Most mines now have the ability to access some of their data in some ways, whether be in real-time, near real-time or manually. However, what the industry now calls the ‘Digital Mine’, defined by the installation of a variety of applications on-board the heavy mobile equipment and real-time access to the data they generate, often remains an option only available to larger operators.
Even for those operations, reliable real-time access to the machines’ critical data can remain a challenge caused both by a limitation in availability of access to all the data and an excessive amount of data travelling through the mine’s wireless network at any one time.
Access to the mobile equipment’s data can be available to all. We will discuss here some of the main challenges faced with data access and ways to address them.
The thought of upgrading your in-pit wireless network can be a bit daunting and nerve-wracking. Are you going to have to suffer through a fork-lift upgrade? What kind of downtime will be associated? Will that downtime be network wide, or only on a few items at a time?
A little planning, and the right technology choices can take all the fear and concern out of this significant event.
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.
Increase of safety, productivity and decrease of overall machine downtime have been key drivers for digitalization in mining. This process has however a cost that may have limited or slowed down some miners in deploying technologies at their site, due to a challenge in calculating and predicting ROI.
The fact is that without a proper long term plan of your data requirements, your technology expenditure can be significantly higher than expected over the course of several years. An open computing platform can create a bridge for deployment of multiple technologies over a period of time, supporting migration to a Digital Mine cost effectively.
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.
The ongoing support of a digital mine is not something that should be ignored. A properly designed, deployed, and tuned wireless network requires a conscious effort. Keeping the network in a peak-operating state requires trained resources who understand the challenges of wireless networks within an ever changing environment.
Ongoing support can mean many things to different people. The most popular views are broken up into three categories: Collaborative approach; hands-off approach; in-sources approach.
Running a digital mine requires access to real time monitoring data on all of your assets. With the large expensive equipment out in a mine, it’s easy to overlook the network that is relied upon to bring that data back to the office.
As your mine becomes more digital, accessing that vehicle data through your network becomes more and more critical, and monitoring your network assets become equally critical.
Data is the core of the digital mine. One of my first projects in mining was catching haul trucks during shift changes, at fuel islands, and in the truck shops. I would download the asset health data from the machine onto a laptop, then take that data back into the office, and import it into our database. I’d spend as much time as I could with the mechanics in the shop, the maintenance planners, and the dispatchers, trying to understand challenges and listen to stories of frustration that seemed to be frequently repeated. I’d take those stories back to the database and try to find the data that would help us understand those challenges, and any triggers or tales that may be told by the data.
No matter the size of your operations, digitalization has become a requirement for any mine aiming at remaining competitive. The digital transformation process does however vary from mine to mine, and is influenced by a large number of factors including financial, environmental, operational and safety.
Autonomy can be seen as the ultimate level of a Digital Mine, where safety is increased and production is optimized. When the downtime cost of your equipment exceeds US$10,000/hour/fleet, success of the autonomous mine relies on successful deployment and ongoing management of your wireless network.
Over the years, I’ve had several customers who were looking for network enhancements explain to me the value of the data they pull from their fleet equipment. While in most cases, hardware failure of a radio or computer on-board a truck or a shovel doesn’t prevent that equipment from moving ore, it certainly brings to a rapid halt the collection of the critical data associated with that activity.
Missing those loads in the productivity counts for the shift isn’t an option. In my customers’ view, that application data was just as critical as the physical material moved.