Five tips for digitalizing mining operations
Recently, I recorded a podcast for our Nokia Private Wireless audio library. During a 20-minute interview with Will Townsend from Moor Insights & Strategy, I explained why private wireless is a must for digitalizing mining operations and explored how mine operators can get the most from their Mining 4.0 journey.
I am based in Belgium, which may sound like a strange location for someone dealing with the mining industry — the last (coal) mine in my country closed in 1992. But I have also been told that this is an ideal place, centrally located between the world’s most important mining regions in Australia, the Americas and Southern Africa and close to the head offices of some natural resource companies based in the UK and Switzerland.
I love talking about the network challenges and opportunities coming from the mining industry, because it’s kind of ‘exotic’ and distinctly different from any other industry vertical. Just think of 300-ton dump trucks, with wheels that are 2 meters wide, operating driverless in the middle of nowhere, with the control center sometimes located hundreds or even thousands of kilometers away.
Setting up a communications network in a surface mine can be challenging given the remote location, the harsh environment, and the frequent blasts happening inside the pit. When you go underground, the challenges get even bigger. How, for instance, do you set up reliable wireless communications in an environment with massive rock walls, narrow corridors and a constantly changing layout?
Accelerating the Mining 4.0 journey
Although the mining industry has been quite conservative in technology adoption, COVID-19 has created a unique opportunity for mining executives to rethink their business and operational practices, and to accelerate their companies’ digital transformation efforts.
But the choice of network technology can make or break this transformation journey. A badly designed network may be a real showstopper — interrupting operations, causing autonomous truck collisions, and even putting people's lives in danger. Mine sites need permanent, pervasive and predictable wireless network coverage to support mission-critical communications and a broad range of OT applications. CCTV cameras and drones need true mobile broadband with sufficient capacity. Remote-operated vehicles and machinery require low latency. Geo-positioning services need more precise coordinates than GPS. Critical person-to-person communication depends on reliable two-way voice and video. And emerging IoT and analytics applications need to support massive numbers of wearable and non-wearable devices and sensors, while dealing with huge volumes of data.
Delivering all these essential capabilities is only available with a standards-based 4.9G/LTE and/or 5G industrial-grade private wireless network. This is where Nokia comes in. Nokia private wireless creates one single network for automation and autonomous operation — above and below ground — and it improves mine safety, sustainability, productivity, and efficiency.
Five tips for using private wireless to digitalize mining operations
As I already discussed in an earlier blog, the Mining 4.0 journey is also about people, partners and processes. Here are the five tips I gave in the podcast to mining companies for getting the most out of their digitalization projects:
- Talk to the operations people: private wireless is not about technology for the sake of technology. Digital transformation investments are justified by KPIs like safety, sustainability, productivity, and efficiency.
- Think use case and end-to-end: you need to improve the above KPIs, and you need to work with, and have solutions validated by, ecosystem partners. This is, for example, why Nokia is working closely together with major mining solution providers like Komatsu and Sandvik.
- Start with the “low hanging fruit” use cases like data collection and analytics, preventive asset maintenance, or production cycle optimization (e.g., autonomous drilling, loading and hauling).
- Look beyond the pit for digitalization opportunities: stockpiles, conveyor belts, micro grids, processing facilities, transport by rail and shipping. Nokia provides solutions for all these domains.
- Select a partner with telecom AND mining expertise: mining is an industry with very specific needs and challenges. Deploying a private wireless network requires more than just shipping boxes and connecting cables.
Nokia Private Wireless solutions and experts are helping mining operators worldwide to accelerate their digitalization journey. We started pioneering private LTE in mining 10 years ago with Rio Tinto in Australia. Today we have more than 450 private wireless customers of which 35+ are mining companies. Some major players are using our systems in multiple mines: we currently have over 65 mine sites covered. Our public references include big names in mining like Vale, Codelco, Gold Fields, Agnico Eagle, and Antofagasta Minerals.