Harnessing digital connectivity from pit to port

Nokia’s industrial-grade private wireless system helps to link critical machinery, people, and data points across a mining operation.

Nokia’s industrial-grade private wireless system helps to link critical machinery, people, and data points across a mining operation.

In many ways, a mine site acts like a living modular ecosystem, with sprawling parts all moving in tandem to extract, refine, and deliver raw material simultaneously. The larger the site, the more important the choice of network technology to support the features, connectivity, latency and critical person-to-person communications essential to modern mining operations.

Emerging Internet of Things (IoT) and analytics applications need wearable and non-wearable devices and sensors, while also dealing with huge volumes of data. Delivering these essential capabilities is really only available with a standards-based 4.9G and 5G cellular industrial wireless network.

This is where Nokia comes in.

Nokia’s industrial-grade private wireless system offers broad spectrum connectivity across established mining operations, and provides a launchpad into future 5G capabilities. By linking critical machinery, people, and data points on an enclosed, low-latency network, operations can improve efficiency, safety, and overall sustainability.

“The primary benefits of Nokia’s private wireless solution is that there is only one network needed for all Mining 4.0 applications,” Nokia’s global head of marketing for the mining sector Marc Jadoul told Australian Mining.

“When we talk about mission-critical communications, that means being aware of everything that happens, without delay, and seeing the flow-on effects of one piece of equipment in real-time.

“It also creates an environment where rapidly evolving technologies are possible within the mining space – from AI (artificial intelligence) and digital twin mapping, to drone inspections and autonomous vehicles, even the implementation of digital PPE (personal protective equipment) to ensure worker health and safety.

“With the fastest possible connectivity, all of these industry-changing applications suddenly become viable.”

As we enter the fourth industrial revolution, or Industry 4.0, automation is not yet possible at full capacity due to the transmission network.

Systems that remain from previous stages in digitalisation are being left behind, as TETRA and P25-based radio networks weren’t built for broadband data services or video communications.

“The biggest advantage of deploying private wireless is maybe that there is only one network needed for all Mining 4.0 applications,” Jadoul said. “One single infrastructure for fast, reliable and secure data, mission-critical push-to-talk and push-to-video communications, as well as for real-time video transmission.

“Wi-Fi has been designed for office environments and business applications and hasn’t been designed for challenging mining environments and mission-critical communications. Wi-Fi and proprietary mesh networks simply don’t provide the necessary coverage, reliability, mobility, precision or service prioritization needed for modern mining operations.”

The differences between Wi-Fi and private wireless networks are paramount when it comes to facilitating upgrades in industrial-scale technologies. Primary factors include wider bandwidth, improved scalability, and lower-latency features, with the capacity to integrate up to 800 unique connections across a single small cell. Private wireless networks offer improved performance and connection reliability, with 5–10 times fewer antennas required than similarly scaled Wi-Fi solutions.

“A great example of the benefits of private wireless networks over Wi-Fi can be seen in our work with major mining industry players like Komatsu and Sandvik. Komatsu is operating most of their AHS production sites on Nokia private 4.9G/LTE (long-term evolution) and figures from these sites show some remarkable improvements,” Jadoul said.

“Previously, Wi-Fi communications equipment problems accounted for 15.13 per cent of production time lost during a 24-hour period. This resulted in 79.7 lost production hours per year, or 318,766 lost tonnes per year.

“Before the change to LTE, we observed 802.11 packet loss at was about four per cent on any given day. The LTE commissioning drive test logged only four lost packets.

“As such, the transition to LTE reduced the communications errors per truck operating hour by 84.62%. This resulted in a production increase of 255,013 tonnes per year.”

Safety is another critical aspect of the private wireless system, as it allows for a collection of sensors, cameras and drones to provide 360-degree situational awareness at all times. When connected to a high-definition live video feed, workers can have accurate visibility without being directly exposed to potential hazards. Sites can also flag any issues before they become catastrophic, and monitor financial and material expenses for smarter resource allocation.

Additionally, the potential for autonomous drilling, loading and hauling opens the door for 24–7 operation, significantly maximising output and providing return on investment on applying new software tools.

“With this state-of-the-art infrastructure, human dependency is minimised and asset-intensive tasks can occur continuously within safer, more accurate parameters,” Jadoul said. “Closer monitoring of people, machinery, health and environmental conditions, and energy supply means fewer injuries, less downtime, and maximum output potential.”

Being able to provide in-depth analysis and evidence of production value to key stakeholders can ensure the future of a mining site’s continual operation, allowing adaptation around fluctuating investment trends.

This feature appeared in the July issue of Australian Mining.

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