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.
Service Level Agreements (SLA) are traditionally seen as an insurance policy. It’s great when you need it but its value tends to be questioned after a few years, if it’s not fully leveraged.
The situation has become worse over the last few years, coming out of the mining downturn, as many miners decided to take the ‘risk’ of not renewing their SLA in order to reduce their operational costs. The direct savings might have been obvious but the indirect costs of not renewing have often been overlooked.
As more data is collected from your mobile fleet for real time monitoring and data analytics, the pressure placed on your mine’s wireless network has never been so high. Often associated with the collection of this data is an increase in hardware installed on-board your mobile fleet for all the required applications, as well as the connectivity solution.
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.
Our miner has been going about their business of getting product to their customers, and using the same tools and processes, for years. They aren’t a big operation, only a couple of diggers and ten trucks, so the idea of spending big on some hugely expensive FMS or Asset Health system just doesn’t seem to make sense. Now with the advent of smart Internet of Things (IoT) products and technologies, a technology rich future appears to be cost prohibitive and further out of reach to our small miner.
Actually, the opposite is true! Choosing the right technology can mean a gradual, and cost effective, way of introducing new technologies into mining operations. How does that work you may ask?
While we all dream of the day where we can buy just one thing to solve our communications challenges in the mining environment, we all know the design specification for the silver bullet is a long way off (as in “that’s never going to happen”).
So where does that leave us? Well it’s a matter of opinion of course. For this crusty old consultant, the answer is one size never fits all. For me, the answer has always been what do I have in my tool belt that can solve this particular customer problem that makes sense for the customer and their application.
We are essentially talking about finding a business solution and not a vendor driven technology choice. As always, the answer lies in understanding the problem fully as it relates to the business operation in question.
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?
In its 2017 report titled ‘Digital in Mining: Progress … and Opportunity’, Accenture reported that “56% [of mines were] considering merging their IT and OT groups within the next 12 months’. While significant progress has been achieved, the two groups are still learning to work together at most sites to address common issues around wireless network reliability, mobile data access and cybersecurity among others.
The distinct functions each group is accountable for has a lot to do with this difficult merge. It’s however critical to review the silver lining in converging IT and OT when it comes to the digital mine – enhanced productivity through real time data access provided by a reliable wireless network and reduced technology Capex.
With an increasing number of mines in the process of digital transformation, reliability of your wireless network is becoming paramount. Real time or near real-time data access to fleet data is now a requirement for mines of all sizes, and failure of those wireless networks isn’t only critical for autonomous sites.
We will discuss here five examples of how network downtime, even in a non-autonomous environment, can affect your productivity by impacting a variety of business units within your mine.
All of our industry leaders talk about innovation as one of the key mechanisms to step change in our business. The conversation is as applicable in any industry as it is in mining. As a result, we certainly have no shortage of research organisations, committees, in-house research and development teams all working diligently to drive greater value in our respective ecosystems.