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.
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?
Whether you are identifying and fixing coverage issues, or trying to measure the performance of your wireless network the current set of tools available to you can be expensive, lacking in functionality, or extremely time consuming. 3D-P’s Managed Services offering of Network Performance Analysis Toolkit (NPAT) as a service aims to help you understand your wireless network performance by providing you and your team with a powerful map based visualization of key network performance indicators without needing to buy additional software.
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.
All jokes aside, now heading into the twilight years of my career I have the unique honour of being asked my opinion about various subjects in my area of experience and some may say expertise. For anyone that knows me, you will get that I am driven from a place of always trying to do what is right by my customer and this conversation is less about technology and more about process.
While some may see my blog title as sarcastic or tongue in cheek, my point is to create some thought about who do you work for? And, is what I am doing right now bringing value to the shareholders now or in the future? If I am working on the strategic aspects of the business cycle, am I acting in the smartest way possible?
Since the first broadband wireless network deployments in mining, there has been a strong use case for sending GPS corrections over these networks. GPS corrections are relatively small packets that are transmitted once per second from the GPS base station and must be received, with as little latency as possible, and in sequence, by the High Precision GPS (HPGPS) Receivers onsite. These relatively small packets should theoretically have little impact on the network, and since coverage is typically available, it seems a good fit.
Operational environments are no longer deployed in isolation and the attack surface continues to grow making it harder to secure the operational process. As organizations continue to digitize and look to differentiate within the market place, the traditional air-gapped operational environment no longer exists.
Therefore, more needs to done in order to ensure that proper controls are in place and greater overall visibility is achieved. Time to go beyond passive defenses and move towards active defense.
Over our last videos, we’ve tried to kill the Intelligent Endpoint without much success. So, we brought out the big guns – a Civil War replica Cannon.
Going back to our shooting range, we first shot the IEP from a cannon before badly hitting it with a cannon ball.
Watch the results.
If you have more test ideas, don’t hesitate to share them with us.