Satellite-enabled IoT can be mining industry game changer, Viasat says

As the mining industry faces mounting pressure to enhance its sustainability efforts, a significant majority (86%) of mining leaders have expressed intent to bolster their Internet of Things (IoT) adoption, according to Viasat’s Nicholas Prevost*.

This may point to growing acceptance in the industry that connectivity can help meet operational demands and demonstrate tangible sustainability progress to customers, investors and the general public in the coming year.

The capabilities of IoT – such as remote monitoring and control – are extensive for mining firms. The technology can support a variety of needs, whether it be through connected machinery that collects and analyses data, or through weather analysis to predict and mitigate against extreme weather.

To recognise IoT’s value and increase its use, it is vital for mining firms to first understand how the technology can enhance its mission-critical operations. Overall, IoT can help companies improve workforce safety, operational efficiency and offer cost-savings; as well as reduce environmental impact of their operations. All of which can lead to safer and more sustainable mining operations.

Safeguarding workforce and assets

According to the European Commission, mining and quarrying had the highest count for fatal accidents at work in the EU in 2020. By its very nature, the mining industry can be dangerous if operations and staff are not closely monitored and protected in near real time.

IoT-enabled capabilities, such as remote dam monitoring and pump control, can help mining companies reduce the need for personnel on the ground. This in turn, supports efforts in minimising accident rates and helping to prevent fatalities as the number of staff operating in challenging environments is reduced.

More widely, through solutions like weather monitoring, companies can also help protect their staff and assets from extreme events, like storm or lightning strikes. This also reduces accidents that can be associated with being in remote, unsheltered locations.

Additionally, capabilities like remote vehicle tracking can help mining operators keep a closer eye on personnel. An example of this is Viasat’s partner, Ivanhoe Mines, that has integrated satellite-connected telemetry solutions to track assets and improve driver safety. In doing so, operators can closely monitor the speed at which their staff are travelling between locations and reduce the risk of accidents occurring. Through location monitoring, it can also establish if a vehicle hasn’t moved for a period of time and the driver can be contacted as a precautionary measure or if an issue occurs.

Enhancing operational efficiency and cost-savings

IoT also holds significant potential in improving everyday efficiencies for mining firms. For example, closed mine sites, which are either abandoned or in ‘care and maintenance,’ require careful monitoring. Although sites may not be in operation, companies are still responsible for compliance with environmental regulations, health and safety and security. Companies must send staff out to check in on these sites – which can be costly and potentially dangerous due to legacy infrastructure, hostile climates and remote environments.

Monitoring of these mines can be supported through IoT sensors automatically, remotely and in real time: reducing the need for personnel to be physically present. Solutions can include air monitoring or on-demand HD video and access control, all of which can provide peace of mind for managers, reduce costs, improve visibility and allow monitoring of the biggest risks including flooding events and waste management.

Monitoring for ESG

With growing pressure on all industries to improve their sustainability initiatives and take clear action towards net zero goals, ESG has become a main concern in mining. Considering this, investing in IoT solutions can provide a noticeable return for mining companies who are looking to not only improve the sustainability of operations. Examples include areas like water management and tailings storage to avoid leaks and failures that can impact operations, communities and the environment – and streamline ESG reporting.

Through real-time monitoring and alerting, IoT solutions can help to capture and analyse data from sensors on sites and feed into automated reporting solutions on user-friendly platforms. These capabilities allow mining specialists to make more informed and quicker decisions in relation to water usage or failures and help mitigate the considerable impact on operations.

Real-time updates can also improve transparency in reporting, which is paramount for mining companies to maintain the trust of their investors and to be seen to be compliant with industry standards. By connecting the operations of the mining sites, firms can more easily track compliance with ESG regulations and reduce the risk of fines or legal action. That ensures a degree of transparency that can improve relationships with stakeholders.

Leverage satellite connectivity

Due to the typically remote locations of mining sites, conventional terrestrial connectivity is often unavailable or unreliable. With its global reach and reliability, satellite connectivity offers a vital alternative as well as a resilient back-up to terrestrial networks, regardless of a mine’s geographic location.

Satellite-enabled IoT solutions are being used in many cases within mines around the world. Viasat says it plays a pivotal role in ensuring these solutions are supported.

Leveraging Viasat’s L-band network – a global satellite network for IoT solutions – mining firms can benefit from high network availability of up to 99.9% through a globally standardised satellite connectivity solution, according to the company. Increased availability is also particularly relevant for short-term contractors or mining companies operating in regions that are remote and seismically unstable. In both cases they may not be willing to invest in costly, fixed communications infrastructure.

Overall, considering its benefits across operational efficiency and sustainability, the adoption of satellite-enabled IoT has the potential to be a game-changer for mining firms looking to future-proof their operations amid changing business environments.

*Nicholas Prevost is APAC Market Development Manager and Director of Mining at Viasat