The Applicability of IoT in the Mining Industry
Virtually every industry has begun to adopt Internet of Things (IoT) and Industry 4.0 technology, and mining is no exception. IoT technology can benefit mining in many ways. Asset management is more transparent and efficient with remote sensors and detectors. Risk to worker safety can be reduced by tracking technology linked with automated systems. Advanced techniques, such as Predictive Maintenance, can be achieved, along with increased efficiency for the operation.
Let’s discuss everything in more detail.
One core feature of IoT technology is improved asset management strategies. A mining operation spans huge distances both horizontally and vertically, so location of assets is an important concern. The ability of knowing exactly where your equipment is – in real time – is a massive benefit for many mine sites. How much time has been wasted attempting to locate valuable equipment or tools at a large spanning mine site? Even with an inventory location system, there are breakdowns as humans forget to use the system or make mistakes in data entry.
Information about the mine itself can be leveraged as well. Drill depth, pit controlling, tailings, air quality, etc. can all be tracked and sent to a communications hub. Visual tools can help the operation to quickly understand the situation and make informed choices.
With this knowledge, supply chain and operations can have up-to-the-second status on their processes. This means intelligent decisions can be made with all relevant data at hand.
Predictive maintenance fits right into the asset management goal. With installation of relevant equipment sensors, the health of the machines can be determined in real time. This allows for predictive analytics that can inform the operation about an impending equipment failure, which they can start to plan for accordingly.
With a predictive maintenance program, the maintenance resources start to shift. Rather than reacting to breakdowns, the staff will work to prevent the breakdowns from occurring. Besides reducing maintenance costs, this shift yields many benefits. Production is not interrupted, allowing operations and supply chain to focus on value-add activities rather than reactions to disturbances. The whole operation runs smoother and staff endure less stress overall.
With the increase in available data, the operation can become more efficient. In Australia, Fortescue Metal Group used the data gathered from their Asset Management System to understand the amount of ore loaded in each truck. If the truck did not have the appropriate amount, the driver was notified and told to add more ore. This led to the mine increasing its yield throughput of ore, which in turn “led to a significant revenue boost.” There are many similar opportunities that can be leveraged using IoT technology.
The greatest benefit to the mining industry from IoT is perhaps through improved safety. There are numerous examples of using real-time data to improve safety measures. As mining tends to be one of the more dangerous industries, a reduction in risk can benefit a site.
A natural thought is to use IoT tech for location of workers, and this has occurred at several mines already. In using location technology, the operation has a good understanding of where its workers are at all times and can use this to ensure all are in safe conditions. This information can be combined with other area monitoring.
Air quality is one of the first subjects that come to mind when thinking of area monitoring. After a blast for example, the air could be analyzed to ensure its safety. If a worker entered the wrong location, operations could be notified of the danger.
Goldcorp developed an on-demand ventilation system to partner with employee location data. The ventilation system turns on when employees near the area and measures air quality. In addition to keeping the employees safe with proper air, turning the system off in areas of non-use saved the mine between $1.5 and $2.5 million per year. Similar strategies can be employed for lighting networks.
Another potential with IoT technology is the removal of an employee from a dangerous situation altogether. Remote control of equipment has been achieved at some locations, including Rio Tinto Pilbara in Australia. This site has been using self-driving ore dump trucks for over 10 years. They operate a fleet of 53 trucks that each contains over 200 sensors a GPS, and a radar guidance system. The routes for the trucks are preset, but the trucks can move dynamically if needed.
Tracking the mine’s environmental footprint is also a potential opportunity with IoT. Government overwatch becomes stricter by the year, and public interest in sustainability is larger than ever. Fortunately, IoT technology can help the site to meet and exceed their environmental regulations by providing the proper information to the operations team.
In one example, levels in a tailings dam can be tracked over time, which allows the staff to respond before a potential environmental situation. The site can show their commitment to environmental stewardship by tracking their impact on effluents in order to avoid potential issues.
There are many facets of the mining operation that can be bettered through IoT, and many mine operations have been reaping these benefits for years. Asset management, safety, efficiency, and environmental impact can all be tracked and improved with an IoT strategy.
The true power comes through combining all this intelligence together so that an operator or engineer can be presented with all information about the site. Equipped with this data, they can then combine the analyses to make the best decisions for the operation as a whole.