There is little denying that working underground remains one of the riskiest and most dangerous jobs in the world. When you go deep under the earth’s surface it becomes harder to deploy reliable and safe network systems that highlight all the risks in time and keep people 100% safe. Travel ways, crosscuts and stopes at increasing mine depths add to the risks and you can imagine just how hard it is to ensure stable wireless signals in a setting with heightened demand for connectivity and throughput.
South Africa, with three of the deepest mines in the world at around 4km deep, it is understandable that demand for improved technology solutions underground is on the rise. The same is true in the rest of Africa where mining is getting deeper and more dangerous.
In these complex environments, one of the major tasks is the deployment of network connectivity to all operational areas of the mine to enhance safety and productivity. The reality is many wireless solutions are falling short of meeting these heightened demands, while the high cost of overhauling networks is another hindrance, yet legacy systems are not up to the task.
In truth, the best solutions are going to entail a hybrid of WiFi and private LTE as there is not enough spectrum to suit all use cases.
In my view, the best outcomes will be achieved through the deployment of private LTE for mission critical connectivity – this is the layer for all the mine’s safety apps like connected worker and automation – with another layer of Wi-Fi where it is suitable to deliver on a mine’s operational requirements. This helps you logically manage your network and can keep costs under control.
Deployment of this solution must come with a prioritisation exercise. In other words, it means you are not throwing the old away, but bringing in the new along with the old. This does depend on the quality of the original installation – but if done right you could quite easily upcycle infrastructure that you already have and multiple frequencies operating on the same leaky feeder cable, for instance. This would accommodate channels at 500MW but also private LTE at 800-900MW. They could live together quite happily depending on the specifications of the deployment. You already have many sensors on mines whereby devices connect to the network through legacy interfaces. So, you want to have these connecting to legacy systems, and possibly create a pathway for them to connect to the new and more sophisticated network.
What will become extremely beneficial to mine management through these models will be the ability to harness data more effectively to create efficiencies and enhance safety, while also finding ways to roll out AI and machine learning algorithms that aggregate even deeper insights that sit at the heart of the business. A good example of this solution in action is harnessing existing solutions that help mines move away from becoming a hardware ecosystem and a platform provider to becoming a platform integrator.
Internet-of-things technology company GuardHat, with which Sedna has formed an alliance, can already do this where the traditional route of having aspects like monitoring, location, and worker communication in three different spaces, this is integrated into one view and can be implemented with existing clients on existing hardware.
The growing need for automation and digital solutions across mining and industrial operations is then added on top through private LTE, which a specialist like Sedna provides. pLTE works with carrier grade 4G radios to connect to smart devices and routers and has more stability and lower latency than Wi-Fi, providing an added layer of end-to-end reliability, security, and efficiency through reduced operational downtime.
Mines and other industrial users will need to face the reality that they will need to be more “hardware agnostic” going forward and will need to integrate their solutions more. Just imagine the benefits of being able to analyse the frequency and causes of downtime (let’s say five hours a week on average due to component failure) and have your system alert you ahead of time. Getting those five hours back will add to significantly enhanced productivity, while also ensuring safety targets are met.
The days of having hundreds of cameras and teams of people sitting in a surveillance room to try and spot absolutely everything are coming to an end thanks to the advances of tech. Those teams can now be harnessed to alleviate risks before they happen and ensure efficiencies.
With enhanced safety a non-negotiable, the time to act is now.
Sedna has been providing innovative, sophisticated and reliable digital solutions in the mining industry since 2006. As a pioneer in its field, Sedna has active operations on three continents, employs over 60 engineers, skilled technicians and support staff and counts leading global and regional mining houses among its clients. Sedna continues to build key partnerships with leading OEMs to ensure its clients stay in step with technology advances to maintain a strategic advantage.
These solutions include enabling technologies such as networks (LTE, wired and WiFi), through to Autonomous Haulage Systems, Distributed Fibre Sensing and supplier value management platforms. For all of these technologies, Sedna assists its partners with the entire lifecycle: operational readiness, implementation, integration with other systems and support.
Sedna’s vision is to give business leaders the confidence to maximise opportunities and outcomes by making mission critical decisions based on real-time, system extracted insights they can trust.