Mining is a very risky and dangerous operation, involving large and heavy equipment and extremely hazardous environments that can cause human harm or death. Occupational and workplace safety have always been top priorities for mining operations, but in order to maintain that safety, a mining operation must have its operations under complete control, and continually monitor for hidden or evident risks. Any situation that has significant unknown or uncontrolled variables presents a dangerous and life-threatening situation for mining personnel. The Internet of Things (IoT) and its ecosystem of smart sensors and actuators, coupled with advanced analytics, machine learning and ubiquitous connectivity, has provided the mining industry with control, communication and connectivity that enables safer mining activities and coordination.
Discover how IoT is transforming Mining into Smart Mining.
The equipment used to excavate and transport earth, valuable minerals or other geological materials are heavy and significantly oversized – they are amongst the world’s largest equipment, so knowing where they are within the open-pit or underground mine using GPS not only assists with optimized scheduling and path-finding, but it ensures fleet vehicles know who else is around them, helping avoid dangerous collisions and ultimately injury, death or expensive equipment damage.
Using GPS tracking devices, each individual heavy equipment can be tracked by the equipment operator and by the operations centre. Additionally, other sensors can be used to provide real-time insights into load capacity, tire pressure, and fuel consumption for each individual equipment, that way operations can make effective and informed decisions on how to optimize fleet utilization and drive fleet efficiency.
Mining involves extracting, drilling or excavating deeper and deeper into the earth to find valuable minerals and very heavy, oversized and powerful equipment are used to do so. The productivity output of a mining operation is heavily dependent on the capacity and resilience of these machines to continue extracting, drilling or excavating, so their operational excellence and uptime is a mission critical requirement. These machines are exposed to very harsh elements and are very prone to operational failure, brining the whole mining operation to a halt. To minimize risk of downtime, scheduled maintenance to inspect failure-prone components is regularly conducted.
Using a combination of smart sensors that continually measure the physical parameters exposed to the failure-prone components – such as fluid flow, fluid pressure, fluid temperature, cable tension, oil temperature, bearing RPM, acceleration, friction among many others, a ‘digital-twin’ of the equipment is then modelled digitally in the cloud. Advanced analytics continually process and analyse sensor data streams, predicting when a failure will occur based on parameter thresholds, triggering the necessary alerts when anomalies arise. It is a preventative maintenance approach that significantly minimizes operational downtime and time spent with fault diagnostics, thus reducing excessive, unnecessary maintenance costs.
Just as it is important to track and manage the geospatial positioning of large, heavy mining equipment, it’s also a safety imperative to track smaller assets and personnel in and around mining operations. Asset tracking ensures equipment and personnel can be easily and promptly found, especially in underground mining operations, where limited illumination, cramped and tight spaces and possible wall and ceiling compromises make it even more difficult to do so. It also becomes a security and rescue requirement, where all objects, equipment and personnel must be accounted for when entering a mine, especially during evacuation and rescue scenarios.
Using a combination of GPS for open-pit mines and RFID tags for underground mines, each and every equipment and personnel can be visually tracked in real-time, an insight that is made available to both mining personnel in and around the mine, as well as the operations centre.
Underground mines go to extreme depths and lengths into the earths layers. From the entrance to the deepest depths, the structural integrity of the walls and ceilings in an underground mine is always a safety concern for both personnel and equipment operating inside. Vibrations from heavy equipment and other environmental occurrences can significantly affect the structural integrity of underground mine walls and ceilings, causing them to collapse at any time, even if there is support in place.
Using a network of sensors that continually measure structural integrity, compaction and vibration, real-time insights can be provided for the spot- or area-specific structural integrity of the walls and ceilings along the entire underground mine. Mining operations and personnel can minimize life-threatening risk through monitoring sensor data for anomalies that likely indicate an imminent collapse in the underground mine, enabling prompt evacuation or structural support efforts.