A Swedish research project has showcased that by applying the latest technology within communication and automation, underground mines can become both more efficient and safer. In the Pilot for Industrial Mobile communication in Mining (PIMM) project, Boliden, Ericsson, Telia, Volvo CE, ABB, RISE SICS and LTU have all contributed with their advanced technology and knowledge within digitalisation and automation. The companies and organisations have joined forces to explore what the next generation mobile communication technology, 5G, could mean for business models and the crucial communication in a mine.
“The benefit of working with other technology-based companies is huge, and there has been a great openness and willingness to collaborate in the project that further has increased the benefit” says Rikard Mäki from Volvo CE. In the project, Volvo CE developed and tested their remotely controlled wheel loader in a mining environment, in which the wheel loader operated at depth of 400 m with the operator sitting in an office above the mine.
“It is necessary to work with real problems in a real environment, together with other actors in the ecosystem, as it increases the chances for success. The collaboration within the PIMM project has worked very well, there has been a genuine interest to collaborate from all partners” says Peter de Bruin from Ericsson, who has designed the mobile network in the mine. For Ericsson, the PIMM project has been part of their 5G for Sweden program.
“We have had the possibility, together with our partners, to truly explore the full opportunities of digitalisation in an underground mine”, says Magnus Leonhardt from Telia. In the Kankberg underground mine, Telia developed the communication services. “Everything from using mobile phones 400 meters down in the mountain and remotely controlling vehicles, to connecting various mining equipment that can help make work safer for all those working in the mine. We have also identified new application areas we did not even think about before the project began.”
The Pilot for Industrial Mobile Communication in Mining (PIMM) project installed the latest technology for mobile communications in Boliden’s underground mine Kankberg to test how this new technology stands in a tough industrial environment with challenging applications, where network delays can have major consequences for safety and work.
In the PIMM project, ABB could control the mine ventilation system 400 meters down in the Boliden Kankberg mine with the control function in the cloud via wireless connection. “With mobile communication technology, we and our customers get more flexibility and we can provide service on an entirely new level”, says Jan Nyqvist, global product manager for mine automation within ABB.
The collaboration between the companies and organizations has resulted in showcasing that the future underground mine could not only be more efficient, but also safer. After each blasting the mountain needs to be secured and reinforced with, among other things, rock bolts. Within the PIMM project, so called smart rock bolts were tested and installed to enable online measurements and receive warnings if the rock begins moving too much. Also, a positioning system has been developed which is not only important when remotely controlling machines, but also when locating personnel in the case of an accident. As a result of the project, the miners are able to use their own mobile phones for calls and mobile broadband services, down in the mine, with even better performance than above ground.
“The project has exceeded the goals we had when we launched the project”, explains Eilert Johansson, PIMM project leader and senior project leader at RISE SICS. “We have seen so many innovative thoughts and ideas come to light within the project, and we see now that they are beginning to be turned into reality. This is exactly the goal of RISE, to help the Swedish business becoming more competitive.”