Through this blog, we will discuss a recent and interesting emergency call from one of our customers at a large surface mine, highlighting the importance of proactive monitoring of your wireless network and implementation of a proper process around configuration management.
This customer, which is a large, well-connected and technologically advanced mine, had started noticing sudden network performance degradation, which appeared out of the blue on what had been an otherwise high-performing network.
Mining influencers, conferences, magazines all talk about the need for miners to digitalize at the risk of losing market share to competition. This statement can be overwhelming and individual circumstances should be applied to it.
Miners might raise some of the following questions: 1) what does digitalization really mean?, 2) how does it apply to my operations?, 3) how to I plan or evolve my mine’s technology roadmap around digitalization?
We look here at how to start the digitalization process for smaller operators from a connectivity perspective.
For those readers that have never worked underground, trust me when I say “It’s Hard”. It is hard to work there, it is hard operating systems there, it is hard to install technologies there and it is hard to maintain systems there. Difficulty aside, communications systems for underground are vital for one primary purpose and that is safety, and although important, everything else is secondary.
In this blog, I am adding some context to the technology discussion around solving the challenges that are emerging in interoperability between legacy and emerging communications solutions to create the experience of a simplified solution without sacrificing the essential reliability and performance required for your safety and production applications.
Originally, my thoughts were to discuss solving the problems associated with last mile connectivity but upon reflection, while last mile connectivity is the end result, what we are talking about is really addressing the problems of integration between different communications technologies and why choosing the wrong migration or solution path can lead you further away from a simplified, maintainable and interoperable outcome.
As covered during our blog last week, LTE still faces a few challenges in some mining environments. However, the promises of predictability, connectivity and speed cannot be overlooked.
What if the performance of LTE in mining could be enhanced by a meshing solution for complete coverage? At 3D-P, we have developed a new hybrid LTE/InstaMesh® client solution that brings extended coverage, seamless roaming and L2 support through true peer-to-peer meshing capability.
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.
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?
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.
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.