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?
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.
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.
By definition, the connected mine requires connection to all your mobile and fixed devices at any one time. Monitoring of your wireless network to ensure its reliability and connection to all your devices is therefore paramount.
However, the unique environment in which miners operate, only allowing for a limited network bandwidth, combined with the criticality of the mining fleet applications quickly differentiate network monitoring solutions.
While the large mining houses move rapidly towards automation of mobile operations, generally their whole operational environment is powered by a single OEM chosen by the customer. This strategy not only specifies the types of trucks a miner uses for example, but also dictates the technologies required to support the autonomous operations, from the wireless infrastructure to the machine access technology. All of which has to be approved by the machine autonomy vendor.
If a customer wishes to use alternate technologies, the costs and logistics associated to validate and test a customer preferred alternative are often prohibitive and so, in most cases, things stay the same and the advantage to the customer of implementing newer and better performing solutions is lost.
Deployment of an out-of-the-box fleet management or asset health solution is not always an option for smaller operators. Add the cost of the application to the cost of deploying a full scale wireless network and many are unable to justify the ROI on their project, and remain stuck in the manual collection of their data.
The applications traditionally have requirements for relatively high cost hardware and software, as well as a network requirement for full coverage throughout the site. That doesn’t make it the only solution.
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.
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.