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According to Gartner’s “IoT Technology Disruptions: A Gartner Trend Insight Report 2018”, IoT is set to grow by 23% by 2019 with industrial applications accounting for a whopping 84% of the $500 billion market globally.

Here in South Africa, it is critical that the mining industry adopt the IoT strategy to improve critical process efficiency.

AUTHOR: Byron McCarthy

To date, IoT applied to industrial processes and manufacturing has resulted in a 30% improvement in critical process cycle times within the industrial sector alone (IDC, 2018).

Organisations not migrating to IoT risk being left behind by competitors sooner than they may expect as global uptake of IoT products is set to increase to 65% of all enterprises by 2020.

Value of Internet Of Things

The value and criticality of IoT to the future of mining from a stakeholder and business perspective is evident, however the applications extend much further than trimming down the overhead on critical processes.

Security and compliance are amongst the largest concerns for any mining group and these industries are perfectly primed to take advantage of IoT.

By implementing wearable technologies such as heart rate monitors with GPS tracking capabilities, mines are now able to track whether employees are fatigued by eye line sensors and heart rate monitors or under harsh conditions, using air condition/quality sensors with the location sensors.

Further, the use of IoT makes it simple for mines to account for the location of all people on a specific site during emergency situations and report thereon.

Mesh networks

An IoT mesh network can be run across everything from mobile assets to plants and even shafts, where connectivity is a major hinderance and mines find most of their on-site safety breaches.

By dropping numerous sensors down a shaft at set intervals mines would be able to connect from top to bottom and have shafts monitored round the clock without ever sending a person to inspect the shaft itself which can oftentimes be a dangerous task.

These same sensors can be configured to detect pressure, air quality, ground stability and even tremors to provide an early warning system, allowing mines to evacuate employees before disaster strikes. 

By implementing a mesh network of sensors, mines can successfully monitor equipment located in areas with harsh or dangerous conditions and remotely respond to changes in operational or environmental factors.

Machines can even be set to shut down or trigger a warning that starts a planning workflow for repairs when approaching a breach in its acceptable limits.

Automation is far from a new concept, however, its returns are still evident today.

By automating assets, organisations can ensure that machinery is free of human error and forecasts are set correctly for asset maintenance and predicted spend on assets from fuel to change-outs.

Companies can now respond faster than ever to live changes as they occur and take advantage of ‘what-if’ analysis and trend forecasting based on live performance data.

Misuse of assets

For asset managers and engineer’s alike, being able to identify the misuse of an asset immediately, and even have the ability to stop machinery on such an event, allows for damage avoidance and will contribute positively to the overall lifespan of the asset.

Having assets notify users when the machine is due for inspection or nearing its lifespan allows mines to adequately plan well in advance for all possible scenarios and hold employees accountable for damage caused by negligence or misuse.

Due to the nature of the sensors required, mines are uniquely positioned to implement IoT without many of the security concerns which would usually hinder the uptake of most IoT technologies.

As the majority of sensors required would only need to read outputs from machinery and employees wearable devices, there is very little writing to the machines or wearable tech, write functionality is generally what attracts hackers to IoT mesh networks as it allows them to retrieve data as well as manipulate it and take control of devices.

Security

Mines need to ensure they keep their attack surface minimal. This refers to the number of sensors which connect to the internet and are exposed outside of the firewalls of the organisation.

By ensuring tight knit security and monitoring processes are in place for a small sub-set of sensors which are at risk and keeping all other sensors within an organisational firewall, companies can essentially ensure better security.

One of the main considerations to keep in mind, however, is that what is secure today may not be as secure in the future and thus companies need to ensure sufficient attack tests are completed regularly in conjunction with ethical hackers and internal IT teams.

Special note needs to be taken when deciding on the sensors chosen, all options are generally cost effective and the price per sensor is only getting lower to allow organisations the freedom to replace sensors rather than maintain them.

Further, companies need to be aware that some sensors are more secure and have more support documentation than others, these factors will determine not only the reliability of your mesh but also your level of security.

Conclusion

It is clear that the internet of things is rapidly moving into focus across all industries and mining is no exception.

The benefits are clear and  organisations should take cognisance of the security implications to mitigate the extreme risks during this transition as therein lies the key to maintaining  competitive advantage while keeping the safety of all employees at the forefront of the business and minimizing operational losses.

SOURCES:

  1. IoT Technology Disruptions: A Gartner Trend Insight Report 2018
  • IDC 2018 report