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Open-Pit or Surface Mines

By Sean McClary

Not long ago a typical surface mine needed very little in terms of data across a wireless network. Fast forward to today and that same mine may need 10 or 20 times the wireless network throughput. Unfortunately, many mines have never addressed the need at the wireless infrastructure layer and are not able to take advantage of the latest technologies that can lower cost and increase production, efficiency and safety.

It’s no secret that technology in the mining space is picking up speed, but to take advantage of the many benefits of new, onboard applications two factors have to be in place:

  1. A reliable wireless network
  2. Space to mount and house the applications within the cab of the equipment

In many instances neither the wireless network nor the space within the cab is available.  Thus, mining companies very often are unable to take advantage of technologies that can create the efficiencies.   Too often we hear complaints about having to install multiple appliances because the different technologies are unable to communicate together.   There just isn’t enough space to install a multitude of boxes and screens to support all of the technologies.

In addition to space constraints within the cab, bandwidth requirements are an issue. Can the existing wireless network handle the bandwidth requirements of the onboard technologies?  Most surface and open pit mining operations throughout the world operate with wireless technology to communicate within the mine and to transfer all of the data from the different in-pit applications and onboard applications.

This is where technology creep comes into play: too many applications on an out-of-date or insufficient platform. Therefore, when considering onboard technologies a producer has to consider:

  1. The initial value and impact
  2. If current operations can support these new technologies

So, what’s the solution? Surface and open-pit mining operations would benefit from a single, onboard, ruggedized computing and networking appliance that would not only handle all the onboard applications but simultaneously manage the wireless network as well.

The reality is that this is not a radical new idea.  This methodology has been implemented at the corporate level for over 15 years.  In the IT space it is commonly referred to as “NAM” or Network and Application Management.   Many companies over the years such as F5 Networks, Packeteer as well as others have built a $20B market catering to corporations who were unable to manage the ever increasing need for additional network bandwidth while simultaneously growing the business. NAMs have successfully added new applications and integrated new users to the network.  These companies were successful at developing an appliance box that was capable of managing the network bandwidth without having to add bandwidth, applications accessing the network and finally the end users.  Corporations and businesses utilizing NAMs have decrease cost of operations by as much as 20% – 30% adding back to their bottom line and increasing ROI.

So the question is, “If the IT space has proven NAMs effective, why has the wireless mobile space been slow to adapt?”  Here are some of the factors to consider:

  1. Unlike fixed piped networks at the corporate level, wireless is unstable in most instances with too many variables that provide low quality of service.
  2. Wireless applications for the mobile environment have just really begun to hit the market.
  3. Not enough understanding of requirements and need for developing a management layer at the mobile client level.
  4. Insufficient demand of a solution from end users

With that being said, a lot of this has changed over the past year.  Customers are now looking to take advantage of net new technologies and applications that allow for increased production, and lower cost.  As it was on the corporate side 15 years ago, mine operators are seeking long term best-of-breed solutions to future needs and forgoing short-term technology stacks.

The soup-to-nuts technology stacks are being seen as old school and not advantageous for today’s modern mine. An example of this would be when an open-pit mining operation is operating a mixed fleet and decides on multiple systems from multiple vendors. They buy a Dispatch system from one vendor, a Health Monitoring system from a second vendor and a Proximity & Situational Awareness system from a third vendor.  While these systems fit the needs of the mine, the Dispatch System vendor often times locks down their network and the protocols, interfaces and securities of their onboard solution, not allowing the mine to utilize an existing network which they have bought and paid for.

Mining companies must do as the corporate world did in the late 90s. They need to bring pressure on the OEM application vendor to provide the application, while the mine provides the best wireless network for their goals and objectives. This would bring the change necessary to elevate mining operations to the 21st century. The mine could then install the necessary mobile asset applications on a single, open source appliance. This would allow them the flexibility of having best-of-breed applications and networks not only for today but in the future as technologies change.

Just as the corporate world showed us, there is a need for an open source computing and networking platform:  An agnostic system that will allow all applications, regardless of vendor, to reside on the appliance, as well as, a networking platform that will adapt to any radio technology and provide security, reliability and functionality unparalleled in the industry today.  Such a system would allow for network management and instant wireless network health monitoring. Additionally, this system would manage the applications looking to gain access to the network much in the same way corporate environments manage network with protocols, QOS, prioritization, packet shaping, and even timed or event based reporting capabilities.

Much of what has been described is actually possible today, but adoption and understanding by mining environment is slow.  Mining companies often feel they are at the mercy of the vendor and the solution(s) presented and offered. Isn’t it time, to make a change?

If you would like to better understand how 3D-P technologies can assist you in realizing these possibilities, please contact us toll free at 800-955-9337 or visit our website at www.3D-P.com.

By Categories: Surface Mining, Technology Solutions