As the mining sector moves towards a more digitised and automated future, connectivity is becoming increasingly important.

However, as Nokia’s head of energy sales GARY CONWAY explains to GERARD PETER, it is important to have the right infrastructure and right connectivity solution from day one.

This article first appeared in Mining Review Africa Issue 1, 2021
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Conway points out that some connectivity technologies are not designed for mission critical work on mines. Rather, they were initially designed mainly for office connectivity.

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He states that one of the key challenges when it comes to connectivity is that many mines are working with technology that wasn’t specifically designed for any sort of digital transformation.

He explains that because mines are often found in remote areas, they are hard to cover from a connectivity point.

“Also, there are probably multiple disparate networks that are operating on a mine. So, companies are facing a number of challenges when they start looking at technology to start transforming their operations within the mining site itself,” he states.

On a positive note, Conway explains that over the past few years, mining companies are making more informed decisions when it comes to digital transformation.

“Mining is an industry where there’s a lot of learning that takes place. For example, when we sit with a customer who requires an LTE network, we first determine if it is the right solution for them and if they have the right infrastructure for this type of network.

At the very start of the discussion, the most important thing is that the foundation network has to be right from day one.”

Conway states that LTE 4G is the ideal solution for a mine site. He points out that this technology has been proven to be successful in harsh conditions and has a great ecosystem of devices.

This means that companies have a lot of choice when it comes to devices and end user control points. In addition, LTE 4G offers high bandwidth and covers 85% of digitalization use cases for mining operators. It is for this reason of the large majority of Nokia’s mining clients use this technology.

Practice makes perfect

Mining is a key component of Nokia’s growth strategy. The company’s solutions are based upon the Future X architecture developed by the world renowned research organization Bell Labs  – part of Nokia – and have been optimised for the mine of the future.

These solutions enhance and streamline operations by taking advantage of automation, robotics, digitally enhanced equipment, sensor data, predictive analytics and machine learning.

The key technology that’s powering Nokia’s network offerings for the mining industry is industrial-grade private wireless . Private wireless builds the foundation for a converged mining automation network in order to create safer, more efficient and productive mines. It comprises one single network for voice, video, data and Internet of Things (IoT) applications. 

It is suitable for automated and remote operations with real-time operations monitoring via video and features low-latency control that allows for a quick response to critical events.

Advanced data and video analytics enables asset lifecycle management and preventive maintenance of vehicles and machinery, while allowing or autonomous drilling and hauling systems for 24/7 operations.

Furthermore, by using video analytics, it can remove remote workers from hazardous situations, while providing push-to-talk (PTT) and push-to-video (PTV) capabilities for mission-critical communications. It can also enforce virtual exclusion zones and regulate unauthorised access to unsafe areas with geo-fencing applications.

Already, private wireless has been warmly received by OEMS. In January 2019, Komatsu announced the mining industry’s first Autonomous Haulage System (AHS) running on Nokia’s private wireless technology. In the meantime, more than half of Komatsu’s operational fleet is running on Nokia networks.

Predictable communication lets AHS trucks consistently drive at optimum speed, while also providing more accurate component life prediction, reduced tyre wear and higher fuel efficiency. This, in turn, increases increase mine safety, productivity and efficiency through collision awareness, hang time reduction and autonomous haulage.

In addition, Nokia also works with other mining solution vendors to improve its network offerings. A case in point: the company is the only vendor in the world to have a full LTE and 5G infrastructure at Sandvik’s test mine in Finland.

“Also, we have worked with a number of drill manufacturers and have completed type approval testing with four of the top five global miners in the world,” adds Conway.

In closing, Conway states that the key to digital transformation is collaboration between a network provider and the mining company.

“Companies like Nokia provide the connectivity backbone that mining companies are going to need to go on their transformation journey –  not only for the company’s day one requirements but also for future use cases.”