Let’s face it, 3D-P’s Intelligent End Points (IEPs) are as rugged as all get out. Hopefully, you will have seen them in action on YouTube as we shoot them, drop them out of planes, throw them in a lake and blow them up with a civil war canon.
But their rugged quality and the options available with regards to radio technology are not at the core of the value of the little beastie. There is a significant range of tools that we’ve developed that reside on the IEP to support our customers and solve some of their problems.
We will explore three applications that we’ve developed and that operate on our IEPs. These applications demonstrate markedly different problems, and the subsequent solutions, we were able to achieve with the IEP.
First Application – PubSub – (The Network Decongestant)
To set the scene; most miners use High Precision GPS corrections to get millimeter accuracy for digging and drilling out in the pit. This process consists of a base station located at a surveyed spot, that measures the difference between its precisely known location and where the constellation of GPS satellites says it is. That difference generates corrections data that is then sent out across the wireless network to the vehicles that require it.
Traditionally this corrections data is sent as broadcast data, which means it is sent to every single part of the network. On highly utilized and large networks this can create problems of data congestion. We’ve seen it, and our customers have asked us to solve it.
To solve this issue, we created an application called Publish Subscribe, or PubSub for short. Firstly, an IEP is used to convert the broadcast corrections data to unicast data. The IEP maintains a record of all fleet that require the corrections data and just sends it to them. As fleet are for periods of time this can also cause an issue as the unicasts will be sent to devices that are no longer available, and this creates ARPs. ARPs add more unwanted traffic to the network.
To finally put a nail in the solution we get our IEPs installed on those fleet devices that require HPGPS correction to subscribe to the unicast server IEP so that it can automatically update its table of the available fleet.
The result is an automated system that minimizes the data that needs to traverse the network.
Second Application – Geofencing and Storward – (The Dynamic Duo)
Quite often we will see miners using different mining applications from different OEMs. A mine operating Caterpillar’s Minestar for FMS production might also use Honeywell’s MEM for asset health management and analysis. An IEP can provide ethernet connectivity to onboard Minestar devices while hosting Honeywell’s MEM on its internal datalogger and computing system. The IEP also provides the tools and interface to the vehicle system (VIMS, VHMS, etc.) so that the MEM application can capture data from the vehicle.
If there are network constraints (high numbers of vehicles and high throughput requirements) in highly active FMS areas such as the pit, the IEP can be configured to only transmit asset health (non-critical in real-time) data when the connection to the supporting network is available outside of the pit.
To accomplish this, we use the IEPs own GPS which can be configured with specific tools that allow geofencing. Once the vehicle is in a defined geofenced area designated as ‘safe to transmit’ our Storward application will recognize the ability to transmit the data it has stored previously and will send the required data over the network.
Our Dynamic Duo of Geofencing and Storward offers a smart way of protecting the performance of the network in critical mining areas by managing when and where data is sent.
Third Application – NPAT – (The Investigator)
As an owner/operator of a mine wireless network, you might find yourself in a situation where the applications being used over the network are performing badly. Where to turn? Quite often the application provider will blame the network and the network designer/implementer will point out application issues. That’s a no-win situation for our miner.
To solve this, and a range of other problems including lack of capably trained technical resources on-site, we developed Network Performance Analysis Tools (.
NPAT’s ‘collectors’ reside on the IEP and can capture test metrics from the edge or vehicle side of the network. Tests such as throughput, latency, and jitter can be run, and data logged onboard the IEP. Now, where things get smart is in how the tests are performed and presented. We can configure the tests to demonstrate whether the network is exceeding, meeting, or failing the application requirements – that is the minimum needs the application has to operate over the wireless network.
We can then demonstrate this graphically, through visualization as seen below at our test facility in Arizona.
To make things more exciting we can drill down further into the visualization and have a look at the supporting test data.
And…the icing on the cake…our collectors are specific to the network technology. We can collect the standard test data supported by specific information related to 802.11n Wi-Fi, Rajant’s InstaMesh technology, and LTE.
Collecting specific information and contextual data can help identify underlying network causes of poor performance by first comparing the performance of the network to the applications operating over it to make sure it can support those applications. If the network isn’t doing well, we can bury our noses into the contextual data to determine where the problem could be coming from.
As a result, our miners can not only determine if they are suffering from a network performance issue or a poorly performing application, but they also have a raft of information to help in understanding the cause.
But I can build that myself…NOT
All these applications reside on our IEP, but what is stopping you from just going and building it all yourself. Sure, you can, but there’s a cost.
Cobbling together a bunch of different devices and products to obtain an outcome will come at the cost of supportability and maintainability. You’ll need people that understand enough about all the devices and products and can access support (if available) through the different manufacturers, to keep it going when things like firmware upgrades change interface requirements and as we all know, troubleshooting is more difficult than ever before.
Besides, you’ve now got a cabin full of multiple active devices, cables, power supplies, etc. that are just pleading to fail, and for some poor technician to come out, stop the truck and fault find for a few hours at the cost of stopped production.
Or you can have one product that does it all, and more, supported by us. We’re 3D-P, and these are our products.
LTE provides undeniable benefits to users of all kinds. This includes a high level of predictability, QoS and connectivity at longer distances than Wi-Fi style networks.
As LTE network infrastructure is becoming more affordable and access to spectrum is getting easier globally, miners are taking advantage of the technology for applications involving their mobile assets.
Mining does however create some specific challenges regarding the use of LTE.
LTE provides distinct benefits in meeting the network requirements for autonomous applications in open pit and underground mining with its predictability and Quality of Service (QoS) capabilities.
Experience at multiple sites worldwide, however, has highlighted a number of challenges around the cost of ‘filling’ in shadows with more LTE infrastructure, limited uplink bandwidth and needing a L2 fabric on top of LTE’s L3 architecture, especially when mission critical performance of your wireless network is a requirement.
Leveraging the multi-radio meshing capability of Rajant’s InstaMesh technology, the 3D-P Hybrid LTE/InstaMesh® Osprey Intelligent Endpoint® (IEP) solves those issues.
This might seem counterintuitive to many. But think about all the tasks that you have on your work to do list that you never have the chance to tackle. Could it be a firmware upgrade? Technology research? Testing of a new network monitoring tool that seems a lot more performant than the one you have at site? Well now might be your opportunity to do so!
And while the situation is unprecedented, it will undoubtedly result in new, more remote and safer ways of planning and operating. But for now, what can you do that can bring value to your organization?
Let me give you a few ideas.
3D-P works with a diverse, wide variety of clients – large to small, quarries to mines to airports, located all over the world – and during my tenure it has been very interesting to note both the differences, and commonalities between the clients and the diverse solutions we employ.
For example, no matter the industry, we can always apply the 3D-P pillars of successful network design:
- Understand the environment – geographically, culturally, and technologically
- Design for the application – now, and for the future
- Bring the best solution forward – best for the customer, not for us
Those are the common pillars we can use to build a stable, high-performing network for any customer, regardless of their size, industry, or application. The conversation then becomes one that can be different for every customer:
How can they best, most cost-effectively support that network?
As previously discussed, a hybrid LTE/InstaMesh client solution presents a number of benefits to mines considering LTE. Often the mines investigating LTE solutions are larger mines, or those considering moving to autonomous operations.
LTE does however present a number of benefits to small operations too, and can even be an avenue towards starting their digitization process, when combined with appropriate planning and technology partnership.
For those readers that have never worked underground, trust me when I say “It’s Hard”. It is hard to work there, it is hard operating systems there, it is hard to install technologies there and it is hard to maintain systems there. Difficulty aside, communications systems for underground are vital for one primary purpose and that is safety, and although important, everything else is secondary.
In this blog, I am adding some context to the technology discussion around solving the challenges that are emerging in interoperability between legacy and emerging communications solutions to create the experience of a simplified solution without sacrificing the essential reliability and performance required for your safety and production applications.
Originally, my thoughts were to discuss solving the problems associated with last mile connectivity but upon reflection, while last mile connectivity is the end result, what we are talking about is really addressing the problems of integration between different communications technologies and why choosing the wrong migration or solution path can lead you further away from a simplified, maintainable and interoperable outcome.
As covered during our blog last week, LTE still faces a few challenges in some mining environments. However, the promises of predictability, connectivity and speed cannot be overlooked.
What if the performance of LTE in mining could be enhanced by a meshing solution for complete coverage? At 3D-P, we have developed a new hybrid LTE/InstaMesh® client solution that brings extended coverage, seamless roaming and L2 support through true peer-to-peer meshing capability.
LTE provides undeniable benefits to the unique network challenges encountered both in open pit and underground mining. With its promises of predictability, connectivity, capacity and speed, and a significant reduction in the price of LTE infrastructure over the last couple of years, there is no question why more mines are exploring this technology.
Implementation of an LTE network has however been challenging for a number of mines, which some of had to deploy a second network to compensate for the challenges of the technology.
While mining applications initially required only basic telemetry to transmit data, the rise of more complex applications, including fleet management, resulted in a requirement for better performing networks.
The recent introduction of remote control and autonomous applications just increased the difficulty of the challenge.