How IoT and Cloud are Powering the Mining Industry
The mining industry comprises a diverse field of sectors, each with their own unique challenges. And while it can be difficult to identify the barriers and solutions for each, mining companies, or those that cater to the industry, are leveraging technology propelled by the Internet of Things (IoT) and working in the cloud to make the industry safer and more energy efficient, automated and financially viable.
Some of the biggest demands and concerns that we are seeing from mining as it relates to IoT and cloud are centred around cost containment, safety and environmental impacts, new business and community drivers, employee support and development, and overall technology standards.
Company CIOs are looking for and choosing network technology that supports open standards so they can future-proof their technology investments. According to The World Economic Forum, global mining stakeholders identify automation of operations as a top technological driver. IoT is the enabler of this movement.
Network connectivity is gold for mining
As mines go deeper or move into more remote settings, and as mining companies look for ways to improve processes, equipment and resources to establish efficiencies, they have an increased reliance on wireless technologies to support their current and future demands. They require a range of connectivity solutions to enable IoT cloud solutions that power things like sensors, fleet tracking and diagnostics.
This technology and digitization is made possible by network providers that work closely with mining companies to provide a ubiquitous network experience (across micro and macro networks), offering seamless integration of platforms and solutions with networks, versus Over the Top (OTT) solutions that ride over the network.
Long Term Evolution (LTE) wireless networks provide many advantages for mining, including greater coverage and greater propagation. Just recently Bell announced the upcoming launch of its LTE-M network, which will support mining devices on low-power wide-area networks (LPWAN) and provide advantages such as longer battery life and lower-cost LTE-M modules.
In remote locations, mines need access to large LTE networks. Cellular coverage is a prerequisite in these circumstances and mines need access to reliable networks that leverage multiple technologies (carrier aggregation, 4×4 MIMO, 256 QAM) that offer faster speeds and more capacity to support the simultaneous transport of data over multiple connection points.
For locations like tunnels and open pits, as well as in-buildings, network technologies like Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS) can be implemented to provide connectivity in ground and in areas where macro connectivity is not strong.
Mining digs deeper with IoT and cloud
Supported by a strong network, IoT and cloud allow the mining industry to leverage technology such as wirelessly connected sensors to provide more data, as well as aggregate data from multiple areas to enable equipment that provides more accurate and potentially new insights.
These insights can help determine where and when to drill or mine, find the location of a water leak, or even monitor fuel tanks. There are also IoT trends such as assistive technologies like augmented and virtual reality that are being investigated to support “heads up display” on eyewear and monitors to help mining employees make decisions in the field.
Here are some other ways that IoT and cloud help mining companies improve their business and processes:
- Environmental and energy management – services that monitor tanks and pipelines for leaks, and sensors for lighting, HVAC, tanks, etc. to help lower energy costs.
- Worker safety – emergency response applications, automatic presence detection, and reducing on-site risks for workers in hazardous or remote environments by using sensors on headlamps connected to an automated ventilation system.
- Security – wireless surveillance cameras that can be easily deployed throughout the site to remotely monitor workers and equipment.
- Data collection and analytics – data can be collected from multiple locations and pieces of equipment, and can be centralized to provide an aggregated view of operations; data can be used to enable faster and better decision making and create new insights.
- Productivity and efficiency:
- Remote management of equipment provides data on performance, temperature, diagnostics and machine health, enabling mines to meet production timelines.
- Fleet diagnostics and location tracking that allow for predictive maintenance and route optimization.
- Automation – underground self-operating trucks help to increase productivity (deeper depths, longer hours, etc.), in areas with high temperatures.
- Predictive maintenance for devices like gas turbines and diesel generators that are monitored for performance.
- Monitoring of industrial processes and visual inspection of materials and products for improved quality management.
Mining and the relationship with network providers
Mining is building strong partnerships with network companies that deliver industry-leading IoT and cloud, and that have the ability to understand the business and implement customizable and unique solutions.
An example of this is the Rio Tinto “Mine of the Future” (video below) program that has enabled the company to make its operations safer and more efficient. They worked with a network provider to help correlate unsafe driving behaviours such as speeding and harsh braking to specific site supervisors.
They embarked on this data analysis process because autonomous trucks in their Hope Downs 4 (video Below) mine have a 14 per cent higher utilization than similar mines they run and cost 13 per cent less to operate. In June 2014, the fleet of autonomous trucks had moved 200 million tons of material. By October, that figure had increased to 300 million tons.
In 2016, Rio Tinto announced it was starting to use big data to examine the information it gathers from its connected machines. The idea is to find even more ways to increase productivity, reduce costs, improve ground monitoring, optimize fleet management and improve the safety of ship loading.
Technological innovations are driving the industry to work with providers that offer advanced network technologies (LTE-M, 4CA, QAM) and have access to Global SIM to gain multinational network access to track and monitor their assets wherever they are located and at any time.
We are seeing more and more the manifestation of IoT and cloud opportunities in mining, and network providers are giving them faster access to real-time data from more places to help them realize their goals of efficiency, streamlined processes and overall business growth and success.