Tag Archives: IoT

RCF Jolimont II fund invests in on-line analysis company Realtime Group

The Realtime Group Ltd says it has completed the sale of a majority stake in the company to global METS sector investor RCF Jolimont Mining Innovation Fund II LP.

Realtime is focused on developing on-line analysers for the mining, power generation and manufacturing industries, with customers in 46 countries relying on its solutions to accurately measure the quality and elemental composition of their product in real time as they are transported on automated material handling systems such as conveyor belts.

It developed its flagship AllScan elemental analyser, which leverages prompt gamma neutron activation analysis (PGNAA) sensors, in 2013. Since its inception, it has grown rapidly to have over 1,000 systems deployed at mining and other operations.

Dr James Asbury, a Co-Founder and current Real Time CEO, explains: “Our purpose built solutions enable decisions to be made based on real-time analysis of materials as they are transported between the mine, mill, trains and ships. Real time, on-line data of material properties that are to be loaded or processed permits timely decisions for optimising the overall process. Proactively managing materials in this way helps our customers to potentially save millions of dollars every year.”

He added: “RCF Jolimont II’s investment in Realtime will inject a wealth of expertise and experience to continue our journey to become the leading solution provider in the global mining industry and beyond. The team behind RCF Jolimont II has a history of success with fast-growth companies including Blast Movement Technologies and Newtrax which should benefit the future development of Real Time.”

RCF Jolimont II’s Andrew Jessett and Lyle Bruce will be joining the Realtime board of directors. Jessett is Vice President, Australasia at RCF Jolimont II.

Jessett said: “As we went through the process of investing in Realtime two things really stood out: the glowing testimonials from their customers, and the importance and value of enabling real-time decisions in the movement of valuable commodities. Realtime’s IoT technology is the premier solution in this space. We are very excited about the critical role it will play in helping customers realise new levels of efficiency in material processing.”

RCF Jolimont II recently also took a significant stake in Rail-Veyor Technologies Global Inc.

Uptake bolts on ShookIOT for improved analytics in asset-intensive industries

Uptake has acquired Edmonton, Alberta-based ShookIOT, a leader in cloud-native data integration and integrity, strengthening its capabilities, it says, to accelerate digital transformation in asset-intensive industries.

Bridging the data gap between operational technology and information technology, the ShookIOT and Uptake combination simplifies data migration for easy deployment of Uptake’s Industrial AI applications, it said.

“The chemical, oil and gas, and process industries can now cost effectively clear the primary obstacle in the pursuit of digital transformation: the liberation of clean time-series data from individual assets to the cloud enabling advanced analytics and augmented decision making,” Uptake said.

Uptake recently partnered with Symboticware to provide mining companies with an end-to-end, integrated artificial intelligence (AI) and data science solution to increase the productivity of mobile mining equipment.

“For AI to make good on its promise to the industrial world, operators must be able to unlock data from disparate sources to support frontline decision making with simple, actionable, and secure software,” Kayne Grau, President of Uptake, said. “Integrating ShookIOT software within Uptake’s applications optimises the preparation of industrial data for precision analytics. By combining forces, we advance our leading position in this vital software-as-a-service category, enhancing the speed with which we deliver greater reliability, safety, and productivity to industrial operators.”

ShookIOT was founded by Leanna Chan and Dr Dave Shook, two former Matrikon (now a part of Honeywell Advanced Solutions) executives who led the development of data ingestion software for asset-intensive industries.

Responding to the opportunity of the cloud for industrial connectivity, ShookIOT specialises in data collection for enterprise-wide digital workstreams, providing data management and industrial intelligence software to global process companies, Uptake said.

Dr Shook, who is taking on the role of Chief Data Officer at Uptake, said: “Data portability and integrity are the foundation of Industry 4.0, yet many companies – solution providers and operators alike – have struggled to unlock the power of their data, limiting the future value of industrial intelligence through restrictive pre-modelling, drawn-out implementation, and poor cybersecurity.

“We are excited to join Uptake and expand our impact in empowering data integrity and adoption of Industrial AI for asset-intensive companies around the globe.”

The combined offerings of Uptake and ShookIOT are available via direct deployment or through the Microsoft Azure marketplace. Products include Uptake Fusion Powered by ShookIOT, enabling scalable cloud data historian capabilities, as well as Uptake Connectors and Uptake Elevate for easy connectivity and integration.

Uptake Lenses, a vendor-neutral object model that organises, unifies, and contextualises industrial data, is also offered as a supporting component of Uptake Fusion.

Uptake added: “Empowering organisations to move industrial data from one site to many, and operational data from many sites to one, the combined offerings provide company-wide visibility into performance at the component, asset, process, plant, and enterprise levels. Once in the cloud, data is prepared for operational applications, including Uptake’s Industrial AI, to assure production levels and quality, prevent unplanned downtime, and mitigate operational risk.”

The acquisition of ShookIOT comes soon after the news of Uptake’s partnership agreement with RCI to strengthen reliability-centred maintenance for asset-intensive industries.

MST Global on the rise of remote operating centres in mining

The spread of COVID-19 has seen renewed interest in remote operating centres (ROCs) and how they can be better managed to maximise efficiencies and reduce the number of personnel required on a mine site at a time, according to MST Global.

Rio Tinto was one of the early adopters of ROCs, introducing the world’s first fully autonomous haul trucks at its Pilbara iron ore operations in 2008 followed by the launch of an automated hub in Perth, Western Australia, in June 2010, which controlled its rail systems, infrastructure facilities and port operations, 1,500 km away from site.

In July 2013, BHP followed suit, opening an automated ROC in Perth for its seven Pilbara mines. Today, all the major players globally have introduced similar ROCs to their operations.

“As an underground mining technology provider, it has been an exciting time to be a part of the industry as we develop hardware and software solutions that help our mining partners through this digital transition,” MST Global said.

In a recent report, McKinsey & Company confirmed MST’s observations, citing, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, mining executives had shown a greater interest in ROCs to unlock further value for their operations.

“As mining companies seek to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and act to safeguard employees, some have started to relocate around 15-20% of their on-site workforce by setting up ‘control towers’ to facilitate remote working (especially for non-frontline roles like subject-matter experts),” McKinsey & Company stated.

“This is helping the industry develop more resilient, responsive and flexible operating models suited to an increasingly uncertain environment.”

MST Global says it has seen this first-hand, with many existing and new clients reaching out to the mining tech provider to assist in streamlining their operations, and looking at ways to effectively increase remote work capabilities.

MST Global CEO, Haydn Roberts, said the discussion has also centred on the transition to a smart mine, where systems and processes in place on site work together to unlock greater value for ROCs.

“COVID has really focused our minds on the importance of having enough bandwidth underground and adopting IoT and digitalisation strategies so we can have a smart mine where our sensors and video cameras are connected, and we can operate in a remote way,” Roberts said.

“Remote operation centres have become really key because of all those things, so that’s driving the change.”

The challenges

Mining companies are admittedly still in the early stages of their digital transformation, continuously looking at ways to improve to deliver on objectives.

McKinsey & Company said: “Some companies have implemented cloud-based systems that aggregate site data into a single data lake that can be accessed, analysed, and visualised for decision support, creating a ‘room of screens’; other companies manage and actively control plant automation systems, fleet management systems, and remote-controlled machines from the ROC.

“The most sophisticated companies manage all these functions on a larger geographic scale, covering the value chain from end to end, optimising post-processed ore logistics and port facilities used by multiple mine sites within a region, with regional parts and supply warehouses monitored across multiple assets for supply-chain optimisation.”

McKinsey said while the technology adoption was “the easy part”, its research revealed a common challenge: “insufficient emphasis on and investment in developing a robust change-management strategy and subsequent implementation.”

It highlighted the importance for leaders to set clear expectations of bottom-line impacts from ROCs to measure value and the need for a new decision-making structure to allow ROCs to reach their full potential.

“Without a new mandate, a new way of working, and a new decision-making structure, the ROC staff will struggle to capture the frontline team’s attention,” the report stated. “And, although the ROC is implemented and functional, it never reaches full potential for value. Without a conscious focus on organisation, a ROC can be counterproductive, creating redundant organisational structures.”

It added careful consideration must also be given to data and systems reliability, location of primary physical storage infrastructure, back-up systems and having a robust cybersecurity approach to protect ROCs from potential threats.

“These decisions can impact connectivity, bandwidth, and latency, each of which must be sufficient to enable the ROC to effectively control on-site operations in real-time: for example, adjustment of plant processing parameters or remote control of mobile equipment and process optimisation tools, such as machine-learning algorithms,” it stated.

“With the right technology foundation, the ROC can function as the analytical centre of excellence, setting data standards, creating and updating analytical optimisation models, building analytics capability and driving partnerships to co-develop solutions aligned with the new planning process for optimising site-level profit. Such actions can move the organisation toward new ways of thinking about hierarchy, decision rights, and ways of working.”

Digitalisation: what this means for jobs

There was also the issue of jobs, and how transitioning to autonomous operations and ROCs will impact workers on site.

MST Global’s Roberts said from his experience, so far with ROCs, this wasn’t something the industry should be too concerned about.

“I know some people talk about a fear that we’re going to take people out of mining and people will lose jobs,” he said. “I actually see the exact opposite of that. I think it is going to bring more people together in more meaningful work, more productive relationships.

“We’ll focus on things that will bring a new lease of life to mines. Yes, we will remove people out of harm’s way and perhaps machines, but the amount of upside there is to actually work with these solutions, from AI to big data analysis to automating and adopting more smart sensors, this is going to create a more interesting future for a lot of people.

“Mining is not going away. We obviously have to adapt it and change it to these new technologies and solutions that we have available. The people that we’re bringing into this industry expect that.”

MST Global concluded: “At MST Global, we are proud to be helping our mining partners globally embrace the transition to the smart mine and ROCs – no matter where they are at in their journey – through our leading software and hardware solutions.

“Our brand-new software platform HELIX helps underground miners create a complete digital ecosystem underground, connecting all their hardware and third-party integrations into one single platform that provides real-time data anywhere, anytime, on-site or thousands of kilometres away in a ROC.”

Robotics on its way to the exploration industry, QR’s Scott says

Mining has entered a robotics boom as developers take substantial strides in artificial intelligence (AI), use of drones, and data capture and analysis technology that will deliver safety improvements and better managed mines, Queensland Robotics Executive Chairman, Andrew Scott, says.

Speaking at the IMDEX Xploration Technology Symposium, he said that with the development of autonomous haulage and drilling technology, the mining industry had moved through a “trough of disillusionment” around robotics and was rapidly accelerating towards the “plateau of productivity”.

The two-day online conference brought together experts in mining innovation and exploration industries to discuss the latest in new technologies, tools and advanced analytics.

Scott said acceptance of new technologies had been aided by restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, with the development of some digital transformation projects planned for the next three to five years being executed in three months.

“COVID is a significant accelerator and robotics is no exception,” he said.

Capital was available to fund new and emerging projects and was another clear indicator of a robotics boom, which Scott said would undoubtedly mean more jobs not less.

“There’s a lot of work that’s underway right now to really bring to the forefront a lot of automation and robotics to deal with enhanced data capture and execution of exploration programs and also within the mining environment,” he said in an interview ahead of the symposium.

“In the mining environment, we’ve seen the proliferation of automation in the form of autonomous haulage and autonomous driving, but now we’re seeing all the other ancillary services that are requiring automation and robotic solutions to take people out of danger but also to enable a highly efficient and productive system.

“We’re starting to see some of those capabilities move across into exploration, including the ability to deploy smart sensors in the field robotically, the collection of samples, and the analytical processing of those samples.”

He told the symposium the increase in robotics was aided by a reduction in sensor and computational costs, and, with more tools and technology available, there was increased adoption and acceptance.

“Robots are helping with the dirty, dull and dangerous, and distance challenges,” he said. “Applying robotics can definitely remove people from harm’s way. It can also augment what they are able to achieve by being able to explore in environments where until now we’ve been limited.”

This included in Australia, with areas subject to extreme heat, the high altitudes of the Andes, and subsea exploration.

“Robotics is surfing the wave of AI,” he said. “There’s a huge amount of development and growth in this area. We’ve gone past the AI winter, as they call it, and the acceleration of tools, and the ease of use of those tools is becoming a critical enabler.

“My prediction is that we’re going to see more and more solutions where they’re highly engineered highly capable, robust, highly configurable and easy to use.”

Sandvik’s McCoy on ‘getting the basics right’ in digital transformation projects

The application of digital tools is key to continuously improving efficiencies in underground mines, Niel McCoy, Business Line Manager for Automation and Digitalisation at Sandvik Mining and Rock Solutions, says.

McCoy says the choice of digital tools needs to be based on each operation’s key performance indicators (KPIs). This is because the solutions that are implemented will be focused on monitoring and managing those KPIs. He then recommends a phased approach to introducing digital tools to an operation.

“The starting point is always machine telemetry and basic production or productivity reporting,” he says. “From there, the solutions can be expanded.”

Sandvik Mining and Rock Solutions has extensive experience in designing and implementing digital tools, including equipment health monitoring and process management. Its AutoMine® automation offering operates on 59 mining sites globally, while its OptiMine® suite of digital solutions is active on 66 connected sites. The ‘My Sandvik’ customer portal, a web-based digital hub, serves 214 sites and its Newtrax technology in wireless IoT connectivity is operating on 115 sites.

“Monitoring equipment health through My Sandvik Digital Services Solutions allows users to draw down telemetry data from their equipment in real time,” he says. “The data is automatically compiled into the required report format for quick analysis and response.”

The next aspect to be addressed is the actual management of the process being monitored, he says. This is where Sandvik’s Task Management and Scheduler – part of its Optimine suite of digital solutions – can be applied.

“This allows a tablet to be fitted to an item of equipment so that an underground operator can accept tasks and provide real-time progress reports on those tasks,” he says. “The more advanced the equipment, the more data can be extracted and communicated automatically without operator intervention.”

The solutions allow for data to be recorded on equipment’s key operations – such as the weight of loads in a loader bucket. Telemetry on the equipment gives valuable insight into the equipment’s availability and performance so management can respond.

“When starting digital journeys, the focus must be on improving current operations,” McCoy says. “This means getting work started on time, for instance, before moving onto optimisation efforts. Most digital implementations will battle if the starting point is trying to increase productivity before getting the basics right.”

Worldsensing brings cloud-based CMT hub to geotech industry

Industrial monitoring company Worldsensing has added the Connectivity Management Tool (CMT) to its Loadsensing industrial Internet of Things (IoT) family.

CMT gives engineers a “unique cloud-based hub” to manage devices, data and networks, building on Loadsensing’s wireless network technology for the acquisition of near real time geotechnical, geospatial and structural sensor information, the company says.

More than 270 engineering consultancies and monitoring technology providers worldwide already use Loadsensing to improve the safety of critical infrastructure, Worldsensing added.

“Our vision for CMT is to help our partners monitor geotech projects more efficiently,” Albert Zaragoza, Worldsensing’s Chief Technology Officer, said. “It will help them stay on top of their network, node and sensor performance and manage a variety of monitoring projects remotely, from the comfort of their office, through a single pane of glass.”

Within mining, construction, rail and structural health management, CMT addresses engineers’ need to automate monitoring projects through the cloud, reducing the need for site visits and improving safety while reducing costs, the company says.

“We know many of our partners monitor projects using spreadsheets, which can be daunting,” Bernat Trias, Director of Products at Worldsensing, said. “We can automate parts of the process so they can focus on what matters the most, which is to ensure the construction process or existing infrastructure are safe.”

Connected with CMT, and to offer additional value to engineering service providers, Worldsensing says it has built a strong alliance partner network that includes data visualisation software leaders such as Vista Data Vision, Maxwell Geosystem and Intelltech.

Worldsensing is also bundling Loadsensing with IDS GeoRadar by Hexagon and integrating the technology into Hexagon’s digital mining geomonitoring hub, HxGN.

Hitachi CM looks for access to resource industry start-ups with Chrysalix fund investment

Chrysalix Venture Capital, a global venture capital fund with a history of commercialising innovation for resource intensive industries, has announced Hitachi Construction Machinery Co Ltd has invested in the Chrysalix RoboValley Fund.

Hitachi Construction Machinery, a leading manufacturer of construction and mining equipment, joins a cluster of mining and metals players such as South32, Severstal and Mitsubishi Corp in the fund, and “will leverage Chrysalix’s extensive network in the mining field to strengthen open innovation by connecting with start-ups that possess the latest technologies for mining in areas such as robotic systems, IoT, AI and data analytics”, the company said.

“Chrysalix has made step-change innovations in the metals and mining, manufacturing and machinery industries, through digital solutions and advanced robotics technologies, a major theme of our fund, and we are delighted to welcome Hitachi Construction Machinery to the Chrysalix RoboValley Fund,” Alicia Lenis, Vice President at Chrysalix Venture Capital, said.

Just some of the companies included in Chrysalix’s portfolio include Novamera, which is developing its Sustainable Mining by Drilling technology for narrow-vein mines; and MineSense Technologies, a Vancouver-based start-up developing real-time, sensor-based ore data and sorting solutions for large-scale mines.

Naoyoshi Yamada, Chief Strategy Officer at Hitachi Construction Machinery, said: “We identified Chrysalix as having a valuable network of start-ups in its global innovation ecosystem, and a unique window on innovation opportunities in the mining industry.

“With the trends toward digitalisation, the autonomous operation and electrification of mining machinery, as well as the growing need for solutions to streamline and optimise not only mining machinery but also overall mining operations, many start-ups offer novel technologies and services, and our investment in the Chrysalix RoboValley Fund will enable Hitachi Construction Machinery to tap into these new breakthroughs.”

The Chrysalix RoboValley Fund, Chrysalix says, seeks to achieve significant returns for its investors by enabling resource intensive industries, including energy, mining, construction, infrastructure and mobility, to tap into innovation from high growth start-ups.

Microsoft mixed reality tech keeps BHP’s Pilbara sites on track

BHP, through the deployment of mixed reality Microsoft HoloLens technology, has managed to keep equipment inspected, serviced and maintained at its iron ore operations in the Pilbara of Western Australia in the face of COVID-19.

Workplace restrictions designed to keep people safe from COVID-19 mean that BHP hasn’t been able to fly people to and from its mine sites as freely as it did in the past.

To get around this issue, it has equipped people like Andrew ‘Woody’ Wood, a Mechanical Fitter with 30 years’ experience under his belt, with HoloLens 2 – a head mounted computer with a see-through display. This has allowed employees like Woody to coach his peers at site, anytime, from anywhere using Microsoft Dynamics 365 Remote Assist.

Woody is instantly able to see what mechanical fitters at site can see, send them helpful documentation, videos and schematics on the fly, and even use digital ink and arrows to annotate real things in the physical world in order to help them complete tasks and inspections on remote sites, Microsoft says.

For Alex Bertram, Digital Products Manager at BHP, the rollout of the technology was accelerated by BHP’s ability to innovate during the COVID-19 pandemic, with strong support from its partnership with Microsoft.

Safety, speed and smarts

“Using mixed reality in its day-to-day operations is one of a series of innovations that BHP is undertaking to keep its people safe and its productivity up,” Microsoft says.

Dash Maintainer Tools, developed by BHP’s maintenance and innovation teams, allow front line personnel to securely collect data from machinery remotely, avoiding the potential risks associated with manually checking dials or taking readings from heavy mobile equipment such as trucks, excavators, drills and dozers.

Leveraging IoT sensors and industrial computers connected to Azure the Dash solution gets data into the hands of maintenance technicians on their smartphone or tablet, the company says.

“Productivity and safety go hand in hand and are guiding lights for BHP and its innovation efforts,” Microsoft explains. “This focus enabled the team to have the first version of Dash in the field on a 400 t excavator within 16 weeks of it being an idea on a white board.”

To keep its people, families and communities safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, BHP introduced many rigorous measures and controls to reduce the risk of transmission.

This has included limiting numbers at its mine sites to only those required to enable safe operations; anyone who can work from home has done so.

At first, it meant that Bertram couldn’t get his team to the South Flank iron ore development to keep developing the Dash tool at the same velocity. Nor could many other experts who would typically be flown to a mine to set up new equipment, solve a problem or conduct an inspection.

Even so; “Our people on the front line are empowered to try new things to safely get on with the job”, Bertram says.

“During COVID-19, I expected the pace of innovation to slow, but we’ve seen the opposite. People really rally together and are open to trying new things to safely get the job done.”

He had already witnessed the potential of HoloLens and mixed reality, and was convinced that in combination with Dynamics 365 Remote Assist it would allow expertise to be delivered virtually to the teams still working at BHP’s Pilbara operations to support continued development of the Dash Maintainer Tools, Microsoft says.

“Given many of us were working from home due to COVID-19, the first device was delivered to my house to test and by the following week, we’d undertaken trials in our workshop environment in Perth,” Bertram says.

The team were able to test the system on real machinery at BHP’s Innovation Centre Lab, located at the Perth Repair Centre, which provides a safe and controlled environment to trial new technologies and ways of working on mining equipment.

“The following week, we ran a dry run and test at the mine, and five or six days later we supported the installation of the first prototype of Dash Maintainer Tools on a 300 t haul truck,” Bertram said. “A process like that would normally take a few months at least.”

It took less than four weeks from the HoloLens2 arriving at Bertram’s Perth home to it being used to install the first prototype of Dash tool on a Komatsu dump truck in the heart of the Pilbara, according to Microsoft.

The deployment of mixed reality technology has the potential to be rolled out more widely, and deliver safety and productivity benefits long after COVID-19 abates, Microsoft says. And there is further scope in making the physical delivery of equipment to sites more efficient.

“This technology can help us reduce the time and cost associated with regular travel, increase the speed of maintenance and new equipment deployment without compromising safety, and support greater inclusion and diversity,” Bertram said.

Having proven the HoloLens2 solution’s potential, BHP is now running further trials across its rail workshops and maintenance teams in Perth and the Pilbara, and at several other global locations in Australia, the US and Chile, according to Microsoft.

“We are seeing promising early results,” Bertram said. “If those trials are successful, we will look at how we can scale up. We are not getting ahead of ourselves, but we are well placed because the HoloLens2 solution speaks to our existing systems such as security controls, and device management.”

Inpixon to acquire location-based tech expert Nanotron Technologies

Inpixon has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire Nanotron Technologies GmbH, a company with experience delivering proximity awareness and collision avoidance technology in mining.

The $8.7 million transaction is expected to increase Inpixon revenues by over $5 million on an annual basis and to be accretive, it said.

Nanotron, headquartered in Berlin, Germany, has established itself over the past two decades as a leading provider of innovative IoT solutions for real-time location systems (RTLS) and indoor and outdoor positioning solutions using both industry-standard technologies, such as ultra-wideband (UWB), and patented proprietary wireless communication technologies, such as Chirp Spread Spectrum (CSS).

Inpixon believes this acquisition is transformational for the company due to several factors, including, that it will:

  • Strengthen and expand Inpixon’s product portfolio and capabilities for UWB, RTLS, and 2.4 GHz CSS, increasing precision and decreasing latency to locate assets and people in real-time;
  • Expand Inpixon’s intellectual property portfolio, including patents covering its symmetrical double-sided two-way ranging licensed by Decawave;
  • Expand Inpixon’s user base. Nanotron cites that it has more than 500 deployments to date, including several large-scale deployments monitoring tens of thousands of anchors and tags;
  • Deepen Inpixon’s geographic presence in regions outside of North America including Europe, Asia, Africa, South America and the Middle East;
  • Expands Inpixon’s partner relationships with marquee distribution and technology partners, such as Arrow Electronics, DigiKey and Decawave;
  • Enhance the company’s ability to design proprietary sensor systems, including chips and multifunctional sensor systems for various industries; and
  • Broaden Inpixon’s industry coverage with construction, manufacturing, mining, autonomous vehicles, and livestock, plus expand use cases including live positioning, asset tracking, collision avoidance, man-down and worker safety.

Nadir Ali, CEO of Inpixon, said: “Nanotron’s first-in-class products, patents, and other assets significantly enhance our overall Indoor Intelligence™ platform. Through this acquisition, we are adding one of the foremost engineering teams in the industry – a pioneer in the development of location-based technologies. Through the integration of technologies, we look forward to providing seamless integration across both indoor and outdoor positioning applications.”

Soumya Das, Chief Operating Officer of Inpixon, said: “Nanotron’s Chirp technologies are unique and give Inpixon a formidable offering for tag tracking in the 2.4 GHz ISM band, with accuracy to the one-meter level and up to five hundred meter in range. The 30 cm accuracy offered by UWB is essential to helping our large enterprise and government customers address some particularly tough challenges. Additionally, nanotron’s tag-to-tag communication methodologies can be incorporated into Inpixon’s Workplace Readiness solutions for advanced social distancing and contact tracing capabilities to help businesses reopen safely.

“We intend to leverage nanotron’s established global customer base, as well as their extensive system integrator and reseller relationships, in order to expand our customer reach, as well as to provide significant cross-selling and up-selling opportunities.”

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