Mines face the “unique predicament” of an urgent need to reap the value of well-connected mines, despite their operations perhaps being the “hardest in the world” to reliably connect, says US industrial automation and information technology (IT) provider Rockwell Automation.
The multinational has regional offices across the globe, including offices in Ghana and Nigeria.
As mines are often located in remote areas with operations spanning great distances both in width and depth, solutions providers face “great difficulty” when trying to create connections that permit greater data access, real-time analytics, as well as autonomous systems and services.
Moreover, the constant digging and/or blasting means that the environment and landscapes in which these systems and technologies need to operate are constantly in flux, necessitating that the solutions provided are robust and adaptable.
Rockwell notes that it can offer connected operations and network uptime, adding that these offerings are crucial to both safety and productivity.
One of the requirements for such a solution is that mines need to have the right foundation, specifically in terms of converging their IT and operations technology (OT) systems into a single, unified network infrastructure. “Not only does this eliminate silos of information, but it also enables seamless information sharing across the entire operation,” the company explains.
“With a unified network infrastructure in place, the mine can implement wireless mesh communications to connect its people, places and technologies. Wireless is especially ideal for connecting all aspects of operations – from trucks or trains, to underground workers and analytics tools – because it can reach anywhere, above or below ground.”
Further, Rockwell notes that wireless can also support new capabilities in the mine to help improve efficiencies, enhance safety and reduce costs.
“Wireless can aid in remotely connecting people. When downtime occurs, it is essential that employees have immediate, information-enabled support to quickly resolve the problem. Wireless communications in a mining operation can connect workers with the right people, in any location, helping to speed up troubleshooting.”
Wireless connectivity also assists in the deployment of autonomous transportation. “It is no secret that some mining companies are already using autonomous trucks and trains, which provide efficient transport and safety benefits. By using wireless to implement autonomous transportation, mines can help to reduce the number of workers on the road and refocus efforts on production goals.”
Further, wireless-enabled built-in sensors on underground mining equipment, such as wristbands and helmets, are one of the many ways to help immediately and accurately locate employees in an emergency. The technology can also be useful in ensuring that all employees are safe, prior to dangerous tasks, such as blasts.
Moreover, wireless connectivity allows for the adjustment of ventilation settings underground. Ventilation-on-demand (VoD) systems can sense the presence of people and running vehicles, and change settings accordingly, thereby enhancing on-site safety as well as assisting in the reduction of energy costs.
“Deploying wireless communications in a mining environment can be overwhelming, but there’s no denying the value or competitive advantages at stake,” Rockwell concludes.