart MiningTM Sustainability Strategy pillar of maintaining a healthy environment, we envision a fully waterless mine of the future, and fibre optics will have a key role to play in that.

Pervasive sensing

One of the ways to limit our water use is to better understand how the water is being used.

Knowing flow rates will help us deliver efficiencies in water savings, so it’s ever more critical to understand how water is moving through our operations. We use fibre optics in a solution we call “pervasive sensing,” which uses a singular circuit (as opposed to traditional sensors that could only measure at certain points) to measure water flows across multiple points in a region.

This technology is used in one of our Australian mines as well as our Mogalakwena platinum mine in South Africa. And you don’t need to take our word for its potential: The technology was honoured with an Outstanding Achievement Award for the Best Use of Smart Technology for Sustainability at the 2017 Mines and Technology conference.

Monitoring tailings dams

Fibre optics are necessary to safeguarding tailings dams. While fibre optics have proven their power to monitor water flow for informational purposes, they also have a part to play in maintaining integrity and safety at mining sites.

We are already seeing this come to fruition in Chile, where we have deployed fibre optic technology to monitor our tailings dams, which hold the minerals we have mined before they are separated. These dams are crucial and their monitoring for any issues is imperative. That’s where fibre optics come in, as fibre optic cable technology can enable near real-time measurement and analysis data to understand structural movements, long-term deformation or creeps into dam foundations.

In addition to its work in Chile, fibre optic cable technology will be used at our Minas-Rio mine in Brazil to monitor a tunnel system that will soon be subjected to large loads as a tailings dam is raised. Understanding its performance and structural integrity will be crucial to monitor risks and maintaining our operations.

Worth far more than their commonly known applications, fibre optics are an important part of mining and allow us the intangible benefits of being able to observe things the human eye cannot deep in our mining operations. Already, this hero technology is being deployed at operations around the world and the importance of the role of fibre optics will increase as we continue to understand and develop their potential.

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