Mining 4.0: It’s all about technology, people and partners
Businesses in every sector are getting the message that digitalization is key to future growth, productivity and sustainability. While going digital may be simpler for information-driven industries like banking than physically intensive ones such as mining (you can’t really digitalize drills and trucks), it’s still possible to radically transform mining operations with digital technologies.
I recently talked about this topic with some colleagues and partners, and they shared some interesting opinions. For example, Gary Conway, who is head of Energy Sales for Middle East and Africa at Nokia, put it this way: “Digitalization makes a lot more sense for IT-centric companies, who are mainly dealing with data and digital information. Think for example of what Amazon did with books or Netflix with DVDs”.
Even so, Gary admitted that mines stand to make big gains in safety, productivity and efficiency by adopting Industry 4.0 technologies. According to Bell Labs Consulting, physical industries’ performance can be increased up to 11 times with digitalization.
“The full potential of Mining 4.0 is about going beyond the idea of just replacing physical with digital,” added Gary. “It’s about controlling the physical assets using digital means. It’s about the convergence of IT and OT [operational technologies]. A third foundational component is communications technology, or CT.”
Whole aspects of mining operations can be controlled digitally, including heavy machinery. That opens the door to opportunities for automation, analytics and optimization — provided the right technology, people and partners are in place.
Connected where it counts the most
Mines are some of the most difficult networking environments on the planet, and Wi-Fi isn’t up to the task.
“Unfortunately, today’s Wi-Fi-based mining networks don’t provide the mission- robustness and performance that are needed for mission-critical mining operations,” according to Gary. “That’s why private 4.9G/LTE and 5G cellular networking technologies are getting near the top of the agenda of their CIOs and CTOs.”
The reality is a mix of radio technologies is needed for mine connectivity — everything from small cells to leaky feeders. Even deep underground, private wireless networks provide a single, reliable, resilient and stable infrastructure for voice, data and video to support person and machine communications and automated applications.
Bring the people along
With all of its advanced technology, mining is still in many ways a fairly traditional industry. It’s worth keeping in mind that the transition to Industry 4.0 is partly about technology and partly about adapting work ways, skills and mindsets to a new, dynamic and digitally enabled reality.
Engaging with employees to integrate the new technology is essential, and managing the workforce will help ensure an effective, efficient transition to a more effective, efficient mining industry.
We’ve seen this in action, particularly in Africa — as Anton Fester, Managing Director at Sedna Industrial IT Solutions, can attest.
“Sedna’s success in the African mining market can be attributed to our unwavering focus on industrial customers and addressing their challenges,” Anton said. “We have worked with most larger miners across the majority of resources to add IT and CT value to their respective OT environments. These engagements focus on the simple principles of standing up enabling technology networks, managing and supporting the production systems, integrating data outputs and presenting information to the organization’s decision makers.”
Partners are key to success
So, digital transformation is not only about bringing on the right technology solutions, but also about understanding the use cases and managing stakeholder relationships.
“That’s precisely why we are working with local partners like Sedna,” added Pila Booi, Partner Sales Manager at Nokia’s Centurion office in South Africa. “They not only strengthen our presence in the local market, but more importantly they bring tons of valuable expertise and experience in managing large mining projects.”
The right approaches and the right technologies can position mining operations to reap the full benefits of Industry 4.0 technologies. To learn more — and hear first-hand from industry voices — I encourage you to attend the upcoming Nokia–Sedna panel discussion hosted by Mining Review Africa on November 25. Get the answer to the question, “How can African mine operators make Mining 4.0 a reality?”