Tag Archives: Wi-Fi

Newcrest grads underline automation possibilities with SmartHog development

The use of an all-terrain unmanned ground vehicle, incorporation of military spec hardware and sensors, a bank of lead/acid batteries, and the ingenuity of three mechatronics graduates have brought Newcrest Mining closer to its goal of automating the PC1 extraction level at its Cadia East gold-copper underground mine in New South Wales, Australia.

The company has progressively been rolling out automation-focused technologies at this mine steered by its Mining Innovation and Automation (MIA) Team.

Last year, this team, with the help of Epiroc, successfully implemented the first semi-autonomous integrated production level at the mine, with, at the time, an autonomous Scooptram ST18 capable of full 24/7 production across seven drives of a whole panel cave at the operation.

It is a slightly smaller machine that is helping the company progress from the automation of production and support equipment at the mine to autonomously completing a range of inspection tasks on the fully-autonomous PC1 extraction level.

The seeds for the SmartHog vehicle – a WartHog all-terrain unmanned ground vehicle with ‘smarts’ – were sewn back in early 2021, when Cadia’s first mechatronics graduate arrived to join the MIA team.

“A challenge was set to build an automated underground inspection robot utilising a WartHog chassis,” Aaron Brannigan, Cadia General Manager, told IM, explaining that the challenge provided a hands-on task for the graduate that would result in a solution that was beneficial in realising the team’s key focus of improving safety through technology and innovation.

The new graduate began to design this robot with the WartHog chassis as the base and, over time, was joined by two more mechatronics graduates – one with a dual computer science degree – where the conceptual work behind the robot really started to accelerate.

In early 2022, the three started to build the robot from a range of hardware, all based on military specifications to withstand the underground environment.

Brannigan explained: “To achieve this, the graduates made every cable themselves, crimped every connector, assembled all the components and sensors and wrote the software code for various aspects of the sensor outputs.”

Since the inspection robot was designed to replicate tasks typically performed by people on the level, it had to be fitted with a range of sensors including LiDAR, Radar, a PTZ camera, stereoscopic camera, LED spotlights and a weather station for wet bulb temperatures and measuring wind velocity for ventilation purposes, the company explained. Powered by a bank of lead/acid batteries, the SmartHog was commissioned on surface and, in June 2022, completed trials underground, including being ‘checked in’ to the autonomous system.

“With some further testing and improvements, the SmartHog will soon live permanently underground in the autonomous zone and will be able to complete a range of inspection tasks,” Brannigan said. “This moves us closer to our goal of automation at the extraction level and is a key focus of improving operational safety and sustainability through technology.”

IM put some questions to Brannigan to find out more.

IM: How are you leveraging technology from the automotive sector in the SmartHog? What kind of adaptations are required for this to work underground?

AB: The SmartHog utilises automotive industry radars as a way of localising its position underground. LiDAR is vulnerable to interference from dust and moisture in the air, whereas radar can ‘see’ through these, allowing the SmartHog to continue to navigate and know its position underground when these are present. We believe the use of radar in this context is industry-leading and our intent with this is twofold: first, it demonstrates the advantages and reduced downtime of radar over LiDAR and, second, it encourages original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to move from LiDAR to radar for their autonomous equipment so they can take advantage of the benefits it offers.

IM: What existing underground communications infrastructure is in place at PC1 to help facilitate the real-time transmission of data from the SmartHog?

AB: Our underground PC1 level has Wi-Fi throughout which forms the basis of the autonomous system, and this is connected to the surface via fibre optic cables.

IM: How are you using the new data you are collecting with the SmartHog at Cadia? What tasks is it allowing you to do that you couldn’t previously carry out (or conducted differently)?

AB: The primary purpose of the SmartHog is to undertake a range of tasks that a person has usually performed in the past, improving both safety and efficiency. One example is geotechnical inspections of draw points and extraction drives. In the past when it was necessary for a Geotechnical Technician to undertake an inspection, the autonomous level would need to be deactivated and the autonomous equipment removed to ensure there was no risk of vehicle on person interaction. This is a time-consuming process and means production is stopped for the duration, not to mention the potential risk to the person entering the level on foot.

With the various sensors fitted to the SmartHog, it can scan and photograph the draw point (using the conventional digital camera and stereoscopic camera) and send this information to the surface where a Geotechnical Engineer can review it, all while autonomous loading operations continue.

As the SmartHog is ‘checked in’ to the autonomous system and is ‘seen’ by the other equipment, it can operate independently but also become part of the autonomous traffic management system. Should the Geotechnical Engineer require further information about the draw point, the SmartHog can return and drive up to the limit of the draw point and capture further data from the range of sensors.

IM: Are there other projects outside of the PC1 where you could use the SmartHog?

AB: We anticipate in the future that each panel cave could have their own SmartHog, so that a range of tasks can be completed as previously outlined.

IM: Are there plans to make more SmartHogs? Could they be adapted to carry out other tasks?

AB: The way we have developed the first SmartHog may look very different to how any future SmartHogs may look. The value the graduates gained from solving a current problem using a hands-on approach is priceless and helps demonstrate the value of the graduate program. We believe the graduate program at Newcrest is industry-leading given the types of challenges our graduates can address and solve using the skills recently acquired at university on real-world challenges.

Given the SmartHog is battery powered, as battery technology improves, the next generation of SmartHogs will be able to carry lighter and higher capacity batteries allowing for larger payloads and longer run times. This could allow the inclusion of other sensors and different types of cameras, such as infrared and thermal, which are traditionally heavy items and would limit the range of the current battery performance. The options available are endless once battery technology improves to the point where runtimes are increased and recharge times are reduced. This is not far off given the speed at which battery technology and design is improving.

Anglo American, QMRS commission industry-first Shaft Rescue System at Aquila

Queensland Mines Rescue Service (QMRS), in partnership with Anglo American, has commissioned a critical new piece of mine rescue equipment for use across underground mines in the Queensland mining industry.

A funding commitment, in excess of A$2.3 million ($1.6 million) from Anglo American, enabled QMRS to purchase the Queensland mining industry-first Shaft Rescue System (SRS), a mobile truck-mounted emergency system to assist in underground rescues.

The commissioning at the Aquila mine followed a 2019 commitment from Anglo American Australia then-CEO, Tyler Mitchelson, to wholly fund the equipment for the QMRS.

Chief Executive Officer of QMRS, David Carey, acknowledged Anglo American for funding the equipment and supporting QMRS in its design and engineering.

“While we hope we never need to use it, the SRS will form part of the emergency response plan for every underground mine site in Queensland and we’re grateful for Anglo American’s support in delivering it,” Carey said. “The SRS lowers interchangeable cages into mine shafts to rescue trapped miners and is equipped with a world-first intrinsically safe directional Wi-Fi communications system that can be used safely underground.”

The Wi-Fi enables radio communications from the rescue cage to the surface, captures and shares real-time video and sends data from a gas monitoring system, according to Carey.

QMRS says the SRS has interchangeable cage options and over 1,200 m of rope on the drum for use in deep shafts. It is engineered with multiple fail-safe braking systems, hydraulically powered from the Volvo FMX 10*4 truck engine, which also has a back-up power system.

Carey added: “This equipment will make a meaningful difference to our emergency response capabilities in Queensland and will be housed at our Dysart headquarters in the heart of the Bowen Basin, so it’s close by if ever required.”

Head of Safety and Health at Anglo American’s Steelmaking Coal Business, Marc Kirsten, said the company was pleased to support QMRS in delivering the SRS for all those who work underground in the mining industry in Queensland.

“QMRS supports our industry with leading edge emergency response capability and support, and we are pleased to have been able to support them in turn, by providing this vital and potentially life-saving equipment,” Kirsten said.

“The SRS will improve emergency response capabilities across all underground mines in the Queensland mining industry, and it was important to us to make this investment in industry safety.”

Anglo American operates five steelmaking coal mines in Queensland’s Bowen Basin, three of which are underground.

Aqura Technologies to entertain more Pilbara mine workers

Aqura Technologies has been awarded a three-year Managed Services Agreement to support accommodation village entertainment networks across 17,000 additional rooms in the Pilbara of Western Australia.

The A$1.4 million ($1.05 million) agreement with DXC Technology for a global Tier 1 miner means Aqura, a Veris Ltd subsidiary, now manages accommodation content access and entertainment networks across some 31,000 accommodation rooms.

Under the terms of the new agreement, which will commence immediately, Aqura will be working closely with DXC Technology as the facilities manager for the respective villages.

The scope of the engagement will see Aqura’s in-house specialists provide remote and field-based support to ensure the efficient operation and upgrades of the end clients Video Entertainment System, network distribution and Wi-Fi networks. In addition, the Managed Services Agreement will see Aqura providing large-scale Managed Wi-Fi, Distribution networks (Fibre-optic and DOCSIS), MATV (free to air TV) and Network management platforms which integrate to provide a seamless, and positive user experience, it said.

Aqura Technologies CEO, Travis Young, said: “This engagement is a significant recognition of Aqura’s capability and specialist skill-set in the management of the efficient operation of large-scale content access networks in remote areas.

“The management of 31,000 accommodation rooms across multiple villages, for a range of end-clients, is a unique position for an Australian business. It is a great reflection of the strength of our in-house product development teams that have developed the technology that enables the optimisation of an in-room end-user complete content access experience remotely.”

Redline to supply CBRS spectrum and Private LTE solution to Salt Lake City mine

Redline Communications Group Inc is set to provide industrial-grade Citizens Broadband Radio Systems (CBRS) spectrum and Private LTE connectivity solutions for what it says is a leading salt and minerals mine in Salt Lake City, Utah. USA.

The provider of mission-critical data infrastructure for remote and harsh environments is supplying the company with its 150 MHz mid-band CBRS spectrum, enabling the mine to access its Private industrial LTE (iLTE) service and maximise spectral efficiency, it says. Leveraging Redline’s industrial-grade broadband wireless solution, using the CBRS spectrum, the mine can harness the power of superior broadband access, increased network stability and mobility, according to Redline.

“With Salt Lake City being an extremely harsh environment for equipment, the company chose Redline because of its consistent capability to deploy durable products and best-in-class wireless solutions in some of the most challenging working conditions,” Redline says.

Redline’s iLTE is currently deployed at the mine connecting a wide variety of Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) devices, pumps and laptops to support operations. The partnership will eventually expand connectivity services to mining trucks by early 2022.

Reno Moccia, Redline Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing, says: “While Wi-Fi coverage is great for some businesses, it has some limitations and is not always the best choice for demanding business and mission-critical applications. The CBRS band combined with Redline’s private iLTE solution overcomes those limitations and provides the mines with two times the capacity and up to four times the range of Wi-Fi.

“With a more reliable, secure and efficient network capability, Redline ensures continuous connectivity for all of their real-time applications and PLC devices.”

Aqura Technologies to improve connectivity at BHP WA iron ore accommodation sites

Aqura Technologies has been awarded several work packages by BHP Western Australian Iron Ore (WAIO), which will see the Veris Ltd subsidiary pocket circa-A$3.7 million ($2.7 million).

The initial phase of work commenced late in the June quarter, with expected completion in November.

The contract awards will see Aqura upgrade and extend the technology and communications infrastructure at a range of accommodation sites surrounding the township of Newman in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.

The scope of work involves the design, procurement and construction of new point-to-point microwave, DOCSIS and fibre-optic infrastructure to enable upgrades of in-room Wi-Fi for a number of BHP WAIO accommodation sites, Veris said.

These awards extend Aqura’s history of supporting BHP WAIO in upgrading its regional technology infrastructure to offer connectivity between its operational and support sites.

In addition to the new engagement, Aqura has secured an extension of the BHP Master Services Agreement for a further 12-month period.

Aqura Technologies CEO, Travis Young, said: “The upgrades will provide a solid foundation for current and future users to access reliable and high-quality communications whilst working for extended periods in very remote areas. These technologies are increasingly recognised by mine operators as critical to the health and wellbeing of the workforces that service these operations.”

Anglo American Platinum’s modernisation drive to continue into 2021

Anglo American Platinum says it is looking to deliver the next phase of value to its stakeholders after reporting record EBITDA for 2020 in the face of COVID-19-related disruption.

The miner, majority-owned by Anglo American, saw production drop 14% year-on-year in 2020 to 3.8 Moz (on a 100% basis) due to COVID-related stoppages. Despite this, a higher basket price for its platinum group metals saw EBITDA jump 39% to R41.6 billion ($2.8 billion) for the year.

As all its mines are now back to their full operating rates, the company was confident enough to state PGM metal in concentrate production should rise to 4.2-4.6 Moz in 2021.

Part of its pledge to deliver more value to stakeholders was related to turning 100% of its operations into fully modernised and mechanised mines by 2030. At the end of 2020, the company said 88% of its mines could be classified as fully modernised and mechanised.

There were some operational bright spots during 2020 the company flagged.

At Mogalakwena – very much the company’s flagship operation – Anglo Platinum said the South Africa mine continued its journey to deliver best-in-class performance through its P101 program.

Rope-shovel performance improved to 26 Mt in 2020, from 15 Mt in 2019, while drill penetration rates for big rigs increased from 15 m/h, to 16.7 m/h. Alongside this, the company said its Komatsu 930E truck fleet performance improved to 298 t/load in 2020, from 292 t/load in 2019.

These were contributing factors to concentrator recoveries increasing by two percentage points in 2020 over 2019.

During the next few years, the company has big plans to further improve Mogalakwena’s performance.

In 2020, the mine invested R500 million in operating and capital expenditure, which included commissioning a full-scale bulk ore sorting plant, coarse particle rejection project and development of the hydrogen-powered fuel-cell mining haul-truck (otherwise referred to as the FCEV haul truck).

First motion of the 291 t FCEV haul truck is still on track for the second half of 2021, with the company planning to roll out circa-40 such trucks from 2024.

Anglo Platinum said the bulk sorting plant (which includes a Prompt Gamma Neutron Activation Analysis and XRF sensor-based setup, pictured) campaign at the Mogalakwena operation is due to end this quarter.

The company’s hydraulic dry stacking project is only just getting started.

This project, which involves coarse gangue rejection before primary flotation for safer tailings storage facilities, is expected to see a construction start in the June quarter, followed by a campaign commencement and conclusion in the September quarter and December quarters, respectively.

On another of Anglo Platinum’s big technology breakthrough projects – coarse particle rejection for post primary milling rejection of coarse gangue before primary flotation – the company plans to start a campaign in the December quarter of this year and conclude said campaign by the end of the March quarter of 2022.

The company also has eyes on making progress underground at Mogalakwena, with a hard-rock cutting project to “increase stoping productivity and safety” set for Phase A early access works this year. This project is set to involve swarm robotics for autonomous, 24/7 self-learning underground mining, the company said.

Lastly, the company’s said the digital operational planning part of its VOXEL digital platform had gone live at Mogalakwena. VOXEL is expected to eventually connect assets, processes, and people in a new digital thread across the value chain to create a family of digital twins of the entire mining environment, the company says. Development is currently ongoing.

Looking back to 2020 performance at the Unki mine, in Zimbabwe, Anglo reflected on some more technology initiatives related to R26 million of expenditure for a digitalisation program. This included installing underground Wi-Fi infrastructure, as well as a fleet data management system to track analytics on primary production equipment. The company says these digital developments will enhance real-time data analysis, improve short-interval control and overall equipment effectiveness.

To step up mechanisation of its PGM operations at Amandelbult, Anglo American Platinum is also investing in innovation.

This includes in-stope safety technologies such as split panel layouts to allow buffer times between cycles, creating safer continuous operation and reduced employee exposure; improved roof support technology and new drilling technologies; a shift to emulsion blasting from throw blasting; and safety enhancements through fall of ground indicators, 2 t safety nets, LED lights, and winch proximity detection.

Meanwhile, at the company’s Mototolo/Der Brochen operations, it is working on developing the first lined tailings storage facility at Mareesburg in South Africa to ensure zero contamination of ground water. The three-phase approach adopted for construction of this facility will be completed this year.

Mobilaris’ new devices to leverage latest communication, machine-learning tools

Intent on “mastering the latest technologies” in its domain, Mobilaris says it will focus on the use of next-generation communication technologies such as 5G and Wi-Fi 6, and artificial intelligence, to build out its new safety solutions in 2021.

Mobilaris says it is building a device using 5G technologies that will be used in a new offering for Mobilaris Industrial Solutions.

By leveraging these new technologies, it will bring Industry 4.0 digital workforce safety to all its customers, it said.

To ensure this new device is “truly world-class in terms of safety, performance and resilience”, Mobilaris has partnered with Sigma Connectivity and Ericsson to leverage their expertise in this domain. It says it is the first company to use the new reference cellular IoT design from Ericsson called Ardesco.

The company said: “5G and cellular IoT are technologies that will open up new possibilities, but they need connection to existing public mobile networks, or private networks. Therefore, Mobilaris has partnered with Telia to bring our new solution to the market.”

Earlier this year, the company joined Telia’s 5G program as a new member and, after that, secured a commercial partnership to bring solutions to the market while at the same time tailor its use of the Telia network to maximise performance and efficiency.

Another key technology for next generation communication solutions is Wi-Fi 6.

Mobilaris has been deploying Wi-Fi-based solutions for many years, with 2021 representing no change to the status quo.

“Many of our customers have Wi-Fi networks, and we are continuing to invest in this technology to secure our capability to meet all customer demands and to innovate, leveraging the new additions coming in Wi-Fi 6, 6E and beyond,” it said.

This is where a partnership with Aruba will bring best-in-class, real-time situational awareness to industry customers around the globe, Mobilaris said.

The use of artificial intelligence is also nothing new for the Sweden and US-based company. It has already deployed its Mobilaris Onboard product in several mines across the globe and, at its core, machine learning is creating “value for our customers” that would not have been possible just a few years ago, it says.

It concluded: “Moving ahead, we are continuing to invest in AI to further accelerate our products and solutions and we expect to announce several new research partnerships here within the near future.”

MICROMINE makes a software splash at Diggers & Dealers

With Western Australia one of MICROMINE’s key markets for its Micromine and Pitram products, it is hardly surprising the software leader chose this week’s Diggers & Dealers Mining Forum in Kalgoorlie to reveal a host of new updates for the 3D modelling and mine design/mine production and fleet tracking solutions.

Across the company’s product suite, MICROMINE has been readily engaging with customers throughout the world, with users providing feedback to form its product roadmaps.

One of the results of this consultation process is a move to a six-monthly release cycle to enable its software to grow and adapt with clients’ operations.

Another is providing networking options to expand usage of its software across a wider number of users – the free Micromine Effects reader enabling anyone to view, share and interrogate Micromine output files without needing access to a full software licence.

“We’ve also introduced subscription offerings which our customers have quickly adopted because they provide a flexible and scalable option for large teams to access more functionality across our product suite, with less upfront cost compared to the traditional perpetual model,” Adam Brew, MICROMINE Australia Manager, told IM.

Shifting any capex item to the opex column is bound to go down well with the mining community, as MICROMINE has shown.

Having occurred in August 2019, the move led to almost nine months straight of subscription-only sales, according to Brew. “It surpassed our expectations,” he said. “The ability to have a subscription model allowed us to then launch the Free April campaign.”

The “Free April” campaign – which saw MICROMINE offer miners complimentary access to its general mining Micromine package during April as COVID-19 started to bite – led to around 4,000 new people interacting with the software, according to Brew.

MICROMINE has been busy on updates during the pandemic, but it has also delivered its first fully remote implementation of Pitram at a mine operation in Greece, leveraging the experience from its global Pitram support desk to fully deploy a Pitram FMS and Material Management solution.

This Greek project is well advanced with Pitram playing a crucial role in a major refurbishment and expansion of existing operations. The solution at the mine is aimed at helping improve development and production mining cycles; accurately track materials from source to processing; provide Online Analytical Processing reporting and analysis; enhance reactions to, and minimise the impact of, unplanned events; and increase equipment availability and utilisation.

Yet, those attending the MICROMINE booth at Diggers & Dealers this week will have even more to talk about.

Something new

“Micromine 2021 is scheduled for release later this year and attendees of Diggers and Dealers will be the first to get a pre-release reveal of our flagship software offering,” Brew said.

Australia, in particular, has bucked global trends in terms of exploration expenditure, and the Micromine value proposition has been central to the company capitalising on this resurgence in exploration activities, according to Brew.

It is no wonder then that the company has put significant efforts into updating its flagship product.

“The first thing clients will notice is a completely redesigned user interface that provides easier access to the critical functions of the software, transforming the whole user experience with responsive design and efficient workflows,” Brew said.

Delivering this transformation has been a focal point for the business for more than a year, according to Brew, with developers reviewing customer requests most commonly received from the support team, analysing how users work with the array of Micromine functionality, and modelling interface scenarios to optimise the presentation of key functions within the software.

“By providing easier access to these functions and a smart interface that responds contextually, Micromine 2021 anticipates and supports workflows in a genuinely intuitive way,” Brew said.

The Micromine update has more than a new look.

It also includes new tools for importing and working with as-drilled drill-hole data, Brew explains.

These provide faster and more intuitive control over underground ring drill and blast design – also a focus of the earlier Micromine 2020.5 update – enabling designs to quickly adapt to changes in the field, identifying drilling inefficiencies and improving design protocols.

“We are also introducing intuitive tools that mirror the terrain of a blast face and speed up the process of creating blast-hole patterns within the bounds of the dig block,” Brew said. “Users will be able to accommodate polygons/blast masters of varying shapes, reducing the need for manual adjustment.”

The new grade control capabilities in Micromine 2021 provide dynamic updating of grade control reports to enable faster design preparation and reserve evaluation, according to Brew. This can allow miners to explore variations in dig block configuration and evaluate the ramifications of design changes on the grade – a function bound to appeal to opex-focused companies mining complex orebodies.

An integrated scheduler, meanwhile, enables planners to build and visualise an optimised schedule through configurable templates, scripting capabilities and scenarios built from real-world constraints, Brew said.

While the new and intuitive interface is likely to capture the immediate attention of users, MICROMINE has evidently not scrimped on updated and upgraded features.

Getting to the core

With the release of Pitram 4.17 earlier this year, there were improvements to the Materials Movement and Shift Planner modules, but Pitram 5, to be released later this year, goes above and beyond that.

“Stockpile management is now part of your end-to-end process and not managed as isolated assets within Pitram,” Brew says of Pitram 5. Geologists can work with data up- and down-stream to manage and react to material mismatches. Such data validation and accuracy is key to the value proposition Pitram drives in MICROMINE’s global implementations, according to Brew.

“Pitram is at the core of any mining operations ecosystem,” he said. “Our ability to accurately track Last Source, Destination Moved, Quantity and Grade as well as set individual depletion models across the various stockpiles across the mine, makes it a more flexible offering while maintaining data integrity.”

This near real-time tracking ability has previously failed on occasion from connectivity issues.

Not anymore.

“Pitram 5 is a huge leap forward in how we deploy our solution from a connectivity point of view,” Brew said. “Many of the mines we work with have limited or varying degrees of underground Wi-Fi and communications available. Our Peer to Peer solution bridges the gap where communication back to the server is not available at the face, for example.”

The Peer to Peer software can be installed on light vehicles which move around the mine encountering heavy equipment and collecting data in areas of no network coverage before moving back to a Wi-Fi-enabled area to sync the data back to the main server and into the control room. This allows miners developing new areas of their operation to keep up the communications flow without the need to immediately install or expand a communication network.

Such a solution has been successfully deployed at several sites globally, with Independence Group’s Nova nickel operation, in Western Australia, being the company’s reference site.

“Additionally, we have driven more R&D in how we can better leverage our Pitram Restful Integration Service (PRIS) to communicate shift planning data back to the shift bosses and mine managers in near real time,” Brew said.

The free Pitram Connect application, downloadable from the Apple or Google Play store, will show users real-time shift data as well as give them the ability to make updates to the shift, such as equipment or location allocations.

“Our ability to deliver on short interval control is a common requirement we are measured against and providing this planner to key users underground unlocks considerable value for an operation,” Brew said.

Pitram 5’s machine-learning update in the 2021 release leverages the company’s learnings from earlier deployments at some Central Asia mines.

“Utilising the processes of computer vision and deep machine learning, on-board cameras are placed on loaders to track variables such as loading time, hauling time, dumping time and travelling empty time,” he said. “The video feed is processed on the Pitram vehicle computer edge device, with the extracted information then transferred to Pitram servers for processing.”

Reflecting on the product updates and more than six months of pandemic-affected upheaval, Brew concluded: “Our business is extremely fortunate to have powered on through the COVID-19 pandemic, and we’ve worked hard to maintain our renowned ability to work, support and deploy our solutions remotely.

Diggers & Dealers is the pre-eminent event for the Australian region of our business, with representation from all our customers, so it represents a fantastic opportunity to show how we continue to drive value to our existing customer base as well as connect with new customers.”

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.

RCT’s autonomous mining equipment-specific Wi-Fi hits its stride

RCT says its new specialised Wi-Fi network for autonomous mining equipment is generating strong and positive feedback from industry.

The first ever mining communications system created specifically to support all underground autonomous mining equipment, RCT Connect is flexible in that it is designed to engage with any third-party systems and can enhance the performance of any mining automation and control solutions available on the market, according to RCT.

Since the network’s launch in 2019, it has been deployed at multiple active mines around the world – including Kazzinc’s Tishinsky mine, in Kazakhstan – and has generated strong and positive feedback from site personnel, RCT says.

Brendon Cullen, RCT Automation and Control Product Manager, says RCT Connect is the best underground communications network option available.

“The system is inexpensive and very user friendly so it can be set up quite easily by mine site technicians who do not need specialised training in order to establish and maintain this technology,” he said.

“RCT Connect is designed to be agnostic, and so can integrate with all of the commercially available automation and control solutions offered by global manufacturers.”

He added: “The network is designed to deliver very stable performance and low, consistent latency between operator stations in secure, remote locations and the machine located in production areas.”

Customers will be able to cheaply scale RCT Connect to suit their needs as underground mining operation evolves, according to the company. The network can be adjusted to suit various tramming distances and can ensure effective machine operation over shorter – as well as longer – runs.

Cullen said one key aspect of RCT Connect is its smart roaming feature, which means it is always searching for new wireless access points as underground mining equipment auto trams between certain locations.

“Many commercially available communications networks are configured to access certain nodes for too long and as mobile mining equipment continues to traverse a site, it can result in communication failures,” he said.