From the ground to the cloud
The Internet of Things, one of the most ubiquitous terms across almost every industry, is heralding a change in how previously inanimate objects can talk to one another, gather data and make the world of business – and mining – a little bit smarter.
The Internet of Things (IoT) embraces devices that talk to a network and supply important, useful data based on the information received.
It’s happening all around us. Take the simple home, for example. In the past it was a collection of bricks, mortar, wires and windows, but with the IoT the house you live in can become one entire connected ecosystem. Sensors in your walls detect levels of damp and let you know so you can deal with it before it becomes a real problem. You can monitor security, temperature, energy and water use all from one central location. The applications for IoT-connected devices are endless, particularly when you consider all the possible uses for the data.
Mike Wilmot, a data platform architect at Microsoft, works extensively with software to facilitate IoT devices. He’s an expert on how cloud computing, which allows companies to upload data and analyze it, is revolutionizing big data usage. Not only can companies gather all this data and act on the results, but they don’t need to buy the equipment or rent servers – all they need is an Internet connection.
“Big data analytics from the cloud is being enabled, so you can do real-time analytics,” Wilmot says. “The fact that you can do this without an infrastructure of your own is game-changing.”
Getting in the game
The mining industry has been one of the most recent sectors to embrace these changes as the benefits became obvious. Bill McBeath, chief research officer at research and advisory firm Chainlink Research, has observed the changing shape of mining over the past few years.
“In mining, the areas that the IoT has affected most are safety and cost of labour,” McBeath says. He believes the biggest innovation in mining so far has been autonomous loading and hauling.
“It’s among the most mature and widely adopted technologies, and it has a big impact on both safety and labour costs,” he says.
Loaders and trucks have hundreds of sensors around the outside. Mine operators can track the equipment in real time from an offsite control centre as well as monitor conditions and control their speed, all without any personnel in the cabin.
“Safety is improved by eliminating operator fatigue and error, and by reducing the number of people at the mine site,” McBeath says. “Autonomous loading and hauling also enables more predictable, continuous, optimized operation, all day and all night, without need for lunch breaks or shift changes.”
Some companies are looking to automate their entire mining process, from drilling to delivery.
This isn’t a case of replacing employees with machines, but rather a change in required skill sets. Instead of having employees in mines, operators can control it all from a centre thousands of kilometres from the mining site.
The height of maintenance
Another huge benefit is predicted maintenance. Where mining companies used to service machinery based on a fixed schedule, now the sensors within the machines can flag any potential issues before they actually become a problem, which not only helps with safety but also saves a lot of money on maintenance and repairs.
“There’s going to be better visibility into what goes on in mines from control centres as mines become more predictable and optimizable due to this increased visibility,” McBeath says. “You can analyze and improve, and in turn this could lead to higher yields. I think that’s the direction mining is heading in.”
The mining industry is changing the way it does things, in terms of how entire organizations have embraced the opportunities presented by the IoT. But it is just the beginning, with companies now creating real value for both their employees and customers through innovating and daring to be the first in line.
Sandvik and Data Driven Productivity
Sandvik Mining has been testing a new IoT approach called Data Driven Productivity (DDP), of which there are four pillars: Predicted Maintenance, Production Management, Individual Machine Performance and Operator Efficiency. “We’re looking at all of the sources and linking them all together, and throwing them in one data lake in order to help us look at how we can support our customers, be more productive and lower their costs,” says Martin Borst, who leads DDP for Sandvik Mining.
So what could this mean for Sandvik customers? “Our customers have changed their approaches dramatically,” Borst says. “They have all cut costs and managed to bring down productivity loss, so things are changing and our customers are fully focused on efficiency, and that’s where DDP comes in. We see an opportunity to support our customers in that.
“We are leveraging existing capabilities. We already have all of this data and these facilities available, so DDP is about bringing all of that together. It’s about putting together all these building blocks to create exponential value out of the combination.”
All data is fully encrypted, so the information is safe and secure. It allows for a holistic approach to mining with a full and clear view of how to optimize every process.
“Every industry is looking at big data,” Borst says. “At first, everyone liked the visualization of data, but it wasn’t being utilized fully. Now we’re ready to make the leap and put the data to good use.”