Improving Tailings Monitoring and Safety with Real-Time Data Collection in Chile

March 11, 2020

Chile is one of the most seismically active countries in the world. In fact, the largest earthquake recorded in the 20th century – a 9.5 magnitude quake – took place along the southern coast of Chile in 1960. Those conditions make monitoring and managing for seismic activity a major priority across Chile, including at Teck’s Carmen de Andacollo (CdA) Operations.

As an open pit copper operation, CdA has several facilities for processing and storing materials from the mining process, including a tailings storage facility formed by five dams and naturally high topography. To ensure the safety and stability of these dams, CdA continuously monitors for seismic activity, stability of the foundations, and other physical variables such as water levels.

From Manual to Real-Time Monitoring

Standard practice in the industry has been to manually monitor the instruments or sensors at the dams on a regular schedule. Using this data to determine trends and predict potential differences from design parameters was a key element of successful monitoring.

But a team from Teck has implemented an innovative solution to use digital technology to make collecting this data faster and more efficient.  

Drina Tapia and Luis Diaz Badilla from CdA’s Concentrator Operations team, together with Luciano Maluenda, Rodrigo Vega and Pedro Galvez from Teck Digital Systems, developed and implemented a system to continuously monitor all of the instruments and sensors for the tailings dam remotely, called the "Tecnología Aplicada a Deposito de Relaves” or in English, “Technology Applied to Tailings Storage”.

How the Monitoring Works

The initial stage of the project focused on the vibrating wire piezometers, which are sensors installed within the tailings dams and foundation that are used to monitor water pressure in the foundation and fill. The piezometers are connected to dataloggers—instruments that record the reading delivered by the sensor— that wirelessly transmit the piezometric information to a custom-built web-based platform.

Data from each piezometer is automatically uploaded and entered into a database that enables several features, including sending automatic alerts via e-mail and mobile platforms and allowing for visualization, recording and downloading of data

The web-based system also facilitates monitoring and evaluation of seismic activity, as well as rainfall events.

“With the sensors and our new system, we are making data collection more efficient, strengthening collaboration between the teams responsible for tailings monitoring and management, and ultimately helping to improve the safety of our facilities,” said Luis Diaz.

Teck is putting ideas like real-time monitoring of tailings dam to work across our operations. Learn more about our approach to tailings management on our website.


First Published on March 11, 2020