Coal Age

SEP 2017

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September 2017 39 operating ideas Connecting the Connected Mine by douglas bellin and paul mcroberts How do you connect operations that cover vast stretches of land in some of the world's most rugged and remote locations? That's the question many mining companies are asking today as they look to create a connected mine. They want to take advantage of greater data access, real-time analytics, autonomous systems and services such as remote monitoring, but they first need a network infrastruc- ture that will tie all of those technologies and capabilities together. Their challenges are unique. Not only do mining operations span great distanc- es, but they are often located in remote areas with minimal or no communications infrastructure. The very nature of mining operations, with continuous digging or blasting, also means that the landscapes in which communications must take place are constantly changing or expanding. And the need to maintain network uptime is vi- tal to both a mine's productivity and safety. The first step for mining companies is to converge their information tech- nology (IT) and operations technology (OT) systems into a single, unified net- work infrastructure. This eliminates si- los of information and, as result, enables seamless information sharing across an entire mining operation. With the infrastructure in place, min- ing companies can implement wireless mesh communications to connect their people, places and technologies. Given that mining operations can span hun- dreds of miles above ground and hundreds of feet below ground, wireless is an ideal solution for connecting everything from underground workers and equipment, to trucks or trains that are hauling materials long distances, to centralized information and analytics tools. Reimagining Mining Operations Wireless communications can do more than connect disparate systems and de- vices. They can support new and better mining applications that help improve efficiencies, enhance safety and reduce costs. Some key wireless-enabled applica- tions include: Remote Expertise: When mine equip- ment goes down, every second of lost productivity results in lost profits. It's im- perative that workers have immediate, in- formation-enabled support to resolve the situation as quickly as possible. Remote access can connect workers with the right specialist for the situation — even if that specialist is located thousands of miles away. This can help speed up troubleshooting, make sure the right parts are delivered, and get operations back up and running as soon as possible. Remote specialists also can monitor mining equip- ment from afar and alert on-site workers of any issues to help avoid downtime in the first place. Autonomous Transportation: Some mining companies are already using autonomous trucks and trains, which can be monitored and controlled from a central location. In addition to providing efficient transport of materials and freeing up workers to focus on other tasks, autono- mous transportation offers potential safe- ty benefits. In the U.S., transportation in- cidents are the leading cause of workplace fatalities 1 , and autonomous vehicles could reduce the number of workers on the road. Wearable Devices: Sensors built into equipment such as wristbands or helmets can help enhance safety in operations. In underground mines, companies can use the sensors to immediately and accurately locate workers in an emergency. In open- pit mines, companies could use the tech- nology to help make sure all employees are accounted for and in a safe place be- fore conducting blasts. Ventilation on Demand: Smart ven- tilations systems can help enhance safety and reduce energy costs. They leverage a variety of information in a mine to auto- matically adjust ventilation underground. For example, if a ventilation-on-demand (VoD) system identifies that a vehicle is running and workers are present in that area, it can run its fans to remove noxious fumes. On the other hand, if people are not nearby, it can lower the fan speed. Wireless Considerations Many factors need to be considered when deploying wireless in a mining environment. First, a site survey should be conduct- ed to help understand a mine's character- istics and requirements. This is especially important in mining environments be- cause they often have uneven corners and structures, a high likelihood of multi-path, and a strong need for high availability and network resiliency. When specifying equipment for a connected mine, environmental condi- tions must first be taken into account. The equipment will be exposed to harsh con- 1 National Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries in 2015, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, December 16, 2016.

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