Experience has shown time and time again that – despite the best of intentions – our customers’ wireless networks are often neglected after deployment. The combination of multiple teams relying on it for access to their critical data (dispatch, maintenance, high precision GPS, operator safety, etc.) and a lack of accountability as to whom is responsible for its performance and maintenance often results in a network with performance and reliability that degrades over time.
Compounding that, as applications are added in response to the needs of the mine’s teams, and as utilization of the network increases in response, performance degradation begins to happen at an exponential rate. Wireless networks become slow and unresponsive, time to resolve issues increases, and the value that the network adds begins to drop steeply as the cost (and pain) of maintaining it grows.
If this describes your experiences with your wireless network, the good news is that you’re not alone -and a proper understanding of your pain points will ensure you can now engage the support you need.
Let’s review some of the typical pain points we see in the field.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
With a 20G shock resistance, the 3D-P Intelligent Endpoint is ruggedized and heavy! Many said it would make a great anchor. So, we listened to them and tried. Not only does it make a great anchor but also proved to be water resistant.
Check out the video.
Testing the ruggedness of the 3D-P Intelligent Endpoint (IEP), we have so far thrown the same device out of an airplane (4 times!) and driven onto it. The IEP was still perfectly working at the end of those two tests.
So, we took it to the rifle range and practiced our shooting skills. Let’s see if our testing unit can take a bullet.