The present-day mining industry provides large-scale possibilities for the latest automotive and connective technologies to be tested out.
It goes without saying that the process of recovering the planet's natural resources is hard. Apart from being difficult, it can be environmentally damaging. In these circumstances human safety is of top priority. It is provided by such IT revolutionary systems as: ‘extreme Wi-Fi' that is able to cover vast deserts; autonomous vehicles that deal with extracting vital minerals and rocks without the need for operator action; smart communications that warn employees if they get close to gigantic machines and much more. The experts in the field believe that the potential of these systems will help to achieve the ambitious goal of the fully autonomous mining site, where the actual presence of humans is not required.
Smart mining premises
All the leading manufacturers of mining machinery are currently developing the best autonomous practices to increase efficiency and productivity, reduce cost, and lower emissions without sacrifice of safety. By using connectivity and valuable data analytics they develop the optimal dig patterns at the coalface and enable the vehicles of exact autonomous routing. Mining has become the mutual combination of big industry, big data and big money.
The underground IoT provider
One of the most ingenious contributions to smart mines so far is the Smart Rockbolt. Basically, this is the device that creates an underground Internet of Things. The global mining industry uses 100 million of bolts every year. These tools are used to prop up walls and ceilings during dynamiting. The concern is that they are rather susceptible. Being damaged, they lose their load bearing capability. As a result, there is the risk of deadly collapsed tunnels and cavities.
The innovative Smart Rockbolt was designed at Lulea University of Technology in Sweden and has an impressive list of virtues. It is equipped with sensors that measure vibrations and strain. When linked to 4G or Wi-Fi it empowers a mesh network with the might of a 24/7 safety monitoring system. What is more, a single non-rechargeable battery cell is able to run for years.
The art of geofencing
Geofencing technology serves to keep workers away from dangerous equipment. It is integrated with various microclimate monitoring systems, which benefit from sensors that measure humidity, temperature, sound and gas levels in the area. In case of any problems mining workers and engineers receive the corresponding text messages on their phones. Employees can get warnings not to enter an area because the air quality is not satisfactory or because there is heavy machinery working. A worker also can send an alert to the control center when they are in need of assistance. Another important value of the technology is that it can give real-time feedback on the physical condition of workers (e.g. blood pressure, heart rate, etc.) by means of special wearable devices.
The ultra-reliable Wi-Fi
To guarantee successful remote operation, the connectivity should be just flawless. But in case of the open mines somewhere in high mountain ranges the task demands a lot of effort. Sometimes, the environmental conditions are so tough, that for electronics it's like going to Mars. But there is such advanced networking equipment with ruggedised routers that allow remote mining and construction workers to take advantage of the so-called ‘extreme Wi-Fi' everywhere they go.
The need for 5G
Providing reliable connectivity that is flexible and durable enough for underground mining operations is quite a challenge. To arrange the work of autonomous mining machinery on a regular basis, the connectivity should be of no less than the 5G standard. Telecommunications equipment companies have already launched the projects that aim at investigating how to remotely control monster-like vehicles. For this reason, distributed radio networks with carefully arranged antennas are being set up in the mines to deal with the long underground tunnels and rough walls.
Mine of the future
Autonomous haulage around the mine is not a dream, but the reality that is tested nowadays at the Pilbara iron ore mine in Western Australia. The concept under the big name ‘Mine of the future' is being realized with the help of 69 partially autonomous trucks. Other outstanding plans include automated drilling and even a fully autonomous long distance railway to get the ore to market.
In the near future a fully remote control over dump trucks is planned to be ensured through an electric steering module, installed between the steering wheel and valve. Moreover, the trucks will use data from the on-board sensors, as well as digital maps that will help to navigate around a mine and identify an exact location for dumping.
Alongside big behemoths in the form of haul trucks, there are smaller versions of transportation trucks in the form of tippers that are also used for bulk cargo haulage around a mining site. Autonomous transport solutions for construction sphere have become one of the prime concerns for Swedish automotive manufacturers. Thus, Scania tippers represent the company's ongoing commitment to profitability and sustainability. As an initial result, two collaborating construction vehicles from Scania have already demonstrated its self-driving abilities. A distinctive feature of the project is that its final goal is not to take away the need for human intervention but to make the driver to be a key player in proficient autonomous transporting and dumping solutions.