iot in mining (1)

“We won't stop until we see every vehicle on the road being electric,” said Elon Musk, the person who works to revolutionize transportation both on earth and in space. “China is about to ban the internal combustion engine,” said a mining financier, Robert Friedland. Tesla Model 3 needs approximately 65 kilograms of copper per vehicle. Cities are now demanding zero-emission buses. Whether it’s electric cars, buses, trucks, solar energy or wind energy generation – as we transit to a sustainable world, we need more copper, nickel, cobalt, lithium, platinum, palladium, zinc and aluminum. That’s why, mining products will be in huge demand. Nevertheless, in the present world, these minerals and other mining products are already a backbone for most industries.

However, just because mining products are vital to run industries and build a low-carbon future, it doesn’t mean that the society should turn a blind eye to the damages caused due to mining operations.

Concerns from communities and governments regarding the environmental effects of digging up the earth to extract metals and minerals is battering the sector. Also, current investors have become restless and new investors are reluctant to finance mining activities as mining operations have not altered significantly since decades. This puts pressure on mine owners to bring a change in traditional mining practices. Such a situation drives many mine owners to bring data-driven practices into their routine mining operations.

Like most industries, the technology that disrupts the traditional ways of mining will be a significant driver of change in mining. The goal is to make mining more effective, sparing, energy intensive and environmental-friendly.

From decades, the mining industry has been deploying PLC and SCADA systems for monitoring and controlling. But these monitoring and control systems are generally proprietary systems and offer limited interoperability with other systems. This is where IoT-based systems prove to be advantageous. IoT-based systems are based on open and highly connected Internet Protocol (IP) network structure. Such open network architectures enable current mining operations to move toward the next generation of smart mining.

Let's look at how IoT implementation empowers mine owners with its ability to transform traditional mining practices and:

Say NO to carelessness

Since the advent of mining, fires and explosions are serious safety issues. Specifically, in coal mines, spontaneous coal seam combustion turns into a catastrophe mainly due to carelessness. Besides, in the biggest coal producer nation like China, approximately 25.1% of their main coal mines are extremely gaseous mines, which after burning could lead to a disaster. Also, the environment surrounding mines can be vulnerable during combustion as massive quantities of toxic gases, including CO2, CO, SO2 and H2S, are emitted when a mine catches fire. Therefore, prevention and protection from fires is important for secured mining production as well as the global environment.

The mechanism of spontaneous combustion of the coal seam is like a typical spontaneous combustion, which requires oxygen. Hence, measuring the concentration of O2 is the key. In addition to O2, other gas contents, such as CO, CO2, N2, CH4, C2H4, C2H6, Rn and so forth, can be evaluated to detect spontaneous coal combustion at the surveillance spot.

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As shown in the image above, an IoT-based system continuously monitors the sensed values and displays them to remote users through a web dashboard. Besides, the system can send alerts to such users in the case of detecting abnormal values and it can activate mitigation devices (e.g., forced ventilation) to decrease gas concentrations smartly.

Say NO to waste of resources

There is an increasing demand of mining products, mining equipment and resources – such as conveyors, shearers, boring machines, hydraulic pump stations, hydraulic support stations, crushers, loaders, motor vehicles, water pumps and ventilation fans – to run mining operations continuously. Moreover, to increase profitability form the existing resources, mine owners need an effective and safe resource management platform that can bring resource wastage time to zero. In such situations, an IoT network can help mine owners or managers to know the locations of these expensive resources and its usage statistics. Further, the underground staff can also be monitored via an IoT network.

Dundee Precious Metals sets the best example for this. They have deployed nearly 280 wireless access points over 50 km (31 miles) of tunnels in their flagship gold mine placed in Chelopech, Bulgaria. The firm quadrupled production from 0.5 million to 2 million tons by using an IoT-based system to track miners and vehicles locations, monitor vehicles status and automate safety and maintenance operations.

An IoT-based system is not only helpful to mine owners but original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) as well. The open connectivity of IoT architecture enables OEMs to monitor their product performance in their lifetime, even after the product is sold. Such data can be used to initiate a new revenue stream and to improve product design as well.

Say NO to casualties

In the case of a calamity, miners are taught to escape from the mine first with handy self-rescue equipment and enter a refuge alternative when escaping is cut off. Refuge alternatives are designed to provide 96 hours of breathable air, food and water for underground staff. Although refuge alternatives are only planned for use in post-accident occurrences, so their functionality should be checked periodically to ensure that they are working as intended in an emergency. In addition, a system should be in place to signal the surface instantly when a refuge alternative is triggered after a calamity. One way to monitor a refuge alternative's feasibility status from the ground is to attach sensors, such as a magnetic switch sensor, air quality and temperature sensors to the door of a refuge alternative. These sensors detect the occupancy status, air quality and temperature to ensure that a refuge alternative always stays safe.

To sum up, whether you need to cut expenses, lessen downtime, increase productivity or reduce environmental footprint – an IoT-based system is the right choice.

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