The growing importance of communication technology in mining

The mining industry has entered a phase of cost containment and rigorous capital management in Australia. 

As a result, mining companies must develop long-term strategies to increase productivity in the face of continuously shrinking budgets.

Deloitte industry analysts have pointed to sustainable cost practices and productivity, innovation across existing operations and exploration sites, and capital management as areas Australian miners must focus on. 

Communication technologies have a fundamental role to play in delivering on these three strategic initiatives.

Increasing productivity

Connectivity, real-time data delivery, collaboration and machine-to-machine (M2M) communications are critical technological pillars for the global mining industry. 

These solutions bridge the gap between remote sites, improving management efficiency and reducing the time it takes to make important business decisions. 

Australian mining typically takes place in extremely isolated and remote locations where providing communication solutions is a constant challenge. Companies must establish high availability connectivity as the backbone and build a sound infrastructure onsite across different locations. 

With this in place they can adopt advanced communication platforms for maximum value. Mining site communications is a varied mesh of different technologies including GSM, MPLS, VSAT, undersea and surface fibre optic cables. It’s critical to create a reliable and real-time environment for collaboration in today’s increasingly digital mining operations.

In order to get the most benefit from digitisation, mining infrastructure must:

  • Have hybrid networking capability to provide cost effective access to the cloud
  • Support advanced collaboration services such as video conferencing, unified communications and remote monitoring
  • Deploy M2M communications for devices within mines to communicate

A robust, high availability communications network makes operations more cost-effective because mining companies can stay up-to-speed with changes in supply and demand. 

If there’s a sudden drop in commodity prices they can quickly feed this information, update inventory analysis and make business decisions that impact the bottom line.

Improving safety

Mining is an inherently dangerous business and communications play a key role in improving the safety of individuals and increasing operational efficiency. Technology has enabled active surveillance and remote monitoring. It has even helped to provide better medical response following major incidents. 

Reliable communication systems reduce risks by providing constant two-way communication between miners and their support teams to monitor conditions and ensure timely emergency response. Remote connectivity could be the difference between life and death in some situations. Video collaboration, where specialist consultants can provide remote diagnosis and advice to an onsite medical team that may not have the expertise to deal with certain injuries.

Overcoming complexity

Implementing these technologies is challenging. Not all mines are the same and each location has its own set of issues to contend with. There’s no silver bullet so each solution has to be highly localised yet compatible with centralised technology systems.

Orange helps Australian mining companies connect remote sites with branch offices using the latest unified communications tools like instant messaging, email, voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) calling and videoconferencing.

Until recently, a cable that sends radio signals through small gaps in copper sheath was the preferred method. Now technology allows communication systems to work from anywhere within the underground environment, supporting VoIP phones and IP cameras through a wide area network.

Big data and predictive analytics are also driving competitive advantage in resources exploration. Analytics minimises unplanned downtime by ensuring timely maintenance of oil rigs and other assets. The future of mining is increasingly digital. Communications technology will continue to improve business processes while eliminating waste, minimising environmental impact and improving worker safety.

*Kevin Griffen is the country manager – Australasia, for Orange Business Services.

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