Tag Archives: 5G

Metso Outotec takes mining and metals innovation to the next level with new facility

Metso Outotec has launched its first innovation centre in Espoo, Finland, as it looks to bring “together the comprehensive value chain from ore to metals” and enable “rapid co-creation with customers and partners”.

The Metso Outotec Innovation Center offers unique expertise and tools for solving different types of challenges, from process optimisation to the selection and virtual prototyping of solutions, in a cutting-edge environment, the company says.

“It takes ideation, collaboration, and innovation to the next level,” Metso Outotec added.

Veli-Matti Järvinen, Vice President for Automation and Digital Solutions, Minerals, at Metso Outotec, explained: “The Innovation Center introduces a completely new way to collaborate and co-create with our customers and partners. Adding value to our customers’ processes and ensuring their reliable, efficient and sustainable operation, as well as safety are all at the core of what we do at the Innovation Center.”

The centre looks to serve demand for a suitable virtual environment in which to quickly develop and test flowsheet solutions and prototypes, with the facility able to offer digital demonstrations; host training, problem-solving and co-creation workshop sessions; demonstrate technologies and services; cement value calculations; and display three-dimensional engineering digital twins in accurate form while securely protecting data and sensitive content.

These are just some of the features currently in play, with more set to be introduced including process control demonstrations, 5G connectivity, a metallurgical digital twin, extended process optimiser demonstrations, and modelling and simulation.

Järvinen concluded: “In our new digital space, we can support our customers at every stage of their continuous improvement path. We’re thrilled about the opportunities offered by the Innovation Center: it speeds up the innovation cycle and makes efficient collaboration possible in a space that is both physical and digital.”

Mobilaris’ new devices to leverage latest communication, machine-learning tools

Intent on “mastering the latest technologies” in its domain, Mobilaris says it will focus on the use of next-generation communication technologies such as 5G and Wi-Fi 6, and artificial intelligence, to build out its new safety solutions in 2021.

Mobilaris says it is building a device using 5G technologies that will be used in a new offering for Mobilaris Industrial Solutions.

By leveraging these new technologies, it will bring Industry 4.0 digital workforce safety to all its customers, it said.

To ensure this new device is “truly world-class in terms of safety, performance and resilience”, Mobilaris has partnered with Sigma Connectivity and Ericsson to leverage their expertise in this domain. It says it is the first company to use the new reference cellular IoT design from Ericsson called Ardesco.

The company said: “5G and cellular IoT are technologies that will open up new possibilities, but they need connection to existing public mobile networks, or private networks. Therefore, Mobilaris has partnered with Telia to bring our new solution to the market.”

Earlier this year, the company joined Telia’s 5G program as a new member and, after that, secured a commercial partnership to bring solutions to the market while at the same time tailor its use of the Telia network to maximise performance and efficiency.

Another key technology for next generation communication solutions is Wi-Fi 6.

Mobilaris has been deploying Wi-Fi-based solutions for many years, with 2021 representing no change to the status quo.

“Many of our customers have Wi-Fi networks, and we are continuing to invest in this technology to secure our capability to meet all customer demands and to innovate, leveraging the new additions coming in Wi-Fi 6, 6E and beyond,” it said.

This is where a partnership with Aruba will bring best-in-class, real-time situational awareness to industry customers around the globe, Mobilaris said.

The use of artificial intelligence is also nothing new for the Sweden and US-based company. It has already deployed its Mobilaris Onboard product in several mines across the globe and, at its core, machine learning is creating “value for our customers” that would not have been possible just a few years ago, it says.

It concluded: “Moving ahead, we are continuing to invest in AI to further accelerate our products and solutions and we expect to announce several new research partnerships here within the near future.”

Aqura to supply LTE equipment to Iron Bridge magnetite project

Veris Ltd subsidiary, Aqura Technologies, has secured a contract to supply advanced LTE equipment for the Iron Bridge Magnetite project, a joint venture between Fortescue Metals Group subsidiary FMG Magnetite Pty Ltd and Formosa Steel IB Pty Ltd, in the Pilbara of Western Australia.

The A$2 million ($1.4 million) contract reflects Aqura’s strong focus to understand the evolving technology needs of the project and demonstrate its industry-leading capability to identify and design robust technology solutions that will support clients’ future operational strategies, the company said.

Aqura Technologies CEO, Travis Young, said: “This contract award is a great validation of the strategy the Aqura team are pursuing to leverage their expertise to enable other organisations to achieve positive business outcomes with leading-edge technology. We are very pleased to be supporting the great work of FMG and look forward to assisting them with their longer-term technology transformation program.

“Aqura continues to lead in high-performance industrial connectivity with advanced engagements for new rollouts, and other developments such as the imminent completion of our first 5G-enabled LTE network to bring the benefits of private LTE to a broader spectrum of businesses.”

The $2.6 billion Iron Bridge Magnetite project is expected to see a new magnetite mine developed to support production of 22 Mt/y of high-grade concentrate, according to Fortescue. First concentrate is expected to be produced by mid-2022.

Nokia teams up with Speedcast to improve connectivity in remote locations

Communications and IT services provider, Speedcast International Ltd, has signed a long-term agreement with Nokia to deploy its industrial-grade private wireless solutions globally via the Nokia Digital Automation Cloud.

Through this new collaboration, Speedcast is providing remote backhaul, data and voice connectivity to enterprise customers, covering areas up to a radius of 30 km and supporting hundreds of users from a single cell, it said. The network will also support critical, high-bandwidth applications with low latency requirements.

Stephan Litjens, GM Digital Automation at Nokia, said: “Nokia Digital Automation Cloud meets stringent requirements across multiple industries to deliver network coverage, capacity, mobility, reliability, quality of service and security, while connecting a wide variety of devices. By integrating with Speedcast we can significantly improve local connectivity in remote locations.”

Nokia’s 5G-ready Digital Automation Platform provides industrial-grade high-bandwidth private wireless networks – both outdoors and deep indoors – to increase efficiency and productivity for industry verticals, including manufacturing, supply chain, mining, utilities, oil and gas, as well as large enterprise compounds outside of standard cellular connectivity.

Acting as a private wireless network that brings IoT to enterprises, the Nokia private LTE/ 4.9G solution opens up new opportunities such as smart manufacturing, predictive maintenance, remote operations, and machine-to-machine communication, in addition to critical-voice and data solutions. Nokia’s cloud solution provides high reliability and security in any challenging conditions, according to the company. Leveraging the future-proof solution, users can scale up and down according to changing needs, while the solution also provides for flexible business models to suit the enterprise requirements.

Combining the power of the Nokia Digital Automation Cloud with Speedcast core connectivity options – including C-band, Ku-band, Ka-band, MEO and LEO backhaul – will increase the reach of several Speedcast products, including:

  • Speedcast IoT Solutions: with LTE-enabled devices solutions from the Speedcast IoT portfolio, customers can connect to headquarter locations and the internet. The cloud-based Speedcast IoT Center provides lifecycle support of LTE as well as satellite devices and offers customers full deployment and management capabilities of IoT devices on Nokia private LTE networks at scale;
  • Speedcast Speedtalk: the Speedtalk voice app allows users to capture live footage from remote sites and provides instant communications with remote teams. Private LTE/ 4.9G will extend the coverage of remote camp areas further compared with standard Wi-Fi, allowing for better access to Speedtalk via smartphone apps. In addition, private wireless networks will enable superior QoS and high-speed mobility; and
  • IPTV: the Nokia Private LTE solution will also provide higher bandwidth capacity for Speedcast’s IPTV solutions to handheld devices.

Chris Hill, Chief Technology Officer at Speedcast, said: “Nokia Digital Automation Cloud is a plug-and-play platform optimised for low latency and ultra-reliability, which are critical factors for remote communications. Bringing this technology to our customers’ remote sites will enable the use of bandwidth-intensive and low-latency solutions such as CCTV video analytics, drone surveillance, and personnel push to video applications.

“This is a game-changer for customers who need to keep personnel safe and operations running efficiently in hard-to-reach locations such as the energy and mining sectors.”

Revolutionising operations through the ‘Connected Mine’ of the future

With mining operators under growing pressure to perform in the face of falling ore grades, the need to drill deeper in search of new resources and an industry-wide skills shortage, the ability to leverage reliable and flexible communication systems is growing in importance, writes Martin Killian*, IoT Solution Architect at Speedcast.

Leading mining operators have already started on a digital transformation, as they look to create the so-called ‘Connected Mine’. Building on the necessary communications required for every day workings of the mine with layers of applications and systems such as sensors and surveillance systems, this concept will transform their overall performance. In fact, the World Economic Forum forecasts that $425 billion of value will be added to the industry over the next five years through digitalisation.

As the industry looks to improve efficiency and worker safety, several technology trends have emerged – three of which we explore below:

Digital twins for optimised production

NASA introduced the concept of creating a digital replica of an asset or system to help enable operations, maintenance and repair of physical assets in space. When applied to mining, data from operations can be harnessed through different technologies to create a replica in which certain scenarios can be tested. Operators are beginning to adopt this technology at a rapid rate and are harnessing the benefits of eliminating errors and hazards before on-site implementation, while enabling the ultimate predictive maintenance to minimise downtime of any equipment.

Environmental monitoring for occupational health and safety

Using sensors, such as those which detect combustible gas levels, airflow velocity, and temperature variations for example, to check environments are safe to work in is not new. But the increasing use of sensors on a range of devices, such as when Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology is embedded into miner’s safety helmets, puts strain on the networks that support them.
When RFID readers are deployed within the mines, the connected mine then becomes aware of who is in different locations at a given time. This data can be combined with data from environmental sensors to identify exposure to a potentially hazardous condition. The key to extending the range and applications of environmental monitoring solutions is the introduction of new sensors and technology which are compatible with the wireless solutions being used.

Martin Killian, IoT Solutions Architect at Speedcast

Private LTE enabling big data connectivity

Unlocking the power of the connected mine takes more than just the technology involved – it requires a shift in connectivity. Due to the mission-critical communication in mines, any service must be reliable and able to flow at high volume with no interruptions. For years, the staple of on-site connectivity has been Wi-Fi supported by point-to-point microwave, but now LTE technology is being rapidly adopted, bringing advantages such as wider and deeper coverage, more predictable performance for multiple users, and military-grade security using SIM authentication and E2E encryption, as well as providing one network for all applications. It also provides a roadmap for future upgrades to 5G which will drive productivity to new heights with super-low latency and high bandwidth.

Mining operators must also consider integrating multiple communication technologies, which deliver high-performance connectivity to remote locations. Incorporating key elements such as multi-mode terminals, a dedicated global network and intelligence that identifies the best transmission routes and automatically switches services for best performance at lowest cost will deliver the best return.

Theory put into practice

One of the world’s largest gold mining company, Australia’s Newcrest Mining, collects data from over 100,000 sensors to create digital twins and to build predictive maintenance models. The company’s CIO estimated these data initiatives will have saved the company over $50 million in 2018. Being able to diagnose problems straightaway has also reduced machinery downtime at one of Hecla Mining’s operations in Canada and added an extra hour per day to its operations.

Huge advantages for efficiency were seen when Goldcorp (since acquired by Newmont) incorporated environmental monitoring remotely controlled underground ventilation at one of its mines in Canada. This created better control of potential ventilation hazards and more efficient energy usage, which saw its electrical consumption cut in half.

While a private LTE deployment by Telstra at the Lihir mine in Papua New Guinea has improved levels of safety, remote operation and automation thanks to the connection of equipment, such as excavators, bulldozers and excavators. The network’s reliability, speed and latency has delivered significant performance improvements and is designed to meet Lihir Gold Ltd’s long-term plan.

The future

Mining is an industry which will remain cyclical in nature as commodity prices, productivity levels and access to reserves change. However, the connected mine puts predictability within the grasp of operators, helping to make mines safer and more responsive to changes within the market. The deeper insights afforded to managers bring many benefits, which signal a bright future for the sector, by making best use of assets and employees and being able to best manage safety and environmental impacts.

*Martin Killian has more than 16 years in the satellite communications industry and is currently the IoT Solutions Architect at Speedcast.

Nokia’s Jadoul on keeping miners safe amid COVID-19

Workplace safety is a major objective of every mining company on the planet, but with the COVID-19 pandemic, for the first time perhaps, the primary danger may simply be getting too close while talking to our fellow team members, Marc Jadoul*, Strategic Marketing Director at Nokia, says.

In the mining industry, we are going to have to adapt our business practices to accommodate the current pandemic, and we have to be better prepared for similar events in the future. The pandemic has led to a re-thinking of certain safety protocols, procedures and personal protection, and it is accelerating the adoption of recent innovations that will improve workplace safety in other ways as well.

As the world has re-opened the economy, organisations such as the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in the US and the World Health Organization (WHO) have published recommendations for how to operate manufacturing and other business operations while still practicing social distancing and other aspects of workplace safety. These include having office employees telework where possible, staggering shifts to reduce the number of workers using lunch, break and washrooms at the same time, increasing physical space between employees in the workplace, wearing masks and even downsizing operations if necessary.

Given COVID-19’s ability to be spread by individuals who do not show symptoms, it is generally acknowledged that tracking contacts will be a key way to identify those who might have been exposed to a sick employee. Knowing the cost to the business of having to shut down a facility due to illness, management will need to work with public health authorities to implement practices that allow for the quick identification of suspected contacts, allow for testing and quarantine of workers in the case of an outbreak in their operation and, in some jurisdictions, be able to show compliance with these practices.

Marc Jadoul, Strategic Marketing Director at Nokia

The technologies needed to do this are not so far away. In fact, they already exist in industries where operating environments have residual risks or require robust control measures in ways that are similar to what will be needed to protect people from contracting the virus. Some of these practices have already been implemented in mines as well as nuclear facilities and high-tech chip fabricators. With some adaptation, it is not hard to see how these technologies can be adapted more broadly to make the mine workplace of the future nearly virus-free.

From a larger safety management perspective, the ultimate goal is to create a real-time, dynamic picture of what is happening with people, assets and environmental conditions at all times – what is known as ‘situational awareness’. It is crucial for conducting forensic analysis to understand the pattern of interactions and identify possible transmission paths so as to limit exposure and trigger remediation protocols, including testing and quarantining. Much of this already exists, but simply needs to be adapted to the current outbreak.

The ultimate objective of situational awareness is having 360° visibility of people, assets, infrastructure and environmental conditions. Because what you don’t see, you can’t manage. Which is important, not only for saving lives, but also for preventing productivity losses and increasing operational efficiency.

This full digital awareness of everything going on in the workplace is the main thrust of Industry 4.0, which brings together several technology streams: low-powered IoT sensors, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, edge computing and next-generation wireless connectivity. These technologies combine to allow for the automation of repetitive processes, improved efficiency of operations, preventative maintenance of assets, quality control and enhanced situational awareness.

Applying these technologies to deal with COVID-19 will help to solve many of the new workplace constraints identified above. For instance, there are types of digital smart personal protective equipment (PPE) that incorporate wearable sensors and communications devices. They communicate with the operations control centre and could be used to trace employee movements, enforce geo-fenced areas deemed too dangerous for entry, or sense environmental contaminants and warn employees who have had excessive exposure to leave the area and follow decontamination protocols.

With some small adjustments, smart PPE and wearables could be deployed in many operations to enforce safe distancing between employees, using software to digitally map out work zones. They could warn employees when they are entering crowded areas or no-go zones. They could improve safety and efficiency during mustering and evacuation. And they could also enable management to forensically track past exposure of employees to those who have tested positive for the virus.

With the ongoing spread of COVID-19, mining companies need to find ways to enforce physical distancing among miners in order to keep operations open and miners safe

If sifting through location data for all the employees in a large mine sounds like a nightmare, this is where AI comes to the rescue. Sophisticated analytics software already exists that can analyse location data to look for correlations. It isn’t much of a stretch to adapt this software to smart PPE data that tracks worker movements in the facility – as long as unions and laws allow for it. This kind of software also exists to analyse video footage from CCTV cameras. All of this analysis can be used to trace infection vectors and to re-assure health authorities that protocols are being enforced on the job site.

One of the important enablers of Industry 4.0 use cases is the existence of highly reliable, secure wireless connectivity. The key to end-to-end awareness of operations is ubiquitous connectivity. Because of privacy concerns, that connectivity should be very secure. To support video and the large amount of data that can be generated within a fully automated facility, it also has to have bandwidth capacity as well as be able to support low latency edge computing. Geo-positioning and geo-fencing services for employees and mobile machines need more precise coordinates than can be provided by GPS – and need to work underground and in-building as well as on surface.

Delivering all these essential capabilities is fortunately available with today’s 4.9G/LTE and tomorrow’s 5G industrial wireless networks. Early generation wireless technologies, such as Wi-Fi, were designed for connectivity to best-effort networks. They are not highly reliable, secure or capable of providing mobility and geo-positioning services. Cellular-based 4G services, on the other hand, have been used in public mobile networks for a decade and have never been compromised. 5G is designed to be even more secure and has a number of features, like ultra-low latency, that are specifically intended for industrial automation use cases.

COVID-19 is likely to be a reality we have to live with for several years. If we are lucky and develop a vaccine quickly, it may be a short-term problem. But the scientists have been warning us about the possibility of pandemics of this nature for decades. This will not be the last. The good news is that the same Industry 4.0 technologies that are transforming our workplaces can be harnessed in this fight. Industrial IoT, edge computing, AI/machine learning and industrial-strength wireless networking will play a key role in ensuring the safety of our workers and our ability to come out of this crisis stronger than before.

*Marc Jadoul leads Nokia’s marketing efforts for the mining industry, working with key stakeholders across the business to evangelise digital technologies for creating safer, more efficient and productive mines

Strata Worldwide takes advantage of Geoverse ‘5G-ready’ solution

Geoverse, a leading provider of private LTE/5G solutions and the largest neutral host carrier in the US, has announced support for licensed wireless spectrum on its existing GeoCore™ network service platform.

This solution combines low-band licensed spectrum with Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) to form a high performance and reliable private LTE/5G network that enables the adoption of Industry 4.0 for mining, oil and gas exploration, utilities, and other industries, it said.

“It merges the power of CBRS with the performance of licensed 600 MHz and 700 MHz spectrum to guarantee a reliable network where it is needed, supporting voice calling, high-speed broadband and critical low-latency IoT,” the company added.

One company taking advantage of GeoCore and the combined spectrum offering is mining-focused Strata Worldwide.

Tom Michaud, CTO of Strata Worldwide, said: “In such extreme environments, the performance and reach of the low-band spectrum can make it a preferred option for select applications. And, it complements CBRS quite well so collectively they can serve a variety of use cases found across our remote locations, providing a high-performance service connecting users, devices and even delivering highly reliable service for our automated equipment.”

Geoverse offers an option to use its unique GeoCore service platform to deploy the licensed 600 MHz and 700 MHz spectrum from their solutions across 14 western states in the US. “The best part is that since the network uses licensed spectrum it belongs exclusively to the enterprise it serves,” the company explained.

It added: “Industries such as mining, oil and gas exploration, energy, and more have turned to a variety of wireless solutions to try to keep their daily operations flowing smoothly. However, this patchwork of networks can be costly and difficult to manage, while still falling short of the various connectivity requirements. In the era of automation and the digital workplace, inadequate coverage and inconsistent performance can disrupt operations to reduce productivity and impact the bottom line.”

Rod Nelson, CEO and Co-Founder of Geoverse, said private LTE networks meet the design, operational, and performance requirements that heavy industry needs, while giving them authority over coverage, capacity and function.

“By combining the coverage and exclusive use of licensed spectrum with the capacity depth provided by CBRS, we create one private LTE/5G networking solution to satisfy many needs,” he said.

CBRS enables enterprises to deploy and maintain their own networks. Now, with the addition of licensed spectrum, these same networks can do even more, all from a single, scalable, and secure network, the company said.

“The Geoverse 5G-ready solution provides a unique opportunity for enterprises to digitally transform their business,” it added.

Talking mining truck automation with China’s pioneer TAGE Idriver

In a world first, Paul Moore spoke to the senior management of TAGE Idriver, in Beijing, the leading Chinese player in mining truck autonomy solutions, both for new machines and retrofits. CEO Professor Yu Guizhen, CTO Huang Liming and Head of Marketing Li Qingshe gave their insight on this huge and rapidly growing market.

PM: Can you give some background on TAGE Idriver as a robotics solution company and how you came to be active in the mining sector?

TAGE Idriver CEO, Professor Yu Guizhen

YG: Founded in 2016, Beijing TAGE Idriver Technology Co Ltd (hereafter referred to as TAGE) is a high-tech enterprise focussed on the research and development of autonomous driving technology for open-pit mining vehicles. Open-pit mining is regarded as one of the most ideal applications for autonomous driving technology implementation as it involves a relatively restricted area where vehicle speed is low and the transportation routes are well managed. As such, we took the unmanned robotic mining truck as our chosen breakthrough point, to try to help to solve the long standing issues with open-pit mining haulage such as frequent accidents, driver recruitment difficulty and persistently high cost. And we have achieved a lot so far – our system has already been successfully implemented in the Bayan Obo iron ore and rare earths mine (Baogang Group) and the Huolinhe coal mines (SPIC) in Inner Mongolia.

PM: It seems only recently the major mining equipment OEMs in China were working on their own autonomy solutions, but now independent players are dominating…what has changed?

YG: Unmanned transportation solutions for open-pit mines involve complex systems requiring not only vehicle technology, but also autonomous driving technology, dispatching and fleet management technology, and vehicle communication technology. To independently build all those capabilities into one platform is a tough challenge for the Chinese traditional mining equipment OEMs. This is why independent players with advanced autonomous driving technology but working in close cooperation with the OEMs are in a more competitive position to deliver open-pit mine unmanned transportation solutions in China.

PM: The market for these independent autonomy system tech providers seems very competitive in China; several other companies are also active – what would you say makes TAGE Idriver stand out from the rest?

HL: First I would say system integrity. As the earliest player engaged in the development of unmanned transportation solutions for open-pit mining and the first to put them into practical operation in China, TAGE has delivered complete solutions and has a mature product portfolio including OBU (Onboard Unit) product series, RSU (Road Side Unit) and Cloud Control Platform. The OBU product series includes unmanned mine truck terminal products, bulldozer vehicle terminal products, excavator vehicle terminal products, crushing station terminal products and external on-road vehicles terminal products. Then there is functional adaptability. Open-pit mine transportation is complex, especially in China. On the basis of intellectualisation and interconnection of the unmanned mine trucks and the cloud based dispatching control platform, TAGE’s products seamlessly connect every step of mining transportation process, so as to make the system capable of working in an actual operational scenario, which is extremely critical for commercial implementation.

TAGE Idriver CTO, Huang Liming

Then there is system reliability and multiple safety aspects. TAGE’s OBU products are designed in accordance with vehicle grade certification to meet the operational reliability requirements of the harsh environments (low temperature, vibration, etc) in the mining area. Our system has achieved multiple redundant security designs, which mainly includes CCU (Central Control Unit) security redundancy, wireless network redundancy, cloud platform DHBS (Dual Machine Hot Backup System) redundancy, etc. Finally I would mention engineering design ability. TAGE has a vertically structured and expert team in the open-pit mining industry, who have rich experience in engineering design and system simulation verification of unmanned transportation in mining.

PM: Is the main potential currently working with equipment OEMs or the mines directly, or both?

YG: Both, I have mentioned already Baogang and SPIC as mining customers we have ongoing projects with and we are also closely cooperating with top Chinese OEMs like Inner Mongolia North Hauler (NHL), XCMG and Shaanxi Tonly.

PM: The Chinese market is also very price sensitive. How is it possible to provide these complex technologies to these mines at a low enough price they will accept?

TAGE Idriver Head of Marketing, Li Qingshe

LQ: In China, the ordinary consumer market is very price sensitive, but for high-tech production equipment, price is not the decisive factor. TAGE’s unmanned system is capable of creating substantial additional benefits to customers such as labour cost savings, increased operation time, reduced fuel cost and tyre wear cost reduction, and most importantly, zero accident risk to operators. Meanwhile, our prices are still very competitive – the ROI of our system is very attractive to most of our potential customers.

PM: Chinese mines are not known for having extensive comms networks or using the latest fleet management systems. How do you ensure your mining customers meet the minimum standards your systems need to work in terms of networks?

HL: When it comes to telecommunication, China has a good upstream and downstream ecosystem, and wireless communication networks have been widely deployed in mining areas in China. Some large state-owned mining areas have already deployed 4G wireless private networks, so as to realise fleet management and video monitoring under manned transportation conditions. Along with the rapid introduction of unmanned transportation in China’s open-pit mining areas, 4G private networks or 5G networks have been mainly chosen as the mainstream choices for new mining area construction and existing mining area network upgrades. Currently, the major equipment manufacturers and communication service operators are actively cooperating with us to promote unmanned transportation and 5G.

PM: Are Chinese mines now widely trialling LTE and 5G networks? Do you think many mines will go straight to these latest technologies?

HL: As I said, telecommunication technology in China is developing rapidly. China’s Government has spared no efforts to promote the macro strategy of ‘New Infrastructure Construction’. In this positive environment, many mine areas have begun promoting 5G demonstration projects, and TAGE has also carried out 5G demonstration implementation at one of our unmanned transportation projects.

PM: Is there potential for autonomous mining in Chinese underground mines and is this something already happening? Is it a market TAGE Idriver is involved in yet?

YG: China has a large number of underground mines but in many of them mechanised hauling with mobile vehicles is not the major means of transportation – many of these mines instead use conveyors, skip haulage, etc. But we are aware that a variety of autonomous transportation equipment types are being experimented with in Chinese underground mining, however, TAGE is currently focusing on the open-pit mining industry only.

PM: How would you say your system differs from those offered in the global market by Cat, Komatsu, Hitachi and ASI?

Wide-body dumpers, sometimes called tippertrucks, are used in their 100s at many Chinese mines, so their automation is a big part of the unmanned projects taking place in China

HL: To start with, TAGE’s system designs are based on China’s unique mining area circumstances and transportation process requirements, which are often more difficult and more complex than the mining situations in which overseas counterparts are working. In order to ensure continuity, efficiency, and reliability, we must consider in our offering allowing switching between various driving modes (such as from manned to unmanned or to remote control etc) so as to adapt to the unique characteristics of China’s mining areas. Secondly, the vehicle models utilised in China’s mining areas are quite diverse. There are many brands and types of rigid mine trucks but also many types of non-rigid wide-body dumpers, sometimes called tipper trucks, in China, so our OBUs have to adapt to the control characteristics of various truck models to serve the different customers. In the mining areas where wide-body dumpers are deployed, there are usually hundreds of them in the fleet and sometimes more than a thousand, which places harsh requirements in terms of capacity and reliability on the cloud-based dispatching and control system. Finally, there are a large number of existing mine trucks in China, so to offer autonomous modification solutions ie retrofits for those existing trucks has huge commercial potential. We have already accumulated rich engineering experience and made considerable commercial progress in this field.

PM: What is making big mining groups in China look at automation, is the major push a drive towards safety or productivity, or both?

YG: Both. Productivity is obviously important, but safety is probably the top concern as the Chinese Government has issued strict legal rules that impose stringent safety requirements on mine management.

PM: Most of the Chinese examples of autonomous fleets I have read about seem to be closed loop trials – are any Chinese mines actually using autonomous fleets in normal production yet?

LQ: The attempts at unmanned transportation of mining vehicles in China started much later than that in other countries. The whole industry is still in the transformation stage from small batch trial operations to large scale commercial implementation. As the leading player and the first to get commercial contracts in China, TAGE is standing at the forefront of the industry both in terms of technology maturity and user acceptance. We achieved multi-fleet unmanned operation in Bayan Obo iron mine in 2019, and by the end of 2020, all the mine trucks there will have been modified and fully put into unmanned transportation. For the non-rigid wide-body dumpers, we recently signed a large contract for 200 unmanned dumpers in the Ordos coal mining region. This project will be completed within two years, and the first batch of 50 dumpers will be in operation by the end of 2020. Some other contracts are also under negotiation, so we can say that the large scale commercial implementation phase is already underway.

PM: I have not seen reference to autonomy being applied at some of the largest operations like the Zhungeer, Pingshuo coal mines or the Julong Copper mine in Tibet, are these operations also looking at autonomy?

LQ: TAGE’s existing customers like Baogang and SPIC are giants in their respective fields. And the large mining groups Zhungeer, Pingshuo and Julong that you mentioned have also been paying close attention to unmanned transportation. We are communicating with them closely and they have clearly expressed their intention to carry out unmanned transportation projects going forward.

PM: The focus currently seems to be mining trucks. What about blasthole drill or excavator autonomy – is this an area you are also working on and can you give any examples?

HL: At present, in order to ensure the high efficiency of transportation, we have only developed and deployed unmanned systems on mine trucks. As for blasthole drill rigs, excavators, bulldozers and other auxiliary equipment, although they are still operator controlled, we have upgraded them with vehicle terminal devices to enable them to locate and interactively cooperate with unmanned mine truck fleets.

PM: On the truck side, is the focus mainly on larger trucks or are you also working on projects involving smaller trucks, eg 100 t class and smaller, including the tipper non-rigid trucks that are very common in Chinese mines?

HL: Our current solution is adaptable to both large mine trucks and non-rigid wide-body dumpers. The two types of truck are mainly different in terms of vehicle control. In addition, the transportation technical procedure is different in the mine areas using the two types of truck, so we have to do adaptive development to meet the specific needs of each fleet type.

TAGE Idriver says it is at the forefront of the mining truck autonomy industry in China both in terms of technology maturity and user acceptance

PM: How significant is your recently signed deal with NHL to work with them to produce a new NTE200AT truck – is this the first time your system will have been applied to a ‘new’ mining truck as opposed to a retrofit?

YG: Yes and no, we started to modify NHL’s existing mine trucks with unmanned technology via retrofit in 2018, and have also jointly developed drive-by-wire trucks with a pre-installed unmanned system. This year we are confident we will carry out pre-installation with our proven solution on a large scale with the new NTE200AT 186 t truck fleet for SPIC, which will be a new milestone for us and for NHL.

PM: Do you see a lot of opportunities for TAGE Idriver outside of the China market such as where Chinese trucks are being sold (eg the new NHL deal with Yancoal), or where you are able to work with older or more basic truck designs, such as in India?

YG: We hope of course to work together with Chinese mine equipment OEMs to serve their customers both in China but also all over the world, as the use of Chinese mining trucks in the global market is increasing.

Miners to further leverage mobile tech for real-time data access, survey shows

A new study looking into the use of mobile technologies to optimise and transform workings from remote locations indicates real-time data access is defining the field strategies of mining companies.

The ‘Future of Field Operations’ report from Zebra Technologies Corp, which calls itself “an innovator at the edge of the enterprise with solutions and partners that enable businesses to gain a performance edge”, revealed field service providers in the telecommunications, manufacturing, construction, mining, and agriculture industries globally are expected to increase the use of mobile technologies to optimise and transform workflows in the field.

Picking out mining specifically, 86% of respondents to the survey said real-time data access drives their mobile device usage in the field, with the majority of organisations (82%) now considering themselves “mobile-first” businesses, Zebra said.

Considering this statistic, it was hardly surprising to learn faster wireless networks (4G/5G) were driving mining company investments in new field operations technologies. In the exploration space, these wireless networks will help connect those in the field to cloud-based platforms where they can upload and download data to make real-time decisions on projects around the globe.

Drilling down the mining-specific stats further, it showed a positive correlation between the effective use of mobile devices and productivity, efficiency, worker satisfaction, and equipment availability. “Organisations who have implemented mobile devices have already achieved many benefits with 61% indicating they increased productivity and efficiency, 50% experienced improvements in worker satisfaction and 46% increased equipment availability,” Zebra said.

According to Zebra’s report, predictive mobile usage is expected to more than double over the next five years. Eight out of 10 mining organisations acknowledged that data is evolving, which requires them to look at their business in new ways, Zebra said. This is expected to see the use of “predictive mobile solutions” rise.

When quizzed about adequate resourcing for mobile device use, just 21% of mining organisations said they were assigning the right resource to the right issue at the right time with the use of mobile devices.

This compared favourably with 16% of all organisations across the telecommunications, manufacturing, construction, mining, and agriculture industries that Zebra quizzed. In five years’ time, the mining industry representatives expected this number to reach 46%, according to Zebra.

Doosan Infracore demonstrates Concept-X ‘construction site of the future’

This week Doosan Infracore unveiled ‘Concept-X’ at its Proving Grounds in Boryeong City, Korea, a control solution that can be used to survey worksite topography via 3D drone scanning, establish operational plans based on topographical data, and operate construction equipment such as excavators and wheel loaders without human intervention.

While Concept-X is construction focused, some of the technology is likely to have potential applications in mining. This opinion is backed up by the fact that one of the project collaborations, ASI, is already a leader in autonomous solutions in the mining space.

Doosan says Concept-X realises the construction site of the future by having all dangerous construction work performed solely by equipment, leaving human personnel free to concentrate on more sophisticated analysis and management tasks.

Although certain individual unmanned technologies have already been introduced in the field of construction machinery, Doosan Infracore’s introduction of unmanned automation technologies to the entire construction site operation process – ranging from surveying to the operations of construction equipment such as excavators and wheel loaders – is a world first, it said.

“Concept-X comprises a wide range of cutting-edge Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies such as image recognition, cognitive/control technologies, autonomous driving technologies, 5G remote control, 3D drone surveys and accurate workload estimation and assignment, together with failure prediction technologies,” the company said.

The new technologies introduced during the demonstration included a technology designed to create 3D worksite maps with drone-surveyed data; a technology enabling construction equipment such as excavators and wheel loaders to perform optimised unmanned operations according to any site situation; and a technology that makes real-time monitoring of work progress possible through the X-Center’s control solution.

This solution will boost productivity and economic feasibility significantly by reducing the time and costs required for construction equipment operations, while introducing a revolutionary improvement to the issue of construction worksite safety, the company said. Doosan Infracore plans to commercialise Concept-X by 2025.

Pending its commercialisation, Doosan Infracore will introduce each of the above-mentioned technologies – including drone surveying, cutting-edge data analysis, and unmanned construction equipment operations and control – individually as soon as they have been fully verified.

Doosan Infracore President & CEO, Dongyoun Sohn, said: “Concept-X is not just an unmanned technology: rather, it integrates multiple state-of-the-art technologies that can respond immediately to all and any of the changes that may arise at construction sites simultaneously.

“It will become a human-centred technology that not only brings about remarkable improvements in economics and safety but also creates more jobs in high-tech industries.”

In addition to its independent technology development, Doosan Infracore has pursued various forms of open innovation including collaboration with other companies and schools, as well as investment in start-ups. The company has engaged in industry-academic co-operation with Seoul National University, Yonsei University and Hanyang University in order to develop new technologies related to AI-based construction equipment operations, drone 3D surveying and operational data analysis.

In 2018, Doosan Infracore, in partnership with LG U+, introduced 5G-based remote control technology for the first time in the world.