Mining communications systems are usually geographically constrained around individual mines. However, the mine of the future demands integrated company-wide communications across the entire reach of its operations – not just from pit to port, but across multiple field sites, and city-based corporate offices. How can this be achieved? In this lesson from the Tait Radio Academy, we explore this question.
Challenges the Mining Industry Faces
Mining companies face challenges similar to those encountered by the oil and gas industry, namely volatile markets, rising costs, falling revenue, declining productivity, a shrinking skilled workforce, and the demand for environmentally sustainable practices.
Their operations may extend over geographically scattered mine sites including both surface pits and underground and rail or road transport to ports. The aim is to bring together all business operations, connected by a communication system that can handle traditional voice and data as well as the remote oversight and operational control over vast areas as envisioned by the Industrial Internet of Things.
The Need for an Integrated, Unified Communications Solution
To make this happen, mining needs communications solutions that can offer the immense coverage of satellite, the reliability and worker protection of LMR, the high bandwidth and low latency of LTE, and the convenience of WiFi, all available through the assorted devices employed by mine personnel. Only a unified critical communications solution can fit these requirements.
Larger companies have already leveraged converged communications and cutting-edge automation technology to develop mining applications that are improving productivity and efficiency, slashing costs, reducing environmental impact, and increasing worker health and safety. Some specific examples are:
Improving Worker Health and Safety
- Collision avoidance systems using mobile WiFi hotspots on moving equipment, location tracking and GeoFencing alerts
- Multi-bearer data and voice communications to connect underground and surface operations
- Visualizations and dynamic modelling of changes in mines using seismic data to manage risk
- Physiological monitoring, fatigue management and location tracking of underground miners
- Sensor networks monitoring levels of dangerous gases in underground mines
- Employing automatic equipment such as drilling rigs for hazardous operations
Reducing Environmental Impact
- Optimizing mining processes to minimize the use of resources
- Applications to accurately tally toxic mining waste
- Running material flow analyses
- Geotechnical and environmental monitoring
- Automatic collection and analysis of telemetry and tele-diagnostics data on equipment status and performance
- Over-the-air machine monitoring and updates
- Real-time CCTV or UAV surveillance of production system performance
- Use of remotely operated driverless ore trains and trucks
- On-site staff and offsite experts collaborate via voice, data, and real-time video
- Integrating representations of the entire mine to optimize production across multiple sites
Communications in the Mine of the Future
Today’s mining communications systems are usually geographically constrained around individual mines. However, the mine of the future demands integrated company-wide communications across the entire reach of its operations – not just from pit to port, but across multiple field sites, and city-based corporate offices.
Backhaul options capable of transporting the traffic required for remote automated operations include wireless (e.g. microwave, 3G/4G cellular, private LTE, MIMO), satellite, and fiber.
Remote monitoring and control mean that smart sensor networks will dump huge quantities of data (in near real time) onto networks, so that sensor analytics applications can statistically process and feed them into Big Data analytics.
In the near future 5G, which offers high bandwidth coupled with super-fast data rates and ultra-low latency, promises to be a key ingredient in the merged UCC network of networks.
Tait Radio Academy
Want to know more? For the full lesson, head over to the Benefits of Unified Critical Communication for Mining course on the Tait Radio Academy, where you can learn about how UCC can specifically help a range of industries.
The Tait Radio Academy is a free training resource, providing foundational education on a wide range of critical communications topics. From basic radio awareness to Industrial Control Systems, there is a range of material for people in both technical and non-technical roles.
Register to Tait Radio Academy unlock access to quizzes, downloadable study guides, the ability to join our Discussion Group on LinkedIn, and more.