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Internet of Things in the Mining Sector
Internet of Things and The Mining Sector — Established mining companies and juniors alike are tasked with the challenge of addressing volatile market conditions, scarcity of resources and rising energy costs. Over the past decade, mining companies have adopted many advances in technology, including leveraging reliable and flexible communication systems to undergo digital transformation to create “Connected Mines.” Simply put, companies in the mining sector are implementing smart technology, including sensors on vehicles and machinery, to monitor equipment and operations.
These systems use data to find cost-efficient ways to reduce overall operational downtime to run operations better. Meanwhile, others are using technology to monitor ventilation and toxicity levels in underground mines to chart efficient ways to evacuate and perform safety drills. Miners are also using this data to make decisions in everyday situations that typically involve many moving parts to digital platforms.
This interconnectivity within the mining sector is due primarily to an evolving concept — the Internet of things (IoT) — which has become a tool of great importance to the industry. It is the extension of Internet connectivity into physical devices and everyday objects. Embedded with electronics, connectivity applications, and other forms of hardware, these smart devices are all interlinked through the Internet, and can be remotely monitored and controlled.
While it may seem like Artificial Intelligence (AI), which has also become an increasingly vital tool for the industry, there are some subtle differences.
The Difference between IoT and AI
IoT is a concept based on the very idea of everyday physical objects having the ability to communicate directly over the internet. On the other hand, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is an area of computer science which aims to create machines that can learn and execute intelligent actions the way humans do, or possibly even better. That said, AI has been increasingly used in mining practices to optimize processes, improve decision-making, and extract value from data — both strategies that cut costs and improve safety.
Access to wireless service underground have created barriers to mining companies in the past — however, fundamental applications of IoT technology are taking root to improve wireless interconnectivity. For example, the continuous use of manual and cabled readings over wireless systems connected to digital mining assets shows that more exploration companies are adopting IoT technology.
For larger companies, technology in today’s mining trucks is semi-autonomous rather than fully automated, which means they still require human assistance in some instances; the opposite would constitute complete AI technology. However, these subsurface excavation trucks are made autonomous by equipping them with remote-controlled tools, sensors, and cameras, which allow users to conduct testing, gather data, and view the surrounding region from afar, and that’s where IoT technology comes into play.
How IoT technology is Making an Impact
As the future of mining becomes safer, more innovative, more efficient and sustainable, forecasters believe that billions of dollars in value will flow into the industry, mainly due in part to digitalization and IoT technology. Companies can reduce operational delays and prevent bottlenecks before they happen. IoT helps scale production and yield strong performance results by providing real-time data for intelligent decision-making. There are several ways that IoT technology is making an impact. Here’s how:
1. Tracking and Diagnostics
Wireless IoT sensors can monitor and track critical asset parameters such as pressure, vibration, flow rate and temperature, and engine telemetry boxes. Sensors can also enable real-time remote diagnostics, allowing engineers and operators to troubleshoot and track assets across the entire mine. This data can help mining companies avoid critical lags in downtime.
2. Underground Monitoring
The use of gas detectors, emissions levels and particle sensors can help miners ensure that they comply with safety standards while maintaining productivity. Mining companies are paying close attention to this, as chemical residues can contaminate groundwater and lead to serious environmental issues. An increase in data can allow for timely and effective pumping, and the technology can prevent underground flooding.
3. Blast Fume Management
Waiting hours after a blast to assess if it’s safe to enter can lead to an unknown period of downtime. That’s why environmental monitoring systems play a key role in keeping operators and miners safe and on schedule.
Installing the appropriate ventilation equipment accounts for a large portion of energy consumption in underground mines. Ventilation-on-Demand (VoD) systems use IoT sensors to consistently monitor air quality and airflow at different areas in the mine — which can lead to significant energy savings and reduce operational costs. The system allows companies to transmit data from occupancy sensors or work registration data using near-field communication (NFC) technology, which ensures that ventilation is present where workers are present.
5. Wireless Connectivity
Wired networks have proven to have a limited range, and cellular and short-range devices that use Wi-Fi fail to deliver sufficient coverage in the underground, sprawling mines. Instead, third-generation Low Power Wide Area Networks (LPWAN) offer power-efficient and affordable IoT connectivity in complex and remote industrial environments. Not only can they transmit signals over many kilometres, but they also can connect devices at hard-to-reach locations.
The Bottom Line
IoT offers significant financial, safety, and environmental benefits to the mining industry. What’s more, it saves on energy expenditure and reduces a project’s environmental footprint.
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