Digital Innovations in Mining – The Digitally Connected Workforce

In part 1 of this series, we looked at advances in automation and robotics in the mining industry. In this post, we focus on connected worker technologies and remote operations.

Digitally Driven Mining Workforce

Mobile technologies have been at the core of innovative solutions that drive productivity improvements across many industries, and mining is no exception. The ubiquity of connectivity, coupled with the rapid proliferation of mobile devices and considerable advances in their capabilities, has helped mining companies introduce digitally-enabled ways of working. Connected mobility can empower field, remote and centralized mining workforce in real time. Key technologies in this space include remote operations centres, connected mobile devices and wearables.

Mining operations are geographically dispersed, and the ability to aggregate accurate data and share it across the enterprise in real-time can facilitate better mine planning, collaboration and decision-making. Connected worker technologies such as mobile devices and wearables make this possible. By equipping the mining workforce with connected, intelligent wearables and mobile devices such as tablets, wearable glasses and watches, mine management can benefit from on-demand access to critical information in real time.

Some examples include operator usage of a tablet to record shift tasks and progress, instead of multiple paper-based entries that are prone to manual errors. Mobile-based data collection allows for quick validation and distribution of production data across key personnel like mine supervisors and managers, and makes possible a real-time response to issues that could affect production. By detecting deviations from expected operating standards in real time and driving rapid and focused operational improvements, miners can significantly reduce downtime and drive higher process efficiencies. Tablets can also be used to track the precise location of equipment through integration with a GPS transponder. This helps optimize current shifts and plan upcoming shifts.

The use of wearables has a real opportunity to boost safety throughout the industry. IoT-linked wearables in mining such as helmets and caps can be used to examine the biological condition of workers, particularly truck drivers and machine operators who are at a risk from fatigue-related injuries. Smart watches can be used to indicate a worker’s GPS location in the event of an emergency, thereby aiding rescue operations. Other intelligent wearables can monitor and communicate environmental conditions such as air quality and the presence of toxic fumes, and trigger alarms if a hazard is detected.

According to a report by the World Economic Forum on Digital Transformation in the Mining and Metals Industry, connected worker technologies are expected to have a significant impact on efficiency, costs and workforce safety. The potential value addition for the mining industry stands at ~$59 billion from 2016 – 2025. A vast majority of this value will come via improvements in mining workforce productivity since activities can be performed in a more targeted and efficient way based on real-time data. The same report estimates that ~22,000 injuries will be avoided through the use of connected intelligent devices from 2016 – 2025.

Remote Operations Centres(ROCs)

ROCs are centralized, connected control rooms that provide an offsite environment for mining personnel to collaborate on operational planning, scheduling and execution of activities. ROCs provide video feeds, communication systems and other digital tools that enable employees to monitor and control remote site operations in real time, reducing the number of site visits and onsite personnel required for these locations. From the ROCs, personnel can assign trucks and loaders, monitor machine health and schedule maintenance, and track production targets, among other tasks. Working remotely also keeps mine personnel away from hazardous locations. Remote operations are paving the way to a safer and more productive future for mining.

Stay tuned for part 3 of this series, where we will take forward the discussion on technology innovations that will drive the mine of the future.

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