In the digital era, the internet is rapidly transforming how people live and work. As technology and innovation advance, the bounds of possibility are pushed. The last few years has seen internet connectivity harnessed and applied to an endless array of physical objects, leading the way for a technological revolution. This is referred to as the Internet of Things (IoT) and the industrial component of this is referred to as IIoT.
This digital disruption has captured the attention of the mining industry, which is shaping up to be a significant player in this space. According to the MineLens productivity index, mining productivity has declined by 28% over the past decade. The mining industry is facing an upward cycle, and IIoT presents numerous opportunities and benefits to maximise profitability.
IIoT is made up of a network of devices, objects and computers that monitor, collect, analyse and share data with each other. This ‘big data’ is analysed using advanced algorithms before it is transmitted to the end user with actionable insights.
An IIoT network incorporates intelligent assets including controllers, applications, security components and sensors which attain, communicate and store data. A networking and communication system transfers the raw data between these components and cloud storage, where it is processed and analysed.
IIoT is distinguished from IoT in that it is industrial as opposed to consumer based. It aims to improve efficiency and safety for large scale operations, and is used in the oil and gas, energy, agriculture, transportation, healthcare and manufacturing industries. More businesses are predicted to embrace IIoT as the technology advances, with some estimates expecting $500 billion in worldwide spending by 2020.
While IIoT use within the mining industry is still in its early stages, it has already been utilised in a number of scenarios to positive effect.
Mining trucks are a prominent example. Fortescue Metals Group uses IIoT to provide a mobile view of how much ore their trucks are carrying, and whether they are full. This allows operations staff to contact a driver if a truck is not operating at maximum capacity so that yield rates can be increased, boosting revenue.
Rio Tinto also utilises IIoT, creating a fleet of driverless trucks to haul ore between mines and processing plants. With plans to automate trains and diggers, using IIoT has increased safety and streamlined logistics.
Safety is a driving force behind the uptake of IIoT in the mining industry. Goldcorp fitted tracking devices to the helmets of employees to monitor their real-time locations. They also developed an IIoT solution to regulate air flow in mines. For many companies, the opportunity to mitigate risk on hazardous mine sites is particularly appealing. Processing equipment manufacturer Weir Minerals has created an IIoT platform that can be integrated with their products across multiple processes. Synertrex® technology collects critical data to provide operators with insight into equipment functionality. It can be used to predict issues for downtime prevention and predictive maintenance as well as optimise machinery for enhanced performance and throughput.
While autonomous drilling has been available for some time, mining companies now hope to use IIoT to expand their extraction capabilities. Research has been conducted into developing autonomous machines which can detect materials and boundaries and have an automatic guidance system for cutting. With heavy investment in IIoT, it is a question of when, not if, this technology becomes widely implemented throughout the mining sector.
As IIoT technology is further developed, it becomes more available and affordable to implement on a large scale.
For mining operators, IIoT can provide a deeper understanding of the resource base. With multiple sets of exploration data and modelling available to help target further drilling, uncertainty is reduced.
IIoT enabled machinery can help optimise material and equipment flow for increased efficiency and yield. Equipment failures can be anticipated and real-time monitoring allows for sophisticated decision making and predictive maintenance strategies.
The increased automation of plant equipment and vehicles enhances safety while reducing costs, removing employees from hazardous situations. Through IIoT, drilling and blasting can be optimised, leading to improved mine and logistics scheduling. Integrating IIoT technology into a complete mine operation can expand ROI by boosting throughput and reducing expenditures.
After assessing the uses and benefits of IIoT to the mining industry, the significant investment of many resource companies in this technology is easily justified. As IIoT rapidly develops, mine sites are becoming more productive. While mining has long been subject to boom and bust cycles, IIoT may create safer, more consistent operations for increased growth and security.