Suddenly, an obscure mineral is essential while another becomes next to worthless, for example, and price fluctuations can turn profitable extraction to dust in a matter of hours or days.
Often working in remote and challenging environments, mine operators also have to work hard to meet stringent environmental requirements while complying with worker safety regulations.
Agility, safety and operational efficiency are critical to success in the mining sector. Digital technologies related to information (IT), operation (OT) and communication (CT) will play a key role in meeting these opportunities as they enable continuous improvements in safety, productivity and efficiency. These enhancements will be brought about by eventually replacing manual mining operations from pit to port — including exploration, drilling and blasting, digging, loading, hauling, crushing, transportation, up to shiploading — with fully autonomous systems.
Innovators at the heart of our connected world understand that smart, dynamic and unified communications networks will lay the foundation for the digital transformation of society, including the mining sector. For the mining industry, building a state-of-the-art network is the best starting point for achieving more agile and automated mining facilities which assist in better managing safety, performance and decision making.
A state of the art, digital architecture for mining should consist of four layers.
At the deepest level lies a mission-critical network that supports robust and secure wireless, multi-service coverage and capacity in remote, harsh environments on the surface, inpit and underground.
Built with a dynamic mesh fabric around a high-performing IP/optical core, this architecture uses private LTE today (and 5G tomorrow) to connect with mobile and static sensors, heavy equipment, self-driving vehicles and connected workers. LTE is currently the only standards-based technology that supports mobile broadband (such as PTT/PTV, CCTV and future AR/VR applications), machine-to-machine communication (for example, telemetry) and narrowband Internet of Things sensors/actuators on a single, future-proof communication infrastructure, with an evolution path to 5G.
Second, cloud technology is essential to this new wave of architecture, ensuring the flexibility, scalability and universal availability of both data and intelligence.
Cloud-native, software-defined networks dynamically allocate capacity wherever it's needed — whether to support massive digital twin files, augmented reality or mine site video consultations. Additionally, a multi-access edge computing (MEC) platform will support ultra-low ( < 5ms) latencies required for automated response times, real-time motion control or virtual reality.
Data processing capabilities and analytics platforms, including machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) systems, are just as important as the communication infrastructure itself. Built in as a set of common enablers, the digital value platform ensures that mining companies can turn the masses of data collected from a vast multitude of sensors, cameras and systems - below and above the ground, inside and outside, from pit to port - into actionable insights.
Finally, building the top layer of an advanced network architecture is all about innovation and value creation; hosting business-centric applications and empowering cross-domain collaboration with ecosystem partners along the full value chain.
Sensors, cameras and drones provide 360-degree situational awareness, as well as support field force optimisation and work flow automation. Reliable, low-latency broadband communications also power remote control and real-time collaboration. Digital personal protective equipment (PPE), ultra-precise geo-positioning and geo-fencing will enhance worker safety. Dynamic tracking of machine health and diagnostics will enable predictive maintenance. AI and machine learning will augment decision making by providing predictive alerts, isolating causes and suggesting possible courses of action.
The mining sector must address these digital opportunities and work with leading industry players to design, develop and deploy a new networking architecture, and take mining to the next level.
Nokia is presenting its Bell Labs Future X for Mining vision at the upcoming Austmine 2019 Conference in Brisbane, Queensland.
*Marc Jadoul is a strategic marketing director for Nokia and is a computer scientist by education, technology evangelist, speaker, and blogger. With more than 20 years of experience in technology and services, he has authored or co-authored more than 200 papers, magazine articles and conference presentations, and is a frequent speaker and panellist at industry events.