IoT in Mining: 5 Ways IoT is Driving the Connected Mine
Driven by intensifying challenges of the volatile commodity market, declining ore grades, rising energy costs and extreme operating conditions, the ability to leverage reliable and flexible communication systems is growing in importance. Leading mine operations have already started on a digital transformation, as they look to create the ‘Connected Mine.’ Building on the necessary communications required for everyday workings of the mine with layers of applications and systems leveraging massive scale IoT sensor networks, the future of mining is certainly safer, smarter and far more productive. In fact, the World Economic Forum forecasts that $425 billion of value will be added to the industry over the next five years through digitalization.
Here are 5 ways IoT in mining can improve safety, ensure efficient loads, reduce operational delays and provide real-time data for intelligent decision-making.
1. Asset Tracking, Remote Diagnostics & Predictive Maintenance
As an asset-intensive industry, mining entails a wide-array of equipment from drills, excavators, diggers and conveyors to pumps, motors and fans, which are widely dispersed both above and underground. Wireless IoT sensors that monitor and track critical asset parameters such as pressure, vibration, flow rate and temperature as well as engine telemetry boxes, enable real-time remote diagnostics, troubleshooting and asset tracking across the entire mine. In combination with analytical models, corrective maintenance and procurement of spare parts can be effectively planned to prevent asset downtime and help companies stay ahead of expensive production losses.
2. Emission and Groundwater Level Monitoring
Diesel exhaust emitted from underground excavating equipment and drilling machines contain toxic gases and fine particles that present serious health risks. With the adoption of stationary and mobile gas detectors, as well as particle sensors, emission levels and threshold limit values can be effectively controlled to sustain a secure working environment that complies with safety standards.
Chemical residues from mining operations threaten to contaminate groundwater and incur serious environmental issues. With data from level sensors, mining operators can keep track of real-time changes in groundwater levels at mine shafts, especially during rainfalls. Timely and effective pumping can be performed to prevent excessive inflows, thus avoiding contamination and underground flooding.
3. After-blast Monitoring
Following a blast to open up a new site within the mine, the area is often filled with toxic fumes and debris. Waiting hours to ensure blast fumes completely clear out can lead to costly operational downtime. Having a wireless environmental monitoring system in place, operators and miners can stay informed when an area is safe enough to resume work. Unnecessary wait times can be cut down, thereby enabling a faster turnaround after blasts and increasing productivity.
4. Wearable-based Event Reporting & Rock Bolt Monitoring
As mines are renowned to be among the most dangerous working environments with high risk of explosions, equipment accidents and toxic exposure, ensuring miners’ health and safety has always remained a big challenge. With the help of IoT wearables, miners’ health status and working environment (i.e. temperature, humidity, radiation, noise and gas levels) can now be tracked in real-time. Managers are immediately notified of fatigue, exhaustion, and “out-of-tolerance” incidents experienced by their workers, while miners will receive timely warnings in the event of potential hazards. Similarly, sensors monitoring seismic activities in underground mines can be installed on rock bolts to effectively assess their integrity and reduce fatal risk of ground falls.
5. Ventilation-on-Demand (VoD)
Ventilation can account for 30-40% of energy consumption in underground mines. Supporting implementation of VoD systems, IoT sensors can be leveraged to constantly monitor air quality and air flows at different areas in the mine for remote adjustment of the fan speed. Transmitting data from occupancy sensors or worker registration data from NFC tags also ensures that ventilation is activated in work zones where miners are present. This results in significant energy savings, thereby remarkably reducing operational costs and environmental footprint.
Wireless Connectivity for the Connected Mine
While connectivity is key to harvesting large-scale data in the “connected mine,” remote location, extreme depths, confined spaces, and non-symmetric mine topology introduce the most hostile condition for data communication. Wired networks have limited range, are expensive and highly vulnerable to the physical impact caused by in-pit operations of mining equipment. Cellular and short-range solutions such as Wi-Fi fail to deliver sufficient coverage and reliable signals in underground and hard-to-reach sprawling mines.
Geared for low-bandwidth, low computing end nodes, third-generation Low Power Wide Area Networks (LPWAN) offer highly power-efficient and affordable IoT connectivity in complex and remote industrial environments. No current wireless classes can beat LPWAN when it comes to battery life, device and connectivity costs, and ease of implementation. As the name implies, LPWAN nodes are designed to operate on independent batteries for years, rather than days as with other wireless solutions. They can also transmit over many kilometers while providing deep penetration capability to connect devices at hard-to-reach indoor and underground locations, making it the ideal technology for enabling IoT in mining.
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