Introduction to Unified Critical Communications
The Benefits of Unified Critical Communications
Benefits of Unified Critical Communications for Mining
Mining companies face challenges similar to those encountered by the oil and gas industry, namely volatile markets, rising costs, falling revenue, declining productivity, a shrinking skilled workforce, and the demand for environmentally sustainable practices.
Their operations may extend over geographically scattered mine sites including both surface pits and underground and rail or road transport to ports. The aim is to bring together all business operations, connected by a communication system that can handle traditional voice and data as well as the remote oversight and operational control over vast areas as envisioned by the Industrial Internet of Things.
To make this happen, mining needs communications solutions that can offer the immense coverage of satellite, the reliability and worker protection of LMR, the high bandwidth and low latency of LTE, and the convenience of WiFi, all available through the assorted devices employed by mine personnel. Only a unified critical communications solution can fit these requirements.
Larger companies have already leveraged converged communications and cutting-edge automation technology to develop mining applications that are improving productivity and efficiency, slashing costs, reducing environmental impact, and increasing worker health and safety. Some specific examples are:
Improving worker health and safety
- Collision avoidance systems using mobile WiFi hotspots on moving equipment, location tracking and geofencing alerts,
- Multi-bearer data and voice communications from underground coalface to surface operations to eliminate communication blind spots,
- Visualizations and dynamic modelling of changes in mines using seismic data to manage risk
- Physiological monitoring, fatigue management and location tracking of underground miners,
- Sensor networks monitoring levels of dangerous gases in underground mines,
- Better blasting operations safety through hazard notifications triggered by geofenced blast zones and use of remote LMR controlled blast control,
- Employing automatic equipment such as drilling rigs for hazardous operations.
Reducing environmental impact
- Optimizing mining processes to minimize the use of resources such as water for tailing ponds, decrease energy consumption,
- Applications to accurately tally toxic mining waste,
- Running material flow analyses to track the physical flows of natural resources through extraction, production, fabrication, use and recycling, and final disposal, accounting for both the gains and losses occurring throughout the supply chain,
- Geotechnical and environmental monitoring.
- Automatic collection and analysis of telemetry and tele-diagnostics data on equipment status and performance to predict and respond to equipment faults before they impact on production,
- Over-the-air machine monitoring and updates,
- Real-time CCTV or UAV surveillance of production system performance, tailings, ore passes as well as using UAV in addition to exploration crews for prospecting,
- Use of remotely operated driverless ore trains and trucks.
- On-site staff and offsite experts collaborate via voice, data, and real-time video, to improve the quality and speed of decision-making,
- Integrating representations of the mine sites, production, injection network, wells, economics and planning tools, modelling the entire field so operators can optimize production across multiple sites, optimize the entire supply chain, and run analyses and forecasts in near real time.
Today’s mining communications systems are usually geographically constrained around individual mines. However, the mine of the future demands integrated company-wide communications across the entire reach of its operations – not just from pit to port, but across multiple field sites, and city-based corporate offices. Backhaul options capable of transporting the traffic required for remote automated operations include wireless (e.g. microwave, 3G/4G cellular, private LTE, MIMO), satellite, and fiber.
Remote monitoring and control mean that smart sensor networks will dump huge quantities of data (in near real time) onto networks, so that sensor analytics applications can statistically process and feed them into Big Data analytics. In the near future 5G, which offers high bandwidth coupled with super-fast data rates and ultra-low latency, promises to be a key ingredient in the merged UCC network of networks.