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.
Digitalization at the early stage
According to Accenture, the “Digital Mine leverages the best of digital technology and Internet of Things (IoT) cloud or on-premise platforms to connect the mining value chain from mine to market and from sensor to boardroom. Data is consolidated from siloed databases such as fleet management, dispatch, historians and ERP solutions.”
From an operation’s perspective, it means the deployment of sensor technology on-board your mobile equipment and their necessary connectivity back to the operation center in real or near-real time.
While deployment of a ‘Digital Mine’ can follow a number of paths, a couple of best practices should be consistently respected: SCALABILITY, REDUNDANCY AND FUTURE-PROOFING of the design.
Scalability will ensure your operations remain optimally connected as your mine grows and evolves. Redundancy will ensure that you maintain access to your data even when one or several pieces of infrastructure fail (let’s say through a storm). And future proofing will ensure that your operations don’t go to its knees as you need to upgrade your connectivity infrastructure.
Without the necessary amount of attention to those best practices, the cost of your operation operating sub-optimally can be high.
It all starts with connecting your fleet to your operation center
As mentioned above, deployment of a wireless network is therefore paramount to access the heavy equipment’s data. Smaller operators may choose to initially deploy a simple network allowing them to access their fleet data a few times a day. As ROI is proven, self-funded improvements can follow, generally consisting in the deployment of further infrastructure equipment providing real time data connectivity.
We recently worked with a small quarry in Virginia, part of a larger group, which started its digitalization process in the simplest manner. Combining data loggers (such as the 3D-P Intelligent Endpoint) on-board their heavy equipment with a couple of access points deployed at the edge of the pit, they were able to access their data as the trucks were travelling outside the pit. The timeliness and data collected allowed them to improve processes as early as 3 months post deployment and justify the investment of the network, infrastructure and on-board application in less than a year.
Connecting your fleet together can take your operation to the next step of optimization
While deployment of a full wireless network ensures machine to machine connectivity, it is still possible to achieve the same outcome with a simpler wireless network design, like the one in Virginia described above.
Selection of the appropriate wireless technology, such as Rajant, provides the peer-to-peer connectivity desired for optimal production without the requirement for a fully deployed network. This will allow your loader and haul truck to share data in real time as the loading process occurs.
While the operation center might not have access to this data in real time, it provides operators with the tools to perform their job optimally, and provides the necessary insight after the fact for potential training initiatives.
While some operators may choose to start their digital initiative small and expand them as ROI is proven. Other circumstances, such as a very high demand for the mineral mined, might justify the need to immediately deploy a best of breed wireless network offering full coverage of the site so that mobile fleet data can be tracked in real time.
In this instance, upfront purchase of the wireless network, associated on-board clients and necessary applications to be run on-board the fleet may lead to a delay in the start of the project, due to budget approval and funding process, despite a high existing demand.
Introduction of Network-as-a-Service (NaaS) in the mining world allows you to faster deploy the wireless technology needed to run your operations optimally without the necessary budgeting that typically goes with this decision.
NaaS provides miners with the ability to finance the cost of their network deployment and ongoing maintenance overtime, without any upfront expenditure in some cases. Not only does NaaS remove the traditional barrier to entry associated with the cost of deploying a new network, but it also guarantees performance of your network overtime without the associated personnel needed onsite.
To learn more about how 3D-P can help you with the digitalization of your mine, contact us today.