There has been a revolution occurring in underground mining over the last several years, where big headline items such as the Internet of Things (IoT), optimisation, managing data, data mining etc – the list of current catchphrases, goes on. In the end these are nothing new; but the ‘things’ (sensors) are becoming smaller, cheaper and easier to deploy, and the analysis much more powerful as computer processing speeds increase. However, to take advantage of the myriad of devices out there and gain the processing power to analyse and use the data, a reliable ‘conduit’ is needed for that information to be delivered where it can actually be used. That is, a high quality data network.
Modern mining is like any other industry in the information age: the access to reliable data is the first, critical step in improving productivity (Stevens, 2015). The convergence of communications onto an IP (Internet Protocol) backbone has been the driving force in enabling the productivity gains in general industry over the last two decades.
This paper overviews how this technology has developed as an enabler in accessing productivity and safety benefits, and how it has used access to large amounts of data to manage mining processes underground. Reams of data are useless, but with the reliable receipt, analysis, processing and feedback system in place to use that data, benefits can be realised.
Automated mining systems are increasingly being seen as a key requirement for a productive mining operation, and the importance of an integrated communication network infrastructure to support such systems is growing. Another emerging driver is the much talked about IoT and data analytics, both dependant on reliable, accurate, high volume data.
The author will outline how communication infrastructure is fundamental to the operation of such systems, and explain why the resultant communication networks require much more than just increased bandwidth (data capacity) to properly support the automation and other data hungry systems within the overall mine operation.
Mining operations embarking down
this road are discovering that the required network must be based on a true
enterprise level architecture to, not only enable the mine’s current plans for
remote or automated mining, but also to provide a scalable and integrated
platform for future developments. The emerging issues for the communication
network to truly support automation systems include:
- increased complexities of operating and maintaining multiple networks
- integration issues with disparate systems
- problems with reporting, particularly as demands for corporate reporting
and compatibility with enterprise systems become the norm
- ongoing management challenges, which will only increase with the
proliferation of new technologies.
How certain mining operations lay the necessary foundations to meet their current requirements, while supporting their visions for a more automated and proactively managed mine, will be explored.
Kent, D, 2017. Modern mining – why bandwidth matters, in
Proceedings 13th AusIMM Underground Operators’ Conference 2017, pp 123–128 (The
Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy: Melbourne).