Tag Archives: RFID

Revolutionising operations through the ‘Connected Mine’ of the future

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

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

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

Digital twins for optimised production

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

Environmental monitoring for occupational health and safety

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

Martin Killian, IoT Solutions Architect at Speedcast

Private LTE enabling big data connectivity

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

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

Theory put into practice

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

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

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

The future

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

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

Orica on the right Track with new digital blasting solutions

Orica’s suite of rock movement, blast fragmentation and digital blast optimisation solutions have been gaining traction of late, with miners across the globe employing or trialling the products as they look to improve mine site performance.

Ahead of the annual Explosives and Blasting feature (to be published in the International Mining July/August 2020 issue), IM spoke with Rajkumar Mathiravedu, Vice President of Digital Solutions at Orica, to get an update on progress with the company’s digital solutions.

Back in Orica’s 2019 full-year results, Orica mentioned it had secured its first customers in Latin America for its ORETrack™ solution, which provides RFID-based tracking of rock movement from blasting operations.

Mathiravedu said these first adopters were recognising the value delivered by the technology, with ORETrack working well in the initial applications.

“We are also continuing to co-develop and expand our ORETrack technology in collaboration with customers in Latin America, with additional customers adopting the ore tracking capability,” he said.

“Further trials are also planned for the near future, including locations in Australia and North America.”

The number of customers taking up Orica’s FRAGTrack™ solution, which provides blast fragmentation data with auto-analysis capability, meanwhile, has been growing in the face of COVID-19 travel restrictions.

Orica carried out its first fully remote installation of FRAGTrack during lockdown in Australia, with a second in Finland and a third one completed in North America recently.

Mathiravedu said a key focus in developing the solution, which captures real-time fragmentation measurement data for downstream unit productivity improvement and tracking of operational performance, was ensuring it was “a plug and play solution” that could be installed and supported remotely.

“We developed rigorous training material and installation instructions and married these with real-time augmented reality capability to remotely guide and support our customers through the implementation,” he said.

“We have found this particularly advantageous during the COVID-19 restrictions, but also this allows our customers to manage the implementation timing to suit their operations.”

An example of this could be the desire for a customer to install FRAGTrack when the shovels are down for maintenance, without having to wait for an Orica specialist to come to the site and install the system.

Reflecting on the recent remote installation achievements, Mathiravedu said: “This proves we have a successful remote release model that customers are valuing during these unprecedented times.”

BlastIQ workflow integration

Fifteen months after the release of its next generation BlastIQ, Orica has now surpassed the 60-site implementation mark of its digital blast optimisation platform.

Mathiravedu said BlastIQ and the company’s ever-growing digital capabilities are designed to improve blast outcomes by integrating insights from digitally connected technologies at every stage of the drill and blast process to drive continuous improvements for its customers.

“Focusing on the needs of our surface mining customers, we have been able to deliver the benefits of cloud-based technology, providing convenience and flexibility for customers to access their blasting data online anywhere, anytime from any device,” he said.

“Customers are also benefitting significantly from digitising their blasting workflows, delivering efficiencies and improved quality control across their blasting operations, resulting in greater visibility of blast inputs and outputs in real time while benefiting from better blast outcomes.”

As an open, secure, and connected digital platform, BlastIQ’s blast-related data is being integrated directly into customers’ mining value chain and remote operation centres via secure cloud-based APIs, Mathiravedu said.

“This is enabling customers to drive better mine-level decisions based on data integrations between our platform and theirs, creating a stronger bond between planning, drilling, blasting, load and haul and processing operations at the site,” he said.

BlastIQ is an inter-operable platform and is being delivered as a Software as a Service product to customers, meaning they receive new functionality, value and features as soon as they are developed, according to Mathiravedu.

“Enhancements are scheduled and developed based on direct feedback and submissions from our customers all around the world to ensure the product evolves to meet the discrete needs of their operations,” he said.

Outside of BlastIQ specifically, Orica has started to deliver digital optimisation services to its customers, according to Mathiravedu.

“State-of-the-art” digital products and advanced data science and analytics, combined with blasting technical know-how and market-leading blasting technologies, enables customers to cover whole of value chain solutions, enabled by blasting, Mathiravedu said.

“Also, using a series of industry 4.0 smart Internet of Things sensors and Edge computing to replace inefficient manual processes, measurement data can be used in real time to improve future mining outcomes based on data science, analytics and machine-learning algorithms to drive continuous improvement of the entire mining value chain.”

Barrick continues to leverage automation and battery-electric technology

Barrick Gold, despite numerous COVID-19-related hurdles, made progress on the innovation front in the March quarter, with a haul truck automation trial and battery-electric underground equipment developments continuing to take place.

In its 2019 annual report, Barrick said the first stage of a project designed to retrofit an autonomous system at its Carlin gold mine, in Nevada, had been successfully completed.

In the March quarter results presentation last week, Mark Bristow, Barrick President and CEO, updated investors on this project, saying a proof of concept allowing manned and unmanned operations in the same zone had been completed at one of its mines. On top of this, the company said it was working on autonomous drilling projects.

It is underground where the biggest revelation came, with Barrick confirming trials of a 50 t battery-electric haul truck it mentioned in its 2019 annual report had commenced at its Turquoise Ridge gold operation, in Nevada. This trial involved an Artisan Z50 (graphic, pictured), the largest battery-powered underground haul truck currently on the market.

A Barrick spokesperson said the trial of the 50 t payload truck was expected to be finalised in the June quarter of this year, “with the option to extend, should the KPIs not be met”.

Barrick previously reported the introduction of a battery-powered development drill at its Hemlo underground gold mine, in Ontario, Canada, “as a first step towards establishing the potential of this new technology” in 2019. Having carried out a trial of this Sandvik DD422iE battery-powered development drill, the Barrick spokesperson confirmed the company has now acquired the unit.

Designed to use electric energy from an onboard battery during tramming and plug into a mine’s existing energy infrastructure while drilling, the Sandvik DD422iE has been used at Newmont’s Borden mine, in Ontario, among other places.

Bristow said on the call that the company believes battery-powered electric underground equipment “has the potential to lower operating costs and increase efficiencies”.

In addition to these automation and battery-electric vehicle developments, Barrick said in the results that a new global SAP Enterprise Resource Planning system was on track for its first implementation at the Nevada Gold Mines JV operations in the September quarter. This is a “more agile, less overly-customised tool, focused on getting the right information”, according to Barrick.

“This more streamlined and standardised global design will further improve our ability to report real-time cost and efficiency data and, more importantly, manage our real-time information,” Bristow said on the call.

The NGM JV implementation could lay the groundwork for a solution to be rolled out to other regions in 2021, according to Barrick.

Barrick’s underground digital innovation plan has seen the company recently adopt technologies that allow it to remotely monitor, in real time, a machine’s location, productivity and health, as well as that of operators’, Bristow said. This tool could increase its efficiencies and predictive maintenance capabilities, he added.

Barrick’s team at Loulo Underground, meanwhile, has helped develop a system that automatically turns secondary fans on and off using personal RFID tracking systems, Bristow noted on the call. This could help reduce power consumption at the mine, in Mali, and the project is now being implemented across its Africa underground mines, he said.

Seven and counting for Michelin XDR3 haul truck tyres

Michelin North America has introduced a new size of MICHELIN® XDR® 3 haul tyres as it looks to, it says, address the productivity and endurance issues found in today’s surface mines.

The XDR3, Michelin’s most popular surface mine tyre, the company says, was developed for a range of rigid dump trucks with payload capacities up to 400 tons (363 t). The new 37.00R57 size not only expands the MICHELIN XDR3 portfolio to seven sizes, but also replaces the MICHELIN XDR2 line, it said.

Jake Thompson, Michelin North America’s B2B Mining Marketing Manager, said: “Michelin provides solutions that support safety improvements, operational cost reductions and innovation at mines worldwide. This new tyre combines the latest technologies from the 200 professionals working at our R&D centre.”

The latest release comes less than four months after Michelin North America released the 27.00R49 size XDR3.

Tested under extreme conditions before its launch, the MICHELIN XDR3 is designed for operator safety, Michelin says, with its tread pattern providing excellent load distribution across the contact patch. This also lowers contact pressure, improves wear and increases tyre life by a minimum of 8%, according to the company.

In addition, interlocking blocks of rubber on the shoulder help reduce wear. As previously stated, the XDR3 is MEMS-ready to capture and transmit temperature and pressure information in real time. The MEMS patch is also compatible with tyre additives and is RFID equipped.

With 10% stronger corrosion-proof cables incorporated into the tyre architecture, the tyre provides a significant upgrade in situations where this equipment is operated for up to 23 h/d in extreme terrain, the company said.

Plan Nord backs Newmont Goldcorp’s 4.0 mine vision at Éléonore gold operation

The Government of Québec, through the Société du Plan Nord, says it will invest C$1.75 million ($1.28 million) to connect Newmont Goldcorp’s Éléonore mine facilities to the existing regional fibre optic network.

“This project will enable one of Quebec’s most innovative mining companies to continue advancing its vision to create mine 4.0, an interconnected mine of the future,” the government said, adding that the connection, which will help optimise the company’s operations, will also increase the quality of life of workers on site and encourage employee retention.

Jonatan Julien, Minister of Energy and Natural Resources and Minister responsible for the Côte-Nord region, made the announcement this week while visiting Éléonore.

As part of this project, 124 km of fibre optic cable will be laid from the Eastmain 1A link to the Éléonore mine. This project, valued at C$3.5 million, will be delivered by the non-profit organisation Eeyou Communications Network (ECN), with the new high-speed connection expected to be operational in 2020.

Julien said: “The mining sector is entering a new era with mine 4.0. Today’s funding will contribute to the Éléonore mine’s competitiveness in the future: access to a reliable and high-performance telecommunications network is fundamental for the industry to modernise. The realisation of this project is excellent news for the Eeyou Istchee James Bay region, but also for the Quebec economy.”

Sophie Bergeron, General Manager, Éléonore Mine, Newmont Goldcorp, said: “This joint investment from our Cree partner, Eeyou Communications Network, and the Société du Plan Nord will connect the mine to a fibre optic network, providing far more bandwidth than we have today, and will support our vision of creating the first 4.0 mine in Quebec.

“With this technology backbone in place, new sustainable and responsible mining developments can consolidate the leadership role Quebec plays in Canada’s mining sector and beyond.”

Éléonore was expected to produce some 360,000 oz of gold in 2018 from the underground Roberto deposit. Ore is mined from four horizons using sill and stope techniques, then processed onsite using a conventional circuit that includes crushing, grinding, gravity, flotation and cyanidation.

The operation has begun to develop a fifth mining horizon and build a production shaft, both of which will bring Éléonore closer to its full production capacity, a key part of the company’s plan to increase production by 20% by 2021.

At Éléonore, all underground workers, vehicles and other heavy equipment are outfitted with radio frequency identification tags that transmit a unique ID number via a Wi-Fi connection to the Cisco access point throughout the mine. Telemetry units integrated into vehicles also monitor the functions and systems in the vehicle’s engine, and issue an alert to mine managers when something needs attention, the company said.

The Société du Plan Nord contributes, from a sustainable development perspective, to the planning and integrated and coherent development of northern Quebec, it says. It does so in consultation with representatives of the regions and indigenous peoples, as well as the private sector.

Aury Africa equipped for the digitalisation of mining

Aury Africa Managing Director, Sydney Parkhouse, says in the near future the company will be tracking all of its screening and vibrating equipment via RFID tags and will incorporate full data packs for real-time access.

Speaking to IM, Parkhouse said Aury had been increasing its use of radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags to measure important information such as temperature and vibration in its equipment. Initially this technology has been installed at three mines in South Africa to help track service data and share that information with mine operators, he said.

He told IM he saw many more applications beyond this.

“RFID tags have the capabilities of providing proof of presence when activated by for-purpose RFID readers. The associated software is configurable so that external monitoring devices can be inputted into the reader providing valuable information such as temperature, vibration, etc.

“However, the real benefits are through the digitisation of work processes,” he said. By capturing such data, personnel can verify all work processes are being completed in a logical manner, according to Parkhouse.

“Furthermore, real time capturing of data by trained personnel provides useful information, through configurable reports,” he said.

The RFID technology, using InfoChip software, was developed for Aury Africa by its Johannesburg-based technology partner, Thembekile Asset Management Solutions (AMS). The system not only allows the company to track when services are provided, but also enables some self-learning for its crew, while ensuring regulatory compliance for the mine, Parkhouse said.

AMS has offered active and passive RFID-based solutions to the mining industry, as well as the health care and logistics sectors, since 2012, according to Parkhouse.

In addition to the development of the use of RFID tags in equipment – which Parkhouse considers to be part of Aury’s broader goals of adapting to all facets of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, including the digitalisation of mining – Aury’s sister company, Tianjin Meiteng Technology, is piloting ‘Smart Plant’ technology.

“The group’s ‘Smart Plant’ concept utilises automated control and sensor technology to monitor key parameters to boost operational efficiency on a proactive, real-time basis,” Parkhouse said.

This can range from pump pressure to conveyor belt speed, with all associated software and hardware proprietary and developed specifically by Aury’s parent company, Dadi Engineering Development Group.

Dadi recently retrofitted such a system at a 30 Mt/y coal handling plant in China, but Parkhouse said the market in Africa for such ‘Smart Plants’ was still in its infancy.

“Although several major mining houses have set goals for smart plants, the acceptance of the technology is slow and we believe it will be several years before there will be any significant changes,” he said.

Aury has also been carrying out work in dry processing; an area that has come into focus in recent years on the back of heightened fears over water resources.

Dadi, its parent company, has devised an intelligent dry sorting system (pictured above) that does not consume water or media, and has been gaining favour in China – Aury estimates some 60 dry systems are already in operation in the country.

Parkhouse expected Aury to have sold and installed its first dry sorting system in Africa by the end of the year, explaining ongoing trials of South Africa coals were taking place at Meiting’s facilities in Tianjin, China.

“In the meantime, plans are in place to bring into South Africa a pilot plant during the third quarter (September quarter),” he said.

When asked how this technology differed from other ‘dry’ technologies being developed by original equipment manufacturers, Parkhouse responded: “The real brains behind the technology is the development of big data capture, cloud computing, high-speed processors and high-tech IT skills. We believe Meitieng is at the front of this development.”

He said there were also applications beyond coal: “Trials are on-going in manganese and gold, which have produced very positive results to date.”