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We Sense a Change: How IoT Sensors Are Revolutionising Mining

Nearly every industry in the world working to revolutionise their operations through the deployment of IoT sensors and the technology that accompanies them. So, we’ve noticed the mining sector cautiously following suit. With an intensive period of growth and change ahead of them, is this typically risk-averse industry ready to be turned on its’ head?

How IoT sensors transform mining environments

Mining companies today run analytics on data produced by IoT sensors and devices. This aids in efforts to reduce costs, enhance productivity, and improve safety. You know, the standard ‘this and that’ of IoT innovation.

In the mining industry, we use IoT sensors to circumvent some of the safety and production challenges that many mining companies are faced with. IoT innovation is a way of driving mines into the future. Leaving the challenges of untrackable data and assets in the past.

Here’s how it works: The Internet of Things sensors ‘talk’ to the cloud through different connectivity. Once the data reaches the cloud, it is processed by IoT software. This then decides to either perform an action – like sending an alert or instruction – or automatically reset the sensor without the need for notifying the user. IoT sensors are essentially mini control centres. They work towards both digitalising components of a business ecosystem and reducing the risk of human error. The ability to report on all incidents and activity, too, becomes possible.

Challenges facing the mining industry – before IoT sensors

The mining industry, by nature, is a highly complex sector. Its operations and processes are intensive, risk-prone, and subject to uncontrollable weather. It is an industry that, in many instances, is surviving on finite resources. Therefore, it is likely that mining companies will face harsher and more dangerous conditions. Especially as miners dig deeper and are driven to deliver superior products from sub-prime resources.

In many organisations, this may already be a harsh reality.

Coupled with this, the mining industry faces the challenge of mine maintenance and, ultimately, future relevance.  Mining entails the operation of large complex equipment in climatically hostile conditions. Therefore, a typical maintenance manager faces many issues with machine repairs, aging equipment, reduced funds and safety concerns.

Equipment maintenance and repairs

The maintenance of mining equipment is extremely pertinent to the safety of its users and keeping costs down. A mine could spend anywhere from 35% to 50% of its annual operating budget solely on equipment repair and maintenance. Generally, mines will have preventative maintenance strategies in place to avoid expensive repairs and costly downtime. However, mining equipment undergoes so much strain and stress that breakdowns tend to be inevitable. This negatively impacts the productivity of the mine.

After factoring in the time and costs of repairing mining equipment, including the transportation of appropriate technicians and the financial ramifications of downtime, it becomes apparent that regular preventative strategies don’t always cut it. Therefore, by actively monitoring the health of machinery, as a collective unit, in line with their effect on the bottom line, mining organisations can better manage downtime schedules.

Safety personnel and equipment

Safety is always a critical issue in heavy asset industries.  The work can be extremely dangerous. Especially in South Africa where the mines are some of the deepest in the world. In fact, 2017 saw 82 fatal accidents in South Africa alone. Most of these incidents occurred in gold and platinum mines, which can extend more than 3 kilometres underground.

Extreme and unpredictable weather conditions coupled with tired equipment can contribute to unsafe work environments. Therefore, it’s vital for mines to work to circumvent these safety issues by always being one step ahead of every component of their business ecosystem, from the blades on a drill to the end of their logistics channel.

Controlling costs

The decline in availability of untapped high-quality resources continues to stir up major concern in the mining industry. One ramification of this is that miners are having to go deeper beneath the land. Therefore, many mining companies are having to contend with decreased productivity and lower commodity prices and profits, and heavy taxes. Then, with a decrease in profits, mine maintenance can tend to suffer, and the cycle continues. It’s like a domino effect, ultimately impacting every aspect of a mining company’s operations.

Benefits of IoT sensors in mining

Although mining is an extraordinary industry with special demands, the sector will always benefit significantly from IoT innovation. Things like smart safety wear, IoT temperature sensors, mining sensors and many other tools that the Internet of Things offers. So, let’s look at a few:

Safety

Our IoT products are made up of a whole bunch of smart and innovative sensors. They allow our partners to work better, not harder. For example, mining companies have access to innovative sensor technology that will send a smartphone alert if a worker’s clothing or personal protective equipment is not working or being worn correctly. Our IoT sensors allow the real-time monitoring of people on-site. They also provide real-time, location-specific alerts as well as improve communication.

These wearable IoT sensors also monitor workers’ location and body temperature, predict potential problems and recommend steps to avoid health and safety risks.

A study that Inmarsat – a mobile satellite provider – conducted concluded that 43% of respondents declared that implementing IoT sensors into the operations of their companies was instrumental in driving the health and safety of the workers.

iot sensors

Click here for IoT.nxt use case for better mine management

Environmental monitoring

As miners face some harsh weather conditions, IoT sensors for environmental monitoring are often sought after around the world to enhance safety. This is where the value of IoT innovation really stands out for mining companies as they are faced with stringent environmental regulations and CSR policies. Going back to the Inmarsat survey, 47% of respondents stated that environmental monitoring is the top priority for IoT deployments. A further 53% of respondents declared environmental monitoring to be the most exciting IoT innovation.

Essentially, environmental monitoring works by IoT sensors providing real-time data on air quality, water and soil to help predict the weather. They also monitor the conditions inside the mine and send alerts when things like the air quality or temperature deviate from usual patterns. These IoT temperature sensors are integral for helping to prevent mine collapses or explosions.

Essentially, this innovative sensor technology creates a clear line of communication between every aspect of the mine and the central control system and allow for mine managers to prepare for conditions that were previously unpredictable.

Equipment monitoring and Industrial IoT

Due to the current economic climate in mining, companies are quite heavily focused on asset and equipment life-cycle management. As well as minimizing downtime and production costs. A survey conducted by Accenture revealed that 79% of respondents identified investing in analytics that offers data visualisation, and IIoT as their top priorities.

IoT.nxt’s innovative sensors monitor equipment and assets in real-time. They send alerts to the control centre as soon as there is a deviation from the regular pattern. This allows mine managers to react quickly when equipment begins to break down. Or assets, such as a self-driving ore truck, deviate from their set path. Equipment and asset monitoring helps to improve productivity and efficiency and minimise major repairs that may result in costly labour and significant downtime, which can also be very costly.

The Internet of Things sensors also allows for mine managers to identify the root of an issue. Even if it originates in another asset or department. For example, if a conveyor belt slows down, IoT sensors will pick up exactly where the problem is originating from, even if it is not coming from the belt itself. This helps to avoid unnecessary equipment shutdown and repairs.

Click here for IoT.nxt use case for a Run of Mine solution for real-time data insights

Interconnectivity and interoperability

One of the main purposes of IoT sensors is to have all your assets and devices interconnected and communicating with each other. Our mining sensors allow for mining companies to program their assets to perform particular tasks and make more advanced decisions based on the conditions of the mine. This will eventually allow for some major processes to be completely automated.

A machine-only future

Any industry that entails remote or dangerous work can always benefit from removing living employees from the locations and replacing them with smart machines and robotics that can perform without any risk to human life.

The IoT.nxt solution

It is no longer enough to focus merely on extraction grades. Operational managers have to adopt a systems theory approach and look at the effect of single process efficiencies on the entire mining value chain to drive productivity. Horizontal interoperability of disparate systems is crucial, as is the protection of legacy systems and devices. A seemingly insurmountable task, with a relatively simple solution – IoT.

Create a complete overview of your entire operation, digitise it, and optimise it.

Surprisingly, it’s not as complex or high-tech as you’d think. We can overlay it in a short amount of time with little to no disruption to your business and can incorporate all your existing systems, devices and equipment. Well, our solution can.

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