Tag Archives: LTE

Meglab and Bell to collaborate on Canadian mining Private LTE/5G network projects

Meglab is to integrate Private LTE/5G network solutions into the Canadian mining sector in partnership with Bell, setting, it says, a new standard for operational efficiency and technological advancement.

The offer for private mobile networks for the mining sector allows the secure transfer of large quantities of data at very high speeds. With these capabilities, mining companies can use artificial intelligence in their daily operations to automate and evaluate decision-making processes to maximise productivity. They are also able to perform preventative maintenance and create a more secure working environment for their employees.

Meglab’s experience in the mining sector is complemented by its specialised workforce, not only capable of operating in remote locations, but also skilled in the deployment of advanced telecommunications technologies in underground mines, it says. Combined with Bell’s private mobile network expertise, Meglab is set to power mines with connected equipment, people and processes that will advance mining operations in Canada.

“We are so proud of this partnership,” Kim Valade, General Manager of Meglab (owned by Epiroc), said. “This unique collaboration will enable us to offer the very best in private mobile networks for the mining industry.”

The partnership not only enables the use of industrial IoT and artificial intelligence, it also actively supports the automation of mining vehicles, Meglab says, adding that this is a crucial step towards modernising mining operations. This integration ensures a seamless flow of data, videos, images and voice communications. The Private LTE/5G networks are specifically designed to handle the heavy data demands and exacting operational reliability of the mining sector, thus ensuring security and speed in data transfer, and facilitating the sophisticated processes of automated mining.

Costa Pantazopoulos, VP Product, Bell, said: “Bell is proud to partner with Meglab to help bring together the diverse ecosystem of mining partners together with our private mobile network to support the digital transformation of the Canadian mining industry.”

Thiess turning autonomous mining opportunities into reality

Thiess may have deliberately started small with autonomy, however, 10 years into its journey, the company is now being recognised as a mine automation leader in the ever-competitive mining services space.

Whether it is drilling, dozing or haulage, Thiess has plenty of autonomy expertise to offer.

The company started off in 2013 with maintenance and service work on the autonomous haulage fleet a major producer had assembled at its iron ore operation in the Pilbara. This has since broadened out to semi-autonomous tractor system (SATS) operations at major coal mines in Australia, autonomous drilling advances using Epiroc and Caterpillar platforms and, most recently, autonomous haulage and drilling operations at Pembroke Resources’ Olive Downs Complex greenfield operation in Queensland.

Trent Smith, Head of Autonomy and Operations Technology at Thiess, says the company seeks to involve itself early on with autonomy projects to ensure benefits can be realised.

He explains: “We like to help identify the opportunity for automation, which initially involves answering two big questions: is the application suitable? And does it deliver a financial benefit to the project? If there are positive answers to both questions, we try to work with those potential clients on how to bring the vision to life.”

Thiess’ involvement in this process is extensive, looking at network options, OEM selection, the “people element” and more, according to Smith.

“Our strategy was a bit different to others, where, aside from the work at our first autonomy project in the Pilbara, we started with small pilot projects on drills and dozers,” he told IM on the side lines of IMARC 2023 in Sydney earlier this month. “This enabled us to establish some solid foundations, understand the significance of the required changes, understand what the key enablers like networks were and put support models behind those aspects.”

To date, the mining services provider has worked closely with OEMs Epiroc and Caterpillar on modifying their autonomy platforms to fit its clients’ operations to improve safety and efficiency.

“With Caterpillar, we were able to take an emerging technology platform like Cat® MineStar™ Command for drilling and ensure it was fit for purpose for the coal environment we were planning to deploy it in.

“With Epiroc’s solution, we took a mature and proven product from the iron ore environment – equipped mainly for single pass, vertical drilling in competent ground with big and open drill pads – and tailored it for a coal application. This application required the introduction of autonomous rod changing and angle drilling for drilling in varied ground within tighter working areas.

“We worked hand-in-hand with Epiroc to understand the complexities of translating the solution for this environment, utilising all of the on-board data in the early trial stages and filtering that down to identify areas of waste and opportunity that could be used by the OEM and ourselves to realise an improvement in performance within that new environment.”

This evidently worked, with the companies, earlier this year, achieving the significant milestone of drilling more than one million lineal metres at the Lake Vermont coal mine in Queensland.

Pembroke Resources’ Olive Downs Complex has become the world’s first mining operation to deploy Command for hauling and Command for drilling solutions simultaneously

Thiess is also expecting to later this year reach the same autonomous drilling milestone with Cat’s Command for drilling platform; this time at a major coal mine in New South Wales.

The company has also helped achieve an industry first at Pembroke Resources’ Olive Downs Complex, with it becoming the world’s first mining operation to deploy Command for hauling and Command for drilling solutions simultaneously.

This assignment, which moved from concept to implementation of autonomous trucks and drills within a matter of 18 months, will ultimately include the deployment of 21 haul trucks (15 Cat 794 ACs and six Cat 793Fs) and three drills (Cat MD6310s) fitted with autonomous technology. Additionally, Thiess has established a private LTE network on Pembroke’s on-site communication infrastructure, enabling the safe operation of more than 85 connected assets within the autonomous operating zone. It has also upskilled more than 280 team members to, Thiess says, support the delivery of autonomous operations at Olive Downs to enable improvements in safety, operating hours, cycle efficiency and cost.

There is potential to add Command for dozing at Pembroke Resources’ Olive Downs Complex in future years, according to Smith.

“We have built the network and control room with the anticipation that this will be used,” he said. “We are already the first company in the world to have all three Caterpillar autonomy products running at operations, but Pembroke Resources’ Olive Downs Complex would be the first operation in the world to have all three Cat autonomy products operating at one mine.”

Thiess now has six autonomy projects out in the market, all of which are performing well against industry automation benchmarks, according to Smith, who says this capability is being recognised within the mining company community and OEM space.

The company has already announced its first automation project outside of Australia – at a coal mine in East Kalimantan, Indonesia, where it will deploy autonomous drilling operations – and Smith says the company is exploring further autonomous drilling opportunities in Latin America.

As well as continuing to engage with the wider OEM market on automation options, Thiess is working on different automation applications for existing products.

“With the SATS Command for dozing product, for instance, we are looking to take the platform and work with Caterpillar to move it towards a rehabilitation application,” Smith said, referencing the Thiess Rehabilitation business the company launched last year. “The requirements in mine rehabilitation are somewhat different to standard dozer push and stockpile applications, with multi-push vectors and the ability to potentially control several small-scale projects from one centralised hub.

“This is an example of where we work with an OEM, bring our knowledge of working with the product, identify a new application for the product, and then lay out what new set of capabilities need to be addressed to meet the requirements and fulfil that market opportunity.”

The company has a track record of proposing and advancing such autonomous dozing opportunities in certain niche applications, Smith said, adding that it recently achieved the 10 million cubic metres push mark with SATS.

The first rehabilitation application for SATS could end up being at a project in central Queensland – a project the Thiess Rehabilitation team started work on last year.

Thiess recently achieved the 10 million cubic metres push mark with SATS

Against this advancing autonomy backdrop, Smith says the company continues to be asked about combining the “decarbonisation” and autonomy pieces of the mine operating puzzle, with a staged approach typically being recommended.

“At the moment, these two (autonomy and decarbonisation) are a little bit separate, but they will converge at some point,” he said. “I imagine artificial intelligence and predictive capabilities will play a role in that – evaluating when the truck might run out of charge, when is best to pull that truck out of service for a 30-minute fast charge, etc.

“What I would say is if you have taken a step in either direction (autonomy or decarbonisation) already, you are well placed for this convergence.”

Smith offered up one last piece of advice to any company looking to take its next automation step: “Don’t forget the people and process part.”

He explained: “Most organisations know how to deliver a technology project, but I think the real value in automation is bringing the people and process along with that. Automation is a business transformation.

“We worked with Pembroke Resources’ at their Olive Downs Complex to ensure the appropriate change management process to enable automation was implemented across all business functions. Each function was reviewed to understand what needed to change to bring in automation and create a cohesive environment.

“It’s already starting to pay off at that project, where we exceeded our target of 6,500 annualised hours within two months of commencing autonomous haulage operations.”

Rajant and STRACONTech boost network coverage at Hudbay’s Constancia mine

Rajant Corporation, the pioneer of Kinetic Mesh® wireless networks, and STRACONTech, a Kinetic Mesh Partner in Lima, Peru, say they have increased bandwidth and improved networking coverage at the Constancia mine in Peru, a project owned by Hudbay Minerals.

After reviewing options, the mine selected to invest in Rajant’s solution for mobility, which allows an almost “plug-and-play” integration with the mine’s existing LTE network, Rajant said. Eduardo Rojas, IT Manager at Hudbay, said: “Our mining operation needed a better design for its haulage and loading fleet. With the Rajant hybrid solution, we now have a significant increase in bandwidth, which will allow us to be more efficient.”

With the Rajant Peregrine LTE BreadCrumb®, the mine obtained a four times performance improvement, going from a limit of 10 Mb/s with LTE up to 40 Mb/s.

The Rajant Peregrine LTE allows connectivity on multiple frequencies simultaneously, including LTE. This improves operations so connectivity is not lost with the mining fleet even when interference exists on the 2.4 GHz, 5 Ghz, or LTE band, Rajant says.

Rajant Vice President of Sales (Americas/APAC), Sagar Chandra, added: “All mining operations want reliable and scalable connectivity. We successfully improved the performance of the installed LTE network using the Peregrine LTE, which offers the unique benefit of Kinetic Mesh and direct machine-to-machine connectivity.”

Rajant and STRACONTech teams started with a proof of concept, resulting in a larger phased installation, delivering improved performance.

STRACONTech’s team explains: “We measured 30-32 Mb/s at 1 km while the mine’s LTE had a ceiling of 10 Mb/s. We solved the challenge they had. Moreover, the investment in the Peregrine LTE was a one-time cost for the mine without recurring annual software or maintenance costs, saving them long-term.”

Hudbay’s Constancia mine produced 89,395 t of copper, 58,229 oz of gold and 2.3 Moz of silver in 2022.

Almonty Industries and Korea Telecom to introduce Mine Safety DX technology at Sandong

Almonty Industries, through its wholly-owned South Korean subsidiary, Almonty Korea Tungsten Corporation (AKTC), has announced a collaboration with Korea Telecom (KT) to introduce cutting-edge Mine Safety DX technology.

Developed in partnership with KT, this solution aims to enhance worker safety and promote efficient mining practices which is indicative of AKTC’s strong commitment to environmental, social and governance (ESG) compliance, Almonty says.

The partnership between AKTC and KT is the result of the continuing challenges the mining industry has faced in ensuring immediate response to unforeseen events and instantaneous sharing of critical information in emergency situations. The Mine Safety DX technology, which is being implemented at the Sangdong mine in South Korea, addresses these concerns by using advanced information and communication technology to establish a new safety framework for mining operations.

“We are fully committed to implementing responsible and sustainable mining practices as we reopen the Sangdong Mine while also providing the safest environment possible for our mine workers,” Lewis Black, President and CEO of Almonty, said. “Mine Safety DX technology, developed with Korean Telecom, gives us a previously unheard of level of workplace environment monitoring that ensures the detection of hazardous factors and timely notifications to protect worker well-being. We look forward to sharing this advancement with the rest of the mining community.”

In addition, AKTC will be making this technology, which is a key component of our ESG program, available via open source to allow all South Korean mines access to this important new system.

The communication infrastructure established by KT and AKTC at the Sangdong mine is based on LTE technology. This infrastructure offers superior coverage and simultaneous access, surpassing the capabilities of Wi-Fi and radios traditionally used in mine communication, accoring to Almonty. By utilising “leaky coaxial cables” and “mining designated line amplifiers”, seamless communication is possible even in deep underground sections of the mine, ensuring communication and monitoring capabilities, it says.

The Mine Safety DX solution incorporates various components, including smart devices, access/location management, an AI-based mine safety system and workplace environment monitoring. Smart devices, such as smart bands and helmets with smart tags, provide real-time location information and biometric data, enabling immediate response to underground emergencies and ensuring worker safety. The access/location management component uses Bluetooth Low Energy beacons for precise positioning and notification of workers entering dangerous areas. This AI-based mine safety system enables real-time monitoring of worker safety, emergency messaging and data analysis allowing mine operators to take proactive safety measures, according to Almonty. Workplace environment monitoring ensures the detection of hazardous factors and timely notifications to protect worker well-being.

In addition to improving safety standards, the Mine Safety DX technology also contributes to the efficient functioning of mining operations, according to Almonty. By establishing a robust communication infrastructure, AKTC aims to enhance mining efficiency and productivity.

The collaboration between AKTC and KT aligns with the South Korean Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy’s Comprehensive Mine Safety Plan and supports the government’s goal of providing long-distance wide-area communication capabilities by 2027.

“We are proud to partner with KT in developing the Mine Safety DX solution,” Donghoon Kang, Sangdong Mine’s Planning Director at AKTC, said. “This collaboration allows us to prioritise worker safety while also promoting efficient mining practices. We believe that the implementation of this technology will establish Yeongwol-Gun, Gangwon-do, as a mining city at the forefront of technological advancement, contributing to the revitalization of the domestic mining industry.”

AKTC and KT plan to continue their collaboration in developing innovative solutions that not only prioritise safety but also align with ESG principles, Almonty says.

Nokia and Sedna to expand LTE private wireless partnership in southern Africa

Nokia and Sedna Industrial IT Solutions have built on the LTE private wireless partnership Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed last year, with a pledge to expand further into southern Africa.

In November of last year Sedna strengthened its partnership with Nokia to become its main value-added reseller (VAR) and systems integrator for Africa in the mining sector, among others, to enable Industry 4.0 applications. This comes as demand for enhanced network solutions grows in Africa thanks to their ability to deliver safe, more efficient, and productive solutions in operational areas above and underground, they said.

“We are progressing significantly beyond last year’s MoU and are accelerating activities, with an upcoming roadshow set for southern Africa where we will showcase the benefits of network and safety advances for African mining and industrial companies,” Anton Fester, MD of Johannesburg-based Sedna Industrial IT Solutions, said.

Gary Conway, Nokia Head of Energy and Mining business for Africa, India, Middle East and China, added: “We are excited to strengthen our partnership with Sedna and are extremely encouraged by the potential in Africa, with demand on the rise for mission-critical solutions, whether fixed and wireless multiservice solutions, 4.9G/LTE, 5G private wireless or secure public networks in remote locations.”

Digital automation in mines has many benefits, ranging from improved worker safety, operational improvements and significantly improved ‘green’ outcomes, the companies say. A Nokia case study shows that the digital automation of a mining truck fleet using a private wireless network led to a 10% reduction in fuel consumption and 15,000 t in CO2 emissions (based on an average mine site with an annual production of 150 Mt).

According to Fester, these solutions and networks are “very suitable” for Africa.

“You can really look after your assets, protect jobs and workers, ensure your mining enterprise stays out of repair shops, gets much better asset usage and mileage – the benefits are endless. This applies across mining but also increasingly into the manufacturing and energy spaces,” he says. “For instance, legacy systems perform several functions across multiple networks, using different infrastructure. We pick up the legacy interface and combine it on a single infrastructure to provide an end-to-end management view of distribution and production.”

Conway said: “LTE private wireless is proving extremely beneficial in the energy sector to improve efficiencies, reduce downtime and faults (80% of Asian utilities are already on this journey with Nokia). This level of automation does not replace jobs but leads to increases in productivity and more opportunities. This is a glass-half-full story in Africa if you consider the demand for more scalable solutions like these, which we are already experiencing. The pioneering use cases have been initiated and it is now about enabling this technology more broadly.”

Eldorado testing LTE-backed Newtrax ventilation on demand solution at Olympias

Eldorado Gold has confirmed it is testing Newtrax’s environmental monitoring platform and ventilation on demand (VoD) solution at the Olympias mine in Greece.

Mine ventilation represents the single largest electrical load at the Olympias mine and, in response to the EU energy crisis and Eldorado’s own Energy and Carbon Management System, the company has been aggressively advancing VoD implementation at the Greek operation.

The benefits associated with VoD include:

  • Targeted air circulation and improved air quality as the working environment is upgraded as fresh air is distributed through the mine in a manner that ensures workers’ health and safety;
  • Right-sizing fans to provide the required volumetric flow rates (from a static to a dynamic and intelligent air supply leading to a reduction of the total required airflow within a mine);
  • Improving energy efficiency and power consumption – by reducing the total airflow, energy can be saved in disproportionately high amounts due to the cubic relationship between volume flow and fan power; and
  • Enabling the production and development activities at the lower levels of the mine.

To obtain the immediate benefits of VoD, the Olympias mine operations team implemented a manual solution during 2022, where the team adjusts ventilation fan operations each day based on the daily mine plan. As part of this, variable speed drives were applied to many of the fans to allow air flow adjustments to meet operational needs with minimum electricity consumption. This process is being carried out via the control room on surface, with a SCADA system used to disconnect fans that are not planned to be used during the day.

This transition saw ventilation fan consumption decrease from about 620 kWh/mth of electricity consumption per kW of installed fan capacity to about 377 kWh/mth of electricity consumption per kW of fan capacity, representing a 40% decrease in energy consumption, according to Simon Hille, SVP, Technical Services and Operations. At the end of 2022, the mine had 3.1 MW of installed ventilation capacity.

“This 40% reduction represents about 9,051 MWh/y of electricity savings and about 3,800 t/y of GHG emission reductions (utilising the updated emissions factor of 0.42 t CO2e/MWh),” he told IM.

While manual VoD has been very effective, automated VoD will further decrease energy consumption and eliminate the many worker hours required to implement VoD on a daily basis, according to Hille.

This is where the company brought in Newtrax, part of Sandvik Mining and Rock Solutions, to implement an automated VoD system.

The Olympias mine will be the first Newtrax installation utilising LTE as the communications medium versus low frequency radio (leaky feeder) utilised previously, according to Eldorado. LTE was installed in August 2022 with the help of Cosmote.

The automated platform will also leverage data from the existing Micromine fleet management system and RFID-based employee location tags provided by Newtrax. Ventilation will then be provided by surface fans with higher ventilation capacities.

Olympias already uses Accutron Technology to monitor air flow velocity and Trolex technology to monitor mine air quality, according to Hille.

In addition to the VoD benefits, the Newtrax technology will improve mine safety (mine evacuation and rescue) as well as improve productivity by allowing mine supervision to have a better understanding of resource locations for improved decision making, the company says.

“Technology and connectivity are the key parameters for VoD to operate effectively,” Hille said. “Automated employee and equipment geo-location is necessary as it helps adjust ventilation delivery to different areas by effectively shutting down entire areas and thus reducing the overall ventilation demands. This requires smooth connectivity with the LTE across the mine site.”

Last month, Newtrax installed five Bluetooth low energy (BLE) devices on select mobile machinery to test system connectivity. Once troubleshooting is complete and communication is established between the underground fans and Newtrax BLE devices, full-sized implementation will be considered with equipment procurement, installation and commissioning to be done by end of Q1 (March quarter) 2024.

On top of this, Eldorado Gold is evaluating non-diesel powered equipment for all new equipment purchases and, in some cases, as an alternative to equipment rebuilds.

“The mine ventilation benefits of equipment electrification are included in the evaluation of that equipment,” Hille said.

MegaFon deploys Private LTE network at Udokan MMP

At the request of Udokan Copper, MegaFon has designed and built an industrial wireless LTE (pLTE, Private LTE) network of six base stations and set up redundant communication channels at the Udokan Mining and Metallurgical Plant (MMP).

The infrastructure provides coverage across the whole site with both 4G and Private LTE, according to the company.

The main difference between a private LTE and a public network is the presence of a pLTE core deployed in the corporate data centre and linked to the corporate network. Unlike Wi-Fi networks, the Private LTE standard has immunity to interference, meets all modern information security requirements and enables coverage to be scaled up faster and at a lower cost, Udokan Copper says. The solution creates a shared, stable, closed data environment, which is essential for mining and industrial companies.

The pLTE network will cover the entire site, from the open pit to the concentrator and smelter of the future mining and metallurgical plant, to deliver reliable communication for employees and help automate a number of processes. In particular, Private LTE will facilitate automated control of Udokan Copper’s mining machinery fleet, including the monitoring of machinery and equipment performance along with materials and fuel consumption. What’s more, the solution contributes to workplace safety, including the safety of drilling and blasting operations, Udokan Copper says.

According to Udokan Copper CEO, Alexey Yaschuk, the solution ensures highly effective soil thermometry, permafrost monitoring and control of process parameters in energy systems, while also allowing for continuous wireless video surveillance in line with top security standards.

“Going forward, we will roll out the system to the second stage of the Udokan MMP and a number of auxiliary infrastructure facilities, in particular a railroad storage facility,” he noted.

Natalya Taldykina, Head of Corporate Business Development at MegaFon, said: “This is the first private industrial network in the Trans-Baikal Territory. Large companies increasingly opt for Private LTE to set up internal processes thanks to its high reliability, security and a strong digitalisation potential. The private network for Udokan Copper relies on domestically sourced equipment which enables us to make quick adjustments to meet production needs,”

Established to develop the Udokan Copper Deposit, Udokan Copper is part of the diversified USM Group founded by Alisher Usmanov. Udokan is a large undeveloped copper deposit with JORC copper resources of 26.7 Mt at 1.05% Cu.

Zinkgruvan Mining and Epiroc collaborate on teleremote drilling trial backed by LTE

Zinkgruvan Mining is feeling the effects of teleremote drilling using a 4G LTE network and Epiroc’s Simba E7 rig at its underground base metal mine, according to a case study from the Sweden-based OEM*.

In early spring 2021, Zinkgruvan Mining, working in conjunction with Epiroc and IT, and telecom operator Telia, first connected its Simba E7 rig to an LTE (Long Term Evolution) network. Since then, remote production has taken off like a shot in the areas where the LTE network has been commissioned, according to Epiroc, while acknowledging this is still in trial mode.

The mine has a total of four Epiroc Simba rigs, with, at present, one of these connected via Simba Teleremote, some 350 m underground. In the future, operators may move to an office 800 m underground to get closer to the rig.

“So far, we’ve drilled seven pallets remotely,” Operator, Jocke Lindblad (pictured on the left), said. “It runs very smoothly, and as soon as we find something that doesn’t work, I can call the Epiroc service engineer who has been there from the start.”

Lindblad monitors the rig from a quiet above-ground office, next to a window where daylight flows in.

“I like being down in the mine too, but it’s certainly safer and better for the body to sit here,” he said. “It’s nice to be able to take a coffee break or get a breath of fresh air when I feel like it.”

The fact the operators do not need to drive down into the mine on a regular basis means they can drill an average of four hours more per day, according to Epiroc. In purely technical terms, Lindblad can operate the rig from an office in the same way as he would down in the mine. The screens and levers are the same as on the rig.

“The only difference is that I can’t hear the drill,” Lindblad said. “But you do have to keep a close watch on the measurement values on the display.”

An LTE future

Epiroc said: “Building a dedicated LTE network has been a challenge. It is much harder to bring together a design in a mine than above ground. However, the choice was easy.”

Craig Griffiths, Mining Manager at Zinkgruvan Mining, said the company, a Lundin Mining subsidiary, looked at running automation via Wi-Fi, but decided against this as it wanted the network to work for at least another 10 years and be able to handle the demands of the future.

He is convinced the investment puts the mine in a good position for years to come.

“This will give us better control over our production and reduce our costs,” he said. “It feels really good. But the greatest gain will be in respect of safety, with our employees having to spend less time in the mine.”

No-one to ask

While the Simba occasionally – under Lindblad’s supervision above ground – changes position for a new drill hole, Mattias Dömstedt, Technical Production Coordinator, and Håkan Mann, Project Manager, have time to explain how the technology works, and how the work of installing it has progressed.

“Once complete, the project will have seen about 70 remote radio units, ie transmitters and receivers of radio signals in the LTE network, installed in the mine, providing coverage of around 70 km,” Mann said. “The LTE network will then be extended as the mine expands. The portion of the LTE network currently in operation covers around 15 km.”

By then, hopefully some time in 2022, it will be possible to run another Simba rig by teleremote, provided that RCS4 can be used via LTE, Epiroc said. But Dömstedt, Mann and their colleagues on the project have already come a long way since the very first tests in December 2020, which were designed to show whether teleremote over the LTE network worked at all.

Dömstedt said: “We were in Epiroc’s workshop 800 m down in the mine. We had a remote station in the room next to the rig, and we looked out to see if it was moving around on the rig, and it was.”

The company sees LTE opening further possibilities. For example, Zinkgruvan has collaborated with Mobilaris to set up unique, full site coverage, communication and positioning infrastructure at the site, a project that led to the development of Mobilaris Virtual Tag™, which is running on LTE.

Mann said: “As we are the first to build something like this, we haven’t been able to ask anyone for help, we’ve had to solve all the problems ourselves along the way.”

According to Mann, the key to success lies in clear, short decision-making paths and a responsive way of working where everyone, including partners and suppliers, takes responsibility and is fully committed.

“This is exactly our approach to this project,” he said. “Everyone involved has had direct contact with each other. Even the operators have been able to talk directly to those building the network.”

The close cooperation with Epiroc has been crucial to the project, according to the OEM.

“Our development has gone hand-in-hand with that of Epiroc,” Mann said. “They’ve known that we were going to build an LTE network and then developed their teleremote system accordingly.”

Despite the fact Zinkgruvan is still a long way from bringing home the project, both Mann and Dömstedt are proud of what they have achieved. After completing 6,500 remotely drilled meters, they say the drilling is more efficient than ever, while the operators are satisfied and happy. The target is to reach 10,000 m, after which a thorough evaluation of the technology will be carried out.

Dömstedt said: “It’s been fantastic to work on this project. I’ve been working with automation in different ways for four years here in the mine and now have started drilling and see how it has developed – it’s been really fun! Of course, the fact that we’re getting such good feedback from the operators makes it even more exciting.”

*This story is an edited version of an Epiroc Customer Story here 

Nerospec SK digital mine survey highlights industry opportunities and skills gaps

The concept of ‘the digital mine’ has been around for several years, however a recent survey conducted by Nerospec SK indicates the underground mining sector is much closer to the beginning of its digitalisation journey than the end.

The ‘How Digital Is Your Mine?’ survey from Nerospec SK, a company focused on a suite of digital and automation solutions for the sector, focused on six key themes and messages in its report, which was based on replies from 43 participants from across the global mining sector.

The first theme indicated that digitalisation was continuing to grow, with more than 70% of participants expecting increased investments in projects going forward.

This expected growth was influenced by the second theme: ‘digitalisation pays off’. The survey highlighted three quarters of the projects pursued to digitalise operations had been deemed successful, and 70% of them had come with a return on investment of less than three years.

To this point, mine safety has been the biggest beneficiary, according to the survey, with some 64% of participants agreeing that digitalisation projects had positively impacted operational safety. This has been seen with the likes of proximity detection, collision avoidance and vehicle intervention systems underground, preventing collisions between people, machinery and mine infrastructure.

The added transparency that comes with these digitalisation endeavours was expected to translate into productivity gains down the line, according to survey participants.

“Knowing what the machines have been doing during their shifts and, with that, identifying systematic improvement opportunities is the real game changer, enabling the sector to unleash the next frontier of operations improvements,” Nerospec SK said.

One of the biggest hurdles to achieving these gains is the availability of data communication networks, more than half of survey participants pointed out. “As regular wireless communication equipment is not effective underground, this is still a hurdle that many mines have not tackled,” Nerospec SK said, explaining that new solutions such as LTE and the like were only just becoming available.

At the same time, survey participants (68%) highlighted that the “simplicity of digital solutions” as well as the “technology readiness” for underground mining applications were major challenges associated with leveraging more digitalisation projects. “This indicates that the industry is not yet convinced of the availability of robust underground mining proven solutions that can be installed and maintained with the available mining personnel,” Nerospec SK said.

Of the most promising digital technologies available to the underground mining sector, automation of machinery was highlighted, being named the biggest single game-changing technology innovation with the greatest business value contribution by 38% of participants. This surprised the survey analyst team given electrification, ventilation on demand and connectivity have been highlighted as transformative in other similar industry polls.

The last theme centred on digital training and the industry-wide need for obtaining local mine and service crews with updated knowledge on new digital technologies. Around 35% of survey participants highlighted the digital readiness of service and maintenance personnel when asked the question: ‘What skills developments are required to become ready for the digital mine?’

“Finally, in terms of people qualification the survey participants are not so worried about the underlying fundamental software development, data analytics, or automation capabilities of developers,” Nerospec SK said. “The greatest need is seen in getting the local mine and service crews ready to work with the new digital technologies.”

Aqura Technologies to expand Private 4G LTE network at Roy Hill

Veris Limited’s wholly-owned subsidiary, Aqura Technologies, has been selected to support Roy Hill in the design, install and commissioning of an expansion of its advanced Private 4G LTE network at its Pilbara iron ore mining operations in Western Australia.

The new project builds upon Aqura’s first phase delivery of Roy Hill’s new Private 4G LTE network in May 2021.

The new A$1.8 million ($1.31 million) project value leverages Aqura’s experience with Roy Hill in the first phase installation and commissioning, it said, building on Aqura’s track record in delivering “leading-edge, high performance Private LTE networks underpinning the digital transformation programs of large-scale operational activities in highly remote locations”.

Aqura Technologies CEO, Travis Young, said: “We are very pleased to have our performance, quality and value-driven approach recognised by Roy Hill through the form of this new contract following the highly successful outcomes delivered in our initial engagement earlier this year.

“The installation and successful commissioning of the first phase within such a short timeframe proved critical in the validation work of Roy Hill’s autonomous haulage and broader digitisation programs.

“Our in-house team is looking forward to continuing to extend the reach of the Roy Hill Private LTE network, which will accelerate the realisation of benefits from their Autonomous Haulage Systems and digital transformation initiatives.”

The project will commence with the design phase in November 2021 with scheduled completion to occur by June 2022.

Back in May, Roy Hill said of the AHS project: “Roy Hill’s autonomous haulage project has completed its initial start-up phase and has moved into production testing at the company’s Pilbara mine. A fleet of seven trucks have been converted using the Epiroc/ASI Mining autonomous haulage solution. This interoperable conversion kit has been fitted to both Hitachi EH5000 and CAT 793F trucks enabling load and haul circuits to commence in a segregated autonomous operating zone.

“Having established a stable haul circuit, work is progressing on optimisation and testing across additional mining scenarios. Another core feature of Roy Hill’s innovative AHS program is an open architecture approach, allowing existing and new systems to work together to deliver superior outcomes. We recently commenced testing the dispatching interface between Roy Hill’s existing fleet management system Wenco and ASI Mining’s Mobius traffic management software.”