Making the Connection-IoT in Mining
If you’re a player in technology in 2015, you have inevitably come across IoT, or Cisco’s Internet of Everything (IoE), two terms used to describe the interconnection of “things” to the rest of the connected world, people, devices, process and data. Coined a decade and half earlier, it is only in the past two years that “Internet of Things” and “Internet of Everything” have gained the incredible attention and momentum that are fuelling the next wave of the Internet.
“The Internet of Everything encapsulates the notion of big data and data analytics that interweave data from multiple sources to create a contextual story to decision makers”
Connecting “things” is the premise of IoT, a modern-day phenomenon that is creating a new economy centered around helping connect people to people, people to devices and devices to devices. The impact of this new economy is predicted to reach $8.0 trillion by 2020 according to IDC or $14.4 trillion according to Cisco Chairman, John Chambers. Needless to say, the new world of IoT is here, it's now and its is growing exponentially, affecting virtually all industries including manufacturing, retail, transportation and logistics, energy, agriculture, finance, oil and gas and mining.
The impact of IoT is staggering and suggests an incredible opportunity for industries that are traditionally slow to adopt technology to exploit the benefits of connecting “things” to drive greater efficiencies. As a case point, consider mining; typically viewed as risk averse, many would suggest that mining has done just fine without the hype promised by IoT solutions. From a traditional ICT perspective, underground mining has remained in the dark ages, sitting years behind the technology adoption curve. The vast majority of North American operations utilize antiquated communication systems that provide limited scalability unable to deliver high bandwidth, low latency data to support modern IoT type applications such as autonomous vehicle operation, Ventilation on Demand, real time location and others.
“Change is the new status quo” and as Cisco‘s John Chambers stated at last years Cisco IoT World Forum in Chicago, “…companies that fail to innovate and embrace the IoT will lose their competitive edge…This is a powerful statement and one that forward thinking mines are taking to heart.
Consider organizations such as Rio Tinto, Glencore, Vale and others all of whom have taken a hard look at their technology road maps to determine how the implementation of modern wireless technologies in both underground and surface operations can provide greater insights into their business. Rio’s "Mine of the Future” provides an excellent example of IoT in mining. Their autonomous mining operations in Australia’s Pilbera are a prime example of the use of wireless technology to increase productivity, safety and minimize downtime and disruption to mining operations. As enabling technologies make their way to mines across the globe, a plethora of new applications challenge the traditional methods of mining. Connected sensors on geotechnical instrumentation provide engineers with real time visibility into ground movement; connected drills provide feedback on drill times, operator behavior and drill performance.
Connecting production vehicles and their onboard network of sensors to reporting, analytics and decision support solutions allow mine operators to identify inefficiencies in their processes, anticipate equipment failure before it occurs and deliver a holistic view of the entire mining process from drill and blasting to movement of ore from the face to the mill.
While not all applications necessitate a complete displacement of legacy systems, greenfield projects are almost exclusively designed with scalability to accommodate the IoT in mind. However, the tides are shifting as more and more mining operations begin overlaying high speed networks to connect their disparate array of sensors to remote monitoring systems that feed valuable data to decision support systems allowing operators to gain greater insight into their business. The ability to unlock valuable data from mobile equipment, add sensors to ground control infrastructure and monitor environmental condition from surface is changing the way mines run their rock factory. The connected world of IoT is slowly bridging the gap between the underground and surface, providing stakeholders with valuable insight to improve decision-making. As in many manufacturing applications, the ability to identify bottlenecks on the process and adjust accordingly can only be accomplished by connecting and looking at the “things” in the process.
However, connectivity and data acquisition do not necessarily equate to insight. The Internet of Everything encapsulates the notion of big data and data analytics that interweave data from multiple sources to create a contextual story to decision makers. For data to be meaningful, it must be contextual and actionable to those who need it. Insight and the ability to turn data into predictive context is one of the top technology forecasts outlined in Cisco’s Technology Forecast 2015 representing a significant growth area in IoT ecosystem, representing an estimated $7.3T of IoE opportunity over the next 10 years. Needless to say, the future of connected mining is here and slowly becoming more pervasive.