Tag Archives: IoT

Inmarsat research notes COVID-19-inspired uptick in mining’s use of IoT

New research by Inmarsat, a leader in global mobile satellite communications, reveals a rapid increase in the maturity level of industrial Internet of Things (IoT) adoption across the mining sector since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Respondents from the sector reported that COVID-19 has demonstrated the importance of IoT to their businesses, with many accelerating IoT deployments in response to the pandemic.

According to the research, adoption has seen huge progress from 2020 to 2021. Some 82% of mining respondents have now fully deployed at least one IoT project, with 37% having achieved this in the 12-month period from the June quarter of 2020. Of the remaining 18% of mining respondents that have not yet adopted IoT in any form, all of them are either currently trialling it, or plan to deploy or trial at least one IoT project in the next two years, according to the research.

A further 81% of mining respondents indicated they have or they intend to accelerate the adoption of IoT in response to challenges related to COVID-19. This figure includes 40% who have already accelerated IoT adoption to respond to COVID-19, versus 21% who will accelerate over the next 12 months and 20% who will accelerate beyond the next 12 months.

The 40 per cent that have already accelerated IoT adoption are less likely to state that COVID-19 has negatively impacted their ability to operate, demonstrating a link between IoT and business continuity during the pandemic. Additionally, nearly half (47%) of respondents in the sector indicated that business and operational challenges related to COVID-19 have underlined the importance of IoT.

Commenting on this acceleration of IoT in the mining sector, Nicholas Prevost, Director of Mining Innovation at Inmarsat, said: “While the mining sector has, historically, lagged behind other industries in its adoption of radical ideas and new technologies, our latest research reveals that the sector has made considerable progress in terms of IoT adoption and development over the last few years and is very upbeat about its potential. The COVID-19 crisis has only served to accelerate the rate of IoT adoption in many mining businesses and we are now seeing evidence that those companies that are increasing the speed of adoption of IoT and associated technologies are gaining an advantage, through their ability to keep operations going autonomously and with greater insight.”

Mike Carter, President of Inmarsat Enterprise, added: “The rapid increase in IoT deployments over the last few years highlights the considerable progress global industry has made to overcome some of the world’s most challenging forces. It is particularly interesting, though logical, that COVID-19 has further catalysed businesses to increase their reliance on Industry 4.0 technologies, and particularly the industrial Internet of Things, in order to maintain business continuity. Those businesses implementing IoT technologies ahead of their competition and across their value chains are those who stand to win in the long-term.

“While our findings point to IoT driving significant uplifts in efficiency, sustainability and safety across global supply chains, there are areas where organisations can make improvements to draw the optimum benefits from the technology. Connectivity, data management, skills shortages, security threats and investment levels remain challenges as the world’s production and supply chains become increasingly digitalised and intertwined.

“Inmarsat’s global ELERA network is inspiring new possibilities and enabling organisations from all sectors to access IoT anywhere. Ideally suited to the rapidly evolving world of IoT, our industry-leading narrowband network provides global reach, extraordinary resilience, and the fastest speeds, along with the smallest, low cost terminals in their class.”

Skycatch maps out autonomous mining future with DJI M300 mapping, analytics solution

San Francisco-based Skycatch has been making waves in the drone space with a range of mapping solutions tailored for mining applications but, according to Chief Technology Officer, David Chen, it thinks of itself as a “software-first company”.

He explained to IM: “We are really a computer vision company, and we focus on building not only the drone solution, but the software that enables it.”

This sees the company provide data capture automation, processing, visualisation and analysis tools to the industry for efficient decision making.

Chen added: “We work with a number of the top mining companies across the globe, providing them with unique solutions that they are using every day to complement their existing survey processes.”

The company, which has become a leader in highwall mapping through these solutions, is expanding beyond surveys into other areas.

This will be facilitated through software like its Flight1X, a cloud-based solution designed specifically for the recently launched DJI M300 drone that, Skycatch says, delivers unprecedented drone mapping accuracy and inspection automation for operations like mines. The proprietary software offers the most complete end-to-end high precision industrial drone capabilities available today, according to the company.

Flight1X, launched at MINExpo 2021 today, comes with proven data and network security via Skycatch servers in the USA, with the Android-based flight planning application running on the M300 Smart Controller. When combined with Datahub, Skycatch’s cloud-based solution, the pair offer mission planning and data visualisation.

Chen expanded on some of these capabilities.

“The majority of drone software out there has been focused on 2D mapping, whereas we have seen that mining, which comes with dynamic and undulating terrain, requires something different.

“What we are building is an automated mission planner where the primary view is of 3D terrain. This planner allows you to bring in existing terrain data from elsewhere or capture and process data from our own platform. The user can then rotate around this map and see the exact mission profile in 3D for improved visualisation and decision making.”

This data integration piece, which hinges on the cloud-based Flight1X platform, could provide Skycatch with an ‘in’ to the tailings dam monitoring market.

“While we’re already providing some survey solutions for tailings dams, the combination of high precision survey (with cm-level precision) for dam movements, fully automated section missions based on RGB and thermal imaging, and machine learning could provide data on dam seepage, for instance,” Chen said.

“We also want to integrate IoT sensors around dam movement and other areas into this cloud-based platform to provide an overall view of the tailings management facility.”

Skycatch is currently working on integrating the DJI M300 and L1 & P1 sensors – purpose built for mapping and surveying – into its offering, with Chen seeing the process as just the next stage in facilitating the autonomous mine of the future.

“The one thing that fully autonomous mines need is a map of the mine for these autonomous machines to operate off,” he said. “We have a focus on making data more accurate, accessible and faster; making it faster is the key for fully autonomous mining.

“Right now, with the current photogrammetry process, it’s still: capture, process and wait a few hours for a map. To be fully autonomous, you need that dynamic map in near real time, which is what we can offer the industry.”

Maptek helps Anglo American with continuous drill and blast process improvements

Maptek’s BlastLogic drill and blast software is helping Anglo American’s mines significantly improve its processes, the Australia-based company said in its latest Forge Newsletter.

The miner commenced implementation of Maptek BlastLogic in 2017 to deliver the digitisation of critical drill and blast information. The goal was to transform inconsistent practices into an integrated function underpinning safety and value protection.

In a Technical and Innovation update from May 2021, Anglo American reported a 50% improvement in drill and blast execution versus plan, which, it said, was enabled via real-time, in-field digital platforms.

Dr Alan Tordoir, Lead Drill & Blast Group Mining Technical & Sustainability for Anglo American, oversees drill and blast for 20 surface and 12 underground operations. He benchmarked the original rollout of BlastLogic at six open-pit sites, which has enabled streamlined uptake at a total of 15 global locations so far, according to Maptek.

“It’s a really exciting time to be in the industry, with a lot of new technologies and processes emerging,” Dr Tordoir says.

Traditional paper-based drill and blast processes are inefficient, complicated by multiple platforms contributing to design, hole placement and tie-up, according to Maptek. Data transfer between stages leads to further communication challenges between the field and office.

BlastLogic stores a single source of truth for all processes, Maptek says, with the outcome being a significant increase in downstream productivity and better management of explosive risks. It is an all-in-one solution adding value to open-pit operations through streamlined drill and blast design, tracking and analysis.

“It enables operations to make blast implementation decisions with reference to mine plans, geology and geotechnical data with instant data connection and visualisation in the field or office,” Maptek says.

Anglo American, Maptek says, has found that design and execution teams have been brought closer together by using BlastLogic, while providing the data in a timely manner allows every level of the organisation to make proactive decisions.

“However good a new system is, the changeover phase can be disruptive,” Maptek says. “Maptek supports customers through BlastLogic configuration, training and implementation, aiming for minimal disruption to the production environment.”

Dr Tordoir paid particular attention to proving the benefits during the Anglo American rollout, mapping out the process and troubleshooting at the original sites so that replication was straightforward for subsequent sites.

Benchmarked data was made universally available, so teams could track their adoption trajectory curve.

“When an operation can see how others have overcome initial problems, uptake is faster,” Maptek says.

Maptek has found that other customers have a similar change management experience.

“Recent graduates may be initially more comfortable with new systems, but longer-term players soon recognise the benefits of digital processes and quickly absorb them into a new integrated workflow,” it says.

Anglo American found continuous improvement is much easier when multiple sites are sharing the same system.

“Operations can learn from each other and can see what good practice looks like,” Maptek says. “The key performance indicator data showed how some sites were performing better than others.”

Having a unified platform for design work enables consistent training and upscaling. This ensures that engineers are performing at the required level to deliver fit for purpose designs that promote safe and efficient operations.

“Improvement is a never-ending journey,” Dr Tordoir concluded.

Upcoming releases of BlastLogic will introduce a drilling data entry on the blast loading tablets for sites with contractor drill rigs, so all the drilling and charging data is captured for analysis, Maptek says.

“Automation of the blast design process is an exciting innovation by Maptek to advance analysis of the interaction of different factors as part of blast design,” it said. “Engineers can then better understand how they can trade off objectives to determine the value that can be gained by small incremental design changes.”

The future will also bring blast design deeper into the upstream planning process and broader cross-operation scenario design, according to the company.

Orica to unveil WebGen 200 wireless blasting initiating system at MINExpo 2021

Orica says it will unveil its latest through-the-earth, fully wireless initiating system, WebGen™ 200 at MINExpo 2021 in Las Vegas next week.

A development based on more than 2,300 successful WebGen 100 blasts around the world, specifically in underground mines, Orica’s WebGen 200 technology has been designed with customers’ needs and feedback built-in as they look to further improve safety and productivity across their operations, the company says.

WebGen technology provides for groups of in-hole primers to be wirelessly initiated by a firing command that communicates through hundreds of metres of rock, water and air. This completely removes constraints often imposed by the requirement of a physical connection to each primer in a blast and importantly allows the removal of people from harm’s way, it says.

“Engineered to deliver market-leading safety and reliability, WebGen 200 has been built with enhanced capabilities, security and versatility, ensuring it meets the extreme mining conditions faced by surface and underground customers pushing the boundaries of mining’s next frontier,” Orica says.

MINExpo 2021 will take place on September 13-15 at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

Orica Chief Technology Officer, Angus Melbourne said: “We know that as our customers go deeper and move into more complex mining, they are requiring more advanced technology to help them mine differently and continue to extract their orebodies safely and efficiently. That’s where WebGen 200 and our broader technology roadmap comes in.”

WebGen 200 harnesses digital technology to allow advanced features including digital inventory management, delay adjustments before blasting, an improved user interface and increased quality assurance, according to the company. Reliability is further improved with the WebGen 200 primers available to endure even greater dynamic pressure.

Orica Vice President – Blasting Technology, Adam Mooney, said: “We’ve co-developed our second-generation wireless initiation technology, WebGen 200, with customers from across all segments and regions around the world.

“We developed WebGen primarily to reduce or remove employees’ exposure to hazardous environments and improve overall operational safety. But we are also seeing the technology delivering unparalleled improvements in productivity and improved recovery for our customers – it is enabling a step-change in blasting and mining like no other.

“We are excited about what the future holds for the industry with WebGen 200 and know the enhancements made to this second-generation product will improve the customer experience, broaden its application and deliver significant value for customers while enabling the first stages of blast automation.”

The hardware, software and the WebGen 200 units come together as a system that, Orica says, is easily integrated into any operation. It will be available in four product variants and include a wider range of booster weights, opening up new segments, applications and opportunities in both surface and underground mining.

The complete product range now includes the WebGen 200 Surface, WebGen 200 Surface Pro, WebGen 200 Underground Pro, and WebGen 200 Dev. All four variants will be on show in Las Vegas.

The new WebGen 200 suite of fully wireless initiating systems

WebGen 200 Surface and WebGen 200 Surface Pro are specifically designed for surface mining applications, with the Pro version designed for extreme blasting conditions, including revolutionary blasting techniques like Multi-Stratum Blasting, Mining Schedule Flexibility and Lightning Risk Reduction. The WebGen 200 Underground Pro is suited to production blasting, while the WebGen 200 Underground Dev has been designed for mechanical assembly and will enable the automation of underground development charging with Avatel™.

Orica and Epiroc have been developed Avatel, billed as a first-of-its-kind, industry-driven semi-automated explosives delivery system, with a prototype machine currently undergoing trials ahead of being commercially ready by the end of 2021.

The charging solution, enabled by Orica’s WebGen wireless initiating system technology, addresses the final step in the underground development cycle yet to benefit substantially from mechanisation and automation.

It is expected to bring a step-change in safety by eliminating the need for wired connections and subsequent exposure to crews at the face, according to Orica. Instead, the entire charging cycle can be completed by a single operator from within the safety of an enclosed cabin, several metres from the face.

The WebGen 200 development program is progressing to plan with comprehensive verification and validation product testing completed, according to Orica. Field trials are planned and will be completed across multiple mining segments and regions in Australia, Canada, Latin America and Europe, ahead of being commercially available from December 2021.

Speedcast makes new connections in the DRC with Mining Company Katanga contract

Speedcast, a communications and IT services provider, says it has been selected by Mining Company Katanga (MCK Sarl) for a three-year contract to deliver satellite connectivity services to its headquarters and a major mine complex in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

As part of the agreement with the mining contractor, Speedcast will serve MCK’s Lubumbashi headquarters and the Ruashi open-pit copper and cobalt mine under contract with MCK, delivering “optimised wide-area networking over high-throughput, very small aperture terminal (VSAT), C-band satellite service and content filtering”, it said. The solution will enable internet access, cloud-based applications, IoT and crew welfare applications across their operations, according to Speedcast. All services will be fully supported by its global Customer Support Centers.

James Trevelyan, Senior Vice President of Enterprise and Emerging Markets at Speedcast, said: “We are thrilled that MCK has placed its trust in Speedcast to deliver critical, remote connectivity and network optimisation to its headquarters and contracted mining site. We have the highest-powered Cband network in Sub-Saharan Africa, which means we can enable the customer’s digitalisation agenda while delivering the highest performance primary or back-up communications solution.”

Hubert Nkonkosha, IT Manager at MCK, said: “Our Ruashi project is one of our largest refined copper and cobalt production sites with more than 2,000 people and suppliers employed. It’s vital to our headquarters and operations to have seamless communications and network management as we prioritise efficiency and digital transformation, now and in the future, while still operating cost-consciously. Speedcast was a clear choice for our needs, and we look forward to leaning on their team for support and expert guidance, building a strong working partnership for years to come.”

Speedcast recently augmented its Tier 1 satellite network across the Sub-Saharan African region with the addition of a new high-throughput satellite, offering ultra-high signal availability – even into 1.8 m terminals. The satellite’s look angle across Africa is around 60° elevation, making it ideal for steep-sided open-pit mines and resilient to equatorial weather patterns, according to Speedcast. It also incorporates the latest VSAT technology and a selection of bandwidth packages, from high-speed to gigabyte-only plans.

Aqura to take on Australia’s 5G LTE underground mining challenge

Aqura Technologies has been awarded a grant from the Australian Government under the 5G Innovation Initiative to, it says, augment the organisation’s own development work to address the challenge of delivering underground 5G LTE.

The grant is an important step to overcome the technical and commercial barriers associated with operating next-generation broadband wireless networks in sub-surface environments, according to Aqura.

Aqura Chief Executive Officer, Travis Young, said the project was founded on extensive customer and industry feedback as critical to enable mining operators to unlock the benefits that surface operators had been enjoying for a number of years.

“With over 50% of mining in Australia being conducted underground and increasing, the industry is still playing catch-up with technology that is being widely utilised to great benefit in surface operations,” he said.

“Our track record and development work, coupled with the 5G Innovation Grant, will enable our team to work to deliver technical architectures and a validated commercial model which will enable and accelerate adoption.”

The 5G Innovation Initiative grant will complement investment already made by Aqura to deliver technical architectures, commercial model development and installation of a live Private 5G LTE network in an operating mine. The project leverages a lot of learnings from a 2017 project where Aqura successfully delivered Private 4G LTE in an underground mine in the Kalgoorlie region of Western Australia, Aqura said.

The focus of the program is to fast-track the enablement of applications and processes that are being adopted in surface operations so underground operators can realise the benefits of enhanced environmental, safety and productivity outcomes that advanced wireless communications can deliver, it added.

Aqura’s Chief Operations Officer, Alan Seery, said underground operators are wanting a kick-start to advance their technology capabilities.

“Many underground mines use processes and technologies that are decades old and operators want to leverage the latest technology, but the technical challenges and the commercial model to acquire can be prohibitive,” he said.

“We’ve learnt a lot through our previous work in underground, and we believe our new LTEaaS (LTE as a service) platform optimised to deliver next-generation private industrial operations networks will support a new commercial approach that will better suit the business models utilised by mining operators.

“And with new advances in radio access, we’re excited to have the opportunity to work with some very motivated partners to develop and make available new architectures which will bridge the underground connectivity gap.”

Many of Aqura’s core team were behind the first Private 4G LTE network in Australian resources, delivered Private 4G LTE underground and supported delivery of one of the first above-ground Private 5G LTE networks in north Queensland earlier this year, it said.

The project has kicked off with Aqura working with a large gold operator to commence scoping. Various partners have indicated support to validate applications, devices and processes around autonomy, condition monitoring, safety systems, data access, PTT communications and IoT sensors.

Howden boosts Ventsim CONTROL functionality with ‘cooling on demand’

Howden is continuing to expand its flagship Ventsim CONTROL software, with the latest update to the ventilation control platform set to bring an ‘on demand’ element to mine ventilation cooling.

An upgrade from Ventsim DESIGN, Ventsim CONTROL uses intelligent software connected to Howden or third-party hardware devices to remotely monitor, control and automate airflow heating and cooling to deliver safer, more productive, and lower cost ventilation for mines, the company says.

Hugo Dello Sbarba, Director of Ventsim and Sales Mining, says the addition of a ‘cooling on demand’ module to Ventsim CONTROL coincides with an industry move to install more mine cooling plants to achieve higher standards of health and safety for workers. Howden has seen this trend up close and personal, having recently successfully delivered the first phase of an 8 MW surface bulk air mine cooling plant for Roxgold’s Yaramoko gold mine in Burkina Faso.

“We chose now to introduce cooling on demand to Ventsim CONTROL partially because more mines are getting deeper, require cooled air and are adopting higher standards in advance of incoming regulations,” he told IM. “This reflects a wider industry move towards more sustainable operations.”

There was also a push from existing Ventsim CONTROL customers for such cooling functionality, according to Dello Sbarba, with these clients realising the benefits that could come with controlling the process from the underground readings, assessing where cooling was most needed.

“While the actual capital cost associated with the cooling plant installation is unlikely to change – given these plants should be sized by engineers on a worse-case scenario basis – you should definitely see significant improvements in terms of the operating and energy cost of the plants,” he said.

This economic benefit is complemented by the health and safety advantages already mentioned.

“At the moment, miners tend to put a chilling plant on surface and just cool the air regardless of where it is destined to go,” Dello Sbarba said. “This process doesn’t consider the fact that the only reason you are cooling air on surface is for the deeper levels of the mine that experience particularly high temperatures.

“You currently don’t have intelligent control of this cooled air across the underground mine.”

With Howden’s cooling on demand module within Ventsim CONTROL, users can monitor if they are obtaining the required temperatures at these deeper levels, making sure the cooled air is pushed to where it needs to go.

Aside from a subscription to Ventsim CONTROL with at least Level 3 and 5 functionality – providing required set points for airflow, gas levels, and/or temperature – and the right-sized ventilation fans, users only require temperature and humidity sensors underground to carry out such control.

“Even though you need many of these monitors, they are relatively cheap with many hardware solutions available on the market,” Dello Sbarba said.

Equipped with these elements, users can assign certain temperature/humidity setpoints in areas of high activity, plug these setpoints into Ventsim CONTROL and allow the software to ‘communicate’ with the cooling plant and fans to automatically cool these areas to the required temperature. An advanced Level 5 installation of Ventsim CONTROL allows users to automatically optimise underground fan and regulator settings and adjusting main fan settings to maintain required cooling levels while maximising energy savings.

He concluded: “The reason it is advantageous to perform cooling on demand with Ventsim CONTROL over other solutions is the 3D modelling capabilities within the software. The model helps you predict and better control your air flows based on what you are seeing in the simulation.

“It has an edge over any other custom-made ventilation engineering solution on the market.”

The new cooling on demand functionality is now in the final throes of testing in a factory setting, with a mine site trial being lined up for later in the year.

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.”