Tag Archives: 5G

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.

Blue Danube and Redline to improve connectivity for autonomous operations

Blue Danube Systems and Redline Communications have agreed to mesh each companies’ platforms and technologies to deploy 3D beamforming solutions in Private LTE/5G networks in a move that should allow miners and other industrial companies to better leverage autonomous vehicles.

The two companies explained: “Industrial companies often have local connectivity needs and operate in remote locations or temporary sites, such as mines, power plants, offshore oil rigs, container ports, factories and warehouses where connectivity for these environments can be challenging.

“While standalone wireless networks to serve devices and users within a localised area have significantly improved performance and reliability, the rapid growth of industrial automation – eg IOT devices and autonomous vehicles – brings new challenges and opportunities for these private networks.”

The integration of Redline’s baseband product and Blue Danube’s Massive MIMO radio will be able to “characterise and flexibly adapt to the unique radio characteristics and everchanging footprint of industrial locations and still meet the latency and throughput requirements of deployed applications”, the companies said.

Blue Danube says its Coherent Massive MIMO solution has consistently exceeded commercial wireless network improvement objectives as well as demonstrated unprecedented beamforming flexibility with mobile operators worldwide, according to the company.

Redline Communications, meanwhile, is a leading provider of industrial wireless broadband network connectivity solutions for mission-critical applications.

In addition to the beamforming solutions pact, the companies have also announced plans for further research and development to advance integrated solutions to transform experiences in industrial deployments, they said.

Stephen J Sorocky, CEO of Redline Communications, said: “Our worldwide industrial clients are operating in the most mission-critical, demanding, dynamic environments. With this collaboration, Redline accelerates the promise of an automated industry by supporting a ‘plug-and-play’ private LTE/5G ecosystem.”

Mark Pinto, CEO of Blue Danube Systems, said: “We are just at the very beginning of realising what is possible with our dynamic 3D beamforming solution in industrial applications. We view the combination of capabilities from Redline and Blue Danube as a powerful advancement beyond what is available today. The commercial evaluation will serve as a catalyst for Private Network clients to further exploit the capabilities of industrial IOT applications.”

Rajant makes its underground mining move

Rajant is now looking to leverage the leading wireless network expert status it has built up in the open-pit mining space for the benefit of the underground mining sector.

At the AIMEX 2019 event in Sydney, Australia, last month, Mike Foletti, Sales Director, Asia Pacific, and Geoff Smith, Executive Vice President Global Sales and Marketing, talked IM through the move, explaining that the exclusive provider of Kinetic Mesh® wireless networks had teamed up with other firms to ensure its below ground offering is as complete as can be.

The underground solution the company was pushing for the first time at the event has been made possible by the strategic partnership between Rajant, Poynting Antennas, Extronics, and Australian Droid + Robot, the company said.

In the underground setup, Rajant’s multi-radio, multi-frequency BreadCrumb® nodes combine with Poynting’s wide-band, bi-directional, circular polarised antenna system to create a “complete underground and tunnel-wide wireless network for mission-critical data, video, and voice communications”, the company says.

As part of this, Extronics rugged and intrinsically safe AeroScout Wi-Fi-based active RFID tags for personnel and asset tracking operate in real time over Rajant’s network, never breaking for handoff. With location tracking precision of about 10 m, the tags can be used to identify productivity bottlenecks for improved operational efficiency, Rajant says. And, lastly, Australian Droid + Robot’s Explora droids (one pictured at AIMEX 2019), which Australian Droid says have “ridiculous amounts of traction and agility”, come equipped with Rajant BreadCrumb technology. This allows the small all-terrain robots to carry out underground inspections, enabling the machine to independently scan, sense, and explore locations that may be hazardous to miners.

While this is the first time Rajant has talked about this underground solution, it has already been deployed at one mine site, according to Foletti.

“This is basically an enhancement on any fixed solution that is installed underground,” he said, explaining that the high throughput and low latency network benefits open-pit miners have received above ground for many years, is now be translated into underground mines.

While Rajant will continue to service the open-pit sector as it has beforehand, providing the type of robust network solutions it has for more than a decade, its decision to move underground is easy to understand.

For starters, many of the big open pits are reaching the end of their mine lives, with mining engineers now planning for underground operations.

At the same time as this, underground mines either in development or production are expanding operations at a pace that makes it hard and expensive for fixed or conventional wireless network solutions to keep up with.

Rajant explains: “Underground mines and tunnels are some of the most challenging environments in which to deploy network systems. Connectivity and throughput demands are high, but circular ramps and declines, stopes, and mine layout place limitations on how far wireless signals can travel.

“Many mines, therefore, depend on fibre to achieve reliable underground communications, but installing fibre in active drives, panels and declines is difficult to schedule and can create operational and maintenance nightmares.”

In addition, development plus drill and blast areas can rarely support fibre infrastructure. “It is not uncommon for trucks to accidentally catch and rip down sections of fibre and when that happens connectivity across the entire underground mine can be lost,” Rajant said.

In Rajant’s Wireless Mesh solution, BreadCrumb nodes act independently of each other. This means if one node is damaged or has an issue, the system continues to operate by using another communication route. In addition, the underground solution boasts the highest data throughput on the market, according to Foletti; latency is less than a millisecond, he added. Both features will become even more important as the industry continues its transition to automation.

Smith and Foletti said the company chose AIMEX 2019 and the Australian market to launch this solution as the company already has 35 installations on surface in Australia, at operations owned by some major mining companies, such as Anglo American. Anglo, in fact, is standardising all its global operations with Rajant Wireless Mesh network technology, according to Smith.

The Rajant team is confident these companies and others will see there is a strong investment case for introducing Wireless Mesh underground, too.

In addition to gaining traction with mining companies, Smith and Foletti said Rajant had been making inroads with equipment manufacturers, fleet management providers and other service providers in the mining ecosystem.

Smith mentioned Wabtec (now GE Wabtec) had made an investment in the company as it looked to incorporate its wireless communications technology into its rail systems, while Japanese conglomerate Mitsui had created a strategic partnership looking to rollout Rajant’s technology across several of its portfolio companies.

Despite the introduction of LTE and 5G technology to the underground environment, Smith and Foletti believe there is still a business case for Rajant’s Wireless Mesh technology.

As Foletti said, “If they [the mining operation] move[s], that’s where Rajant comes in.”

This is likely to see the communications infrastructure installed alongside other technologies in the future such as LTE, fibre and 5G in rapidly expanding mining areas such as development and production.

LiuGong highlights battery-electric vehicles and 5G connected tech at BICES 2019

LiuGong has used the backdrop of the 15th Beijing International Construction Machinery Exhibition & Seminar (BICES 2019) in China to launch a new range of battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) as well as remote controlled ‘intelligent’ wheel loaders based on 5G technology.

At BICES 2019, LiuGong is showing three BEVs, including two excavators – the 906E-EV and 922F-EV – and the company’s star wheel loader, the 856H-EV (pictured).

While not all these machines will be big enough to have mining applications, LiuGong explained that the units were very much the start of a platform that could see bigger machines manufactured.

Edward Wagner, Executive Director of LiuGong New Technology, said the total operating cost of a battery powered earthmover is, or soon will be, “depending on the exact vehicle design and customer application, lower than that of a diesel-powered machine”.

LiuGong’s new BEVs are designed for the new electric economy, it said, with a state-of- art, but well proven, lithium-ion battery system for energy storage.

“That power is directed into super high efficiency permanent magnet electric motors to create the motion necessary to drive the machines,” it said. “The machine’s mechanical and hydraulic systems have been optimised for high efficiency: a typical BEV will have peak power output that is two times a conventional diesel power machine. This enables the battery electric earthmovers to accelerate faster and perform more coordinated movements.”

These movements will also be more precise given the full electronic vehicle control, according to LiuGong. “More powerful, quicker and more precise all add up to more productivity, which is raised more than 10% compared to that of a diesel machine,” the company said.

These lithium-ion batteries are designed to last the full life of the machine and eliminate the daily maintenance and regular service routine that comes with diesel engines.

The first generation of LiuGong’s BEVs batteries are equipped with fast charging technology and innovative energy-saving technologies, according to the company. This sees them need only one hour to charge the battery to 80% capacity.

Zeng Guang’an, Chairman of LiuGong Group, at the launch ceremony for LiuGong’s BEVs, said: “We are committed to creating more value for our customers. And that is why LiuGong will never stop independent innovation.”

The LiuGong’s 906E-EV excavator is an example of how quickly and easily a diesel machine can be converted to battery electric, the company said. This machine uses most of the diesel excavator’s hydraulic system allowing for a very rapid conversion time. It is equipped with a battery large enough for a full working day, according to the company.

The new 922F-EV excavator is driven purely by electric power, with the battery pack located centrally in the rear for optimum mass balance. The electric motor and hydraulic system have been optimally packaged to maximise operator visibility, LiuGong says. “The result is industry leading operator visibility which will further enhance performance and efficiency.”

A feature of the new 856H-EV wheel loader is a pure electric driveline with regeneration. This improves operating performance and reduces the energy consumption.

LiuGong explained: “The hydraulic system is electrically driven while using proven off the shelf components. Performance is incredible given the 300-plus-kW peak power capability.”

All three machines are designed using a new platform strategy, which means a very high degree of commonality of parts and systems across all LiuGong’s new energy machines. “This simplification of parts will further lower the total cost of ownership,” it said.

LiuGong introduced the company’s first intelligent shovel remote control wheel loader at its 60th anniversary celebration last year and, at BICES, it has presented its new 5G-based remote-control intelligent wheel loader, co-developed and supported by China Telecom and Huawei technology.

According to Cai Dengsheng, Deputy Chief Engineer of LiuGong’s Intelligent Technology Institution, the model can be remotely controlled from over 2,000 km away, compared with 2 km as of last year, realising real-time response and accurate control through the 5G network.

This 5G network is the most advanced network communication technology in the world with only 30 millisecond data transition from Beijing to Liuzhou, according to LiuGong. “Meanwhile, the transmission quality or stability are not influenced by either a complex environment or long transition time,” the company said. “It is the best technical solution for timely, efficient and high-quality transmissions of large amounts of data.”

The company added: “It provides a high-quality network environment and network technology support for LiuGong’s remote control driving research and provides strong support for the combination of edge calculation and cloud computing in intelligent control under remote control conditions.

“As one of the few Chinese construction machinery companies that has mastered the 5G technology, LiuGong is expected to realise remote-control driving from even longer distances under this platform.”

In addition, LiuGong’s intelligent shovelling wheel loader can sense material penetration; has one bottom loading and dumping function, along with auto levelling and controllable placement of the bucket. It also features an intelligent throttle control system, the company said.

Under remote-control driving mode, all operations can be observed from the videos that are sent back by the machines’ cameras. It also applies the intelligent protection technology to realise automatic identification and auto emergency stop.

As a result, the machine can not only be used in its normal applications, but also can be applied in dangerous and unsafe environments such as rescue and disaster relief.

F-Series excavators

In addition to the BEV and 5G releases, LiuGong used the event to launch four new excavators in its F-Series range that have mining applications.

The 922F is a new-generation 22-ton hydraulic excavator. It and the other F-Series vehicles come with a fully electronically controlled hydraulic system and intelligent heat dissipation technology, with the excavator boasting high operating efficiency, low oil consumption and low noise.

It has “unique engine matching technology and new P/S/E mode ensure higher efficiency and low oil consumption”, the company said.

The company also launched the 926F 25-ton hydraulic excavator, the 936F 36-ton excavator with 1.7 cu.m bucket and the 92-ton 990F excavator which comes with a heavy-duty structure and optimised crushing design.

Doosan expands Smart Solutions portfolio

Doosan Infracore Europe, under the theme ‘Powered by Innovation’, has announced a number of new developments that, it says, not only add to the company’s current Smart Solutions portfolio for the construction, quarry and mining equipment, but also gives a preview of what will be coming in the future.

They include a new strategic partnership with Palantir Technologies, an American big data start-up. This agreement is the first of its type in Korea and forms part of the company’s efforts to provide new products and services by converging ICT technologies such as big data and the Internet of Things, Doosan said.

The service programs within Doosan Smart Solutions also aim to maximise operating efficiency by creating a smart work environment and, as part of this, Doosan has launched a new mobile app for Apple and Android devices for its DoosanCONNECT™ fleet and asset management system, now covering over 70,000 Doosan machines worldwide. Further support is provided by a package program of regular maintenance and extended warranty designed by Doosan and carried out by the service teams at Doosan dealers.

To meet increasing demand for the increased efficiency offered by machine guidance systems on excavators, Doosan Smart solutions is offering new Leica, Trimble and Xsite Ready Kits for the Doosan wheeled and crawler excavators from 14 to 30 t, it said. Doosan Smart Solutions already provides factory-installed options for the increased flexibility offered by SVAB/Steelwrist tilt rotator systems for the Doosan wheeled excavator range.

Doosan provided an industry-first with a demonstration at Bauma 2019 of long distance remote control of machines using a 5G telecommunications platform, previewing the company’s ConceptX suite of solutions for site automation including fuel cell drones and autonomous vehicles, which will be shown off at another event later this year.

Charlie Park, CEO of Doosan Infracore Europe, said: “The construction, quarrying and mining industries are becoming increasingly digitalised. We want to stay ahead by investing heavily in new technology for our product development, which includes investing in our drone solutions and automated machine control. We are also partnered with many big solution providers such as Trimble, Leica, Moba (Novatron) and now Palantir. We want to be known as the most technology-friendly brand in our markets.”

Volvo CE staying connected to automation trend with 5G collaboration

As the application of automation in underground mines accelerates, several companies have started exploring 5G communications developments in order to handle the massive amounts of data that is being generated from autonomous equipment.

One company interested in exactly this is Volvo CE, which earlier this year, in co-operation with Telia and Ericsson, launched Sweden’s first 5G network for industrial use at its facility in Eskilstuna. The partnership could see the mining and construction equipment company become one of the first in the world to use 5G technology to test remote-controlled machines and autonomous solutions.

IM, as part of its annual focus on Nordic Suppliers (to be published in the June print issue), put some questions to Calle Skillsäter (pictured below), Volvo CE’s technical specialist for ‘Connected Machines’, to find out more about this collaboration and understand what hurdles companies are facing when trying to implement such communications solutions.

IM: What is the justification for investing in 5G technologies with Telia and Ericsson? How much of your equipment is currently controlled remotely or autonomously?

CS: Connectivity is a crucial enabler for automation, which is why this 5G project is so significant for us at Volvo CE and for the construction industry as a whole. We also believe that automation technology is at its most efficient when it is run hand in hand with electromobility – as we demonstrated through the Electric Site quarry project.

Thanks to a prior research collaboration with Telia and Ericsson, in the Pilot for Industrial Mobile Communication in Mining (PIMM) project, and now this established Telia Journey to 5G Partnership Program, we have the possibility to test future connectivity solutions for our machines in mining applications, as well as other potential applications.

Currently we are focusing on our L180H wheel loader remote-controlled prototype, but will soon test 5G on the HX2 concept (pictured above) autonomous hauler as well. There are no autonomous or tele-operated machines from Volvo CE available on the market today.

IM: Most of the 5G investment in mining has, so far, come from the Nordic region; why is this?

CS: That’s right, we do have a rather unique setup in that many Nordic companies are at the absolute forefront of their industries with this technology. Mining companies like Boliden and LKAB are driving the business to be more intelligent and automated, Ericsson & Telia bring the connectivity perspective, ABB bring their experience of automation into the process industry, and Volvo CE and Epiroc bring the machine perspective. It’s certainly the case that the Swedish engineering mindset is very open and collaborative, which is what you need to be if you are to explore the potential of new technologies and new ways of working. We are a small country and we need to collaborate and be on the edge of technology to stay competitive.

IM: Do you expect this region, in addition to Canada, to offer the most immediate potential for 5G automated and remote-controlled technologies in mining?

CS: As I’ve mentioned earlier, we have all ingredients available in the Nordics to succeed in this transformation towards more connected and automated mining solutions. Another strong reason is that we have high demands on health and safety for the people working in the mines. Automation is a key way to improve site safety and reduce the dangers and accidents associated with mining. In addition, automation is our key to staying ahead of our competitors.

IM: What testing have you so far been able to carry out at Eskilstuna? What results have been achieved?

CS: We quite recently inaugurated the new test area for automation and tele-operations, so we are still in the early phase. The initial focus is on the tele-operation of the remote-controlled wheel loader L180H, but we will very soon start testing 5G for the HX2 autonomous hauler concept machine. At the moment, it is too early to reveal any results.

IM: When do you expect to be able to test this out in a real-life underground mining environment?

CS: Tests have very recently been performed within the PIMM Digitalized Mining Arena (DMA) project in one of Boliden’s mines, using LTE wireless 4G communications, the results of which will be announced next month. Testing on a customer site with 5G is not planned yet.

IM: When comparing 5G to 4G technologies, what are the main benefits for mining companies when it comes to using this newer communication infrastructure (aside from lower latency, bandwidth, quality of service, positioning, etc)? What sort of impact could it have on operating costs considering the improved accuracy/responsiveness it brings to automated and remote-controlled operations?

CS: The main benefits are, as you say, lower latency, bandwidth and the quality of connection. But lower latency will also mean that tele-operated machines are more responsive, therefore resulting in much higher productivity. Higher bandwidth also means better video quality, which means a better work environment for the operator. Better video quality also creates a better feeling of presence, which helps to improve productivity. Quality of Service will mean machines are up and running for longer.

IM: How far is the industry away from employing these 5G solutions commercially? What are the three biggest hurdles to achieving this milestone?

CS: It’s too early to say when we think customers will be ready to see 5G solutions available commercially. But the biggest hurdles are:

  • Legislation related to the radio frequencies. There are still a number of open questions here; for example, will there be space for local industrial solutions, or will everything be dedicated to the mobile network operators?
  • Hardware availability. For example, there are not many 5G devices designed for demanding mining environments available right now on the market.
  • Business models. The new technologies will push us to review our business models. Should we continue to sell machines like we are used to?

IM: Do you expect underground mines of the future to be run solely off 5G networks? Or, do you expect a combination of 5G/Wi-Fi?

CS: There is a potential for mines to be run only on 5G in the future. But this is one of the questions that we hope to be able to answer in our coming tests and collaboration with our partners.