Between recent volatility of commodity prices and an increasingly competitive environment, real time visibility into mining operations through implementation of a ‘digital mine’ has become paramount. Almost every facet of mining operations has the ability to be digitally transformed, and the opportunity over the next decade is massive with almost all of the benefits tied to driving down cost per ton.
What some may forget however is that access to this data relies first and foremost on a reliable wireless network that has the ability to adapt as the mining operation changes, and supports the increasing amount of data required.
The first question any mine looking at the digital space should ask then becomes ‘what best practices should the design of my wireless network follow that will ensure resilient support of my digital mine now and long in the future?’
Best Practice #1: Redundancy
The success of any digital mine relies on the access of the data by the operation center in a timely manner. Some critical data, including alerts, are required in real time, while other, less critical data, should only be communicated at pre-set intervals or locations. For the critical data, the network needs to be up and running no matter what happens to a piece of infrastructure. Proper levels of redundancy in the design of your wireless network will ensure you can always access your data.
Best Practice #2: Agility
The geography of your mine is ever evolving through daily mining activities. Your technology needs also change frequently as technology provides improvements in productivity, reliability, and safety. The design of your wireless network should include your current operations and the anticipated look of your operations in six months, 1 year, and all the way out to 5 years at both an infrastructure and data level so that the appropriate wireless technology can be selected.
Best Practice #3: Scalability
Accessing additional data typically requires additional capability from the wireless network. A clear understanding of both the mine plan and the capabilities of the existing and future technologies allows creation of a roadmap that provides appropriate levels of performance when and where it is needed, as well as a level of comfort in the knowledge that scalability is available as new requirements arise.
Best Practice #4: Throughput
Your digital mine requires data, more than yesterday but less than tomorrow. Unfortunately, each specific technology in wireless networking does have a finite throughput. Lately this has been evidenced primarily through the addition of cameras, especially to remote and autonomous operations, as they can present a real challenge to wireless networks that weren’t designed with their full data requirements in mind.
When the anticipated level of data required by a mine is high, there are technical solutions that can bridge the gap. New technologies often bring additional throughput capability, layered networks can provide drastic increases in throughput, and an edge computing device, like the 3D-P Intelligent Endpoint® (IEP), can help solve much of the throughput challenge.
Best Practice #5: Performance from sound network design and monitoring
Performance may be acknowledged as a combination of all the above items, which is definitely true to a degree. However, the performance of a wireless network in an open pit mine is highly reliant on the quality of the network design, and maintenance of that network design. Contrary to popular belief, RF isn’t magic. There are real constraints on the performance of the wireless network, and significant performance improvements that can be made, simply through application of design guidelines that fit the environment. Application of the right design principles alone can take a network that is failing for a specific application, and make it perform very well, with little to no additional investment in hardware.
To learn more about 3D-P’s Wireless Network Design Best Practices, download our best practice guide here.