By Ziad Choueiry
Digital transformation — once so singularly identified with the thoughtful alignment of enterprise infrastructure to accommodate online users — has begun to impact myriad industries, among them mining.
That’s not conjecture. There are real data points behind it. In fact, an oft-cited report produced by World Economic Forum predicts that digital transformation in the mining industry may generate as much as $425 billion of value for the mining industry through 2025 with 82% of executives, according to a survey by Accenture, reporting they expected an increase in investment in digital technology over the next few years.
Interestingly, the same principles that have guided the application of technology to enterprises, that is, the ability to provide administrators with real-time visibility and control similarly guide what mine operations will look like in the future: interconnected and data driven to help mining personnel track, analyze and optimize operations. The result? An ability to calibrate everything from production to profitability, improve safety, and even reduce environmental impact that effectively “decarbonates” the mining process.
To unlock and maximize this value, mining companies are demanding reliable, high-performance wireless connectivity as they digitalize and automate their operations.
A polyglot of technology solutions is available to drive digital transformation in the mining industry. We recommend considering best-fit technology based on a combination of current and future applications that run on the mobile equipment onsite, the organization’s technology roadmap and, ideally, backward compatibility. Additional criteria: whether advanced data analytics capabilities will be applied to the raw data to create visualizations, insights and recommendations to be shared with mine managers and employees, in real-time, on their mobile devices.
While implementing customized mobile communications solutions to meet the unique requirements of a digital mine can be very challenging, the key aspects of operational outcomes come down to four basic principles: Safety, Security, Smart Analytics and Sustainability.
In mining operations, private LTE networks enhance automation at the site by monitoring and controlling equipment without interruption and, keenly, connecting personnel to vehicles and sensors, thereby improving safety. This persistence of connectivity — real-time tracking and live communication from anywhere workers are located in the mine, regardless of the number of access points or which mobile device is being used to monitor them above ground by mine managers — helps reduce mining incidents and tragedies.
Purpose-built, wireless video surveillance increases both mine safety and site security, providing mine management with high-quality, reliable connections to ensure assets and personnel are secure and safe. And, because modern wireless equipment employs non-line-of-sight (NLOS) technology, it simplifies outdoor deployment.
Additionally, a private LTE network allows secure data communication over the network. By leveraging strong authentication technology, exposure of data to unauthorized third parties is mitigated or eliminated entirely.
Increasingly, there is a need in mining operations for a single converged network for voice, surveillance, data, automation, and IoT (Internet of Things) applications with specific real-time Quality of Service (QoS) requirements, industrial grade reliability and security. This enables the digital mine to:
1. Connect the data in the mine
2. Collect the data in the mine
3. Extract data in real-time using Smart Analytics
For example, by providing analytics to predict failures before they occur, M2M (Machine to Machine) sensors can detect the real-time status of heavy equipment and vehicles. Considering the cost of an excavator going down at a mining operation can be as much as $5 million per day and losing a haul truck can mean a loss of $1.8 million per day, equipment performance has significant repercussions.
Additionally, with access to real-time data and analytics, geologists, mine planners and pit controllers, as well as drilling and blasting teams can, among other tasks, utilize visualization tools that provide 3D displays of a mine (geological modeling), on-the-day scheduling, and even predictive maintenance through smart statistical and optimization algorithms.
A private LTE network is also sustainable — enabling comprehensive situational awareness for improved safety, with full visibility of people, assets and infrastructure —without the invasive footprint of humans or machines. This ‘green’ transformation reduces climate impact through increased production efficiencies and the ‘decarbonization’ of the supply chain. On a broader scale, such sustainability plants a stake in the ground as the mining industry’s response to climate change while solidifying mining materials as the cornerstone of the energy transition.
This article originally appeared in Mining First Drc-Zambia Magazine March/April 2020 issue as “Use digital Mining to unlock value, drive productivity” By Ziad Choueiry | March 18, 2020