Can the IoT revolutionize the mining industry, making it safer and more efficient?

The Internet of Things (IoT) — the term that describes the trend of including an Internet connection in a non-computer-based device — is no longer just a movement associated with Internet-connected wearable health-tracker devices and kitchen appliances. In reality, the IoT is playing a bigger and bigger role in a wide variety of industries today; in fields like insurance, transportation, aviation, education and many, many more. In fact, the IoT has gotten so pervasive that many tech experts have dubbed this age the Era of the Internet of Things.

One industry that the IoT is currently revolutionizing is mining — making the once dangerous, laborious task safer and more efficient than ever.

IoT Implementations for Safety

Mining is undoubtedly an industry that poses health and safety risks to its workers, and one of the most important ways the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) has benefited mining is by improving safety. The below innovations have helped make mines safer places to work.

Autonomous Equipment

The Internet has helped make mines safer by removing them from dangerous situations. Mining companies can now use autonomous, self-driving trucks as a digital strategy to keep humans out of harm’s way. Autonomous trucks can navigate routes through the mine and respond to conditions they encounter. These trucks have an Internet connection, and can be controlled by an operations center miles away. Autonomous mining equipment can also include other self- and remote-controlled vehicles and devices, including:

  • Self-driving trains
  • Remote-controlled bulldozers
  • Remote-controlled excavators
  • Teleoperated bulldozers
  • Teleoperated excavators
  • Wearable Devices

There are now Internet-connected wearable devices that miners can wear on their wrists to make their experience in the mines safer. These devices can both monitor hazardous materials that miners may be exposed to, as well as workers’ exhaustion levels.

Location and Proximity Sensors

The IoT has made mines safer by making location or proximity-sensing technology possible. Now, heavy equipment, which could injure or kill a person in an accident, is often equipped with GPS, radar, video and RF locating technology so that miners can better avoid dangerous situations in the mine.

On-demand Ventilation Systems

One of the reasons that mines can be dangerous for humans is that they’re often filled with contaminants that are hazardous to breathe in. Thus, it’s essential that mines provide fresh air to workers so they remain healthy and unharmed. Today, remotely controlled or on-demand ventilation systems have been created for mines, which make them much healthier environments for workers. On-demand ventilation systems often have automatic technology that can read the amount of contamination in the air and adjust ventilation accordingly. Other Internet-connected ventilation systems allow controllers and monitors to adjust the ventilation manually from a remote control center.

IoT Implementations for Efficiency

Safety is important, but mining is a huge financial industry, and the IoT has proved that it can make mining even more efficient — and profitable. Below are several of the ways that the IoT has made mining a more efficient process.

Equipment Sensors for Predictive Maintenance

The IoT now allows mining equipment to be fitted with sensors that can transmit data about its condition and operational status. Connected sensors can measure and communicate things like:

  • Fluid levels
  • Temperature
  • Contamination
  • Vibrations

This means that companies can now perform maintenance as needed — not based on a routine maintenance schedule. Equipment sensors thus reduce the frequency of maintenance that is performed, as well as maintenance cost.

Fleet Management and Tracking Capabilities

Supervisors can manage teams and equipment by taking advantage of Internet-connected tracking devices. The IoT allows managers to oversee where trucks are located and what they are doing to ensure that all equipment and people are in the right place at the right time. Companies can use tracking to save money; Essar, a company that mines steel, started tracking its entire fleet of 3,700 vehicles, and now saves 5 percent on vehicle maintenance and 10 percent on fuel costs annually.

Visualization Software

Many businesses are taking advantage of the massive amounts of data the IoT collects and investing in big data visualization to drive business decisions. However, in mines, the Internet can help companies visualize actual physical spaces. Mines are gigantic places. For some perspective, the Kennecott Copper Mine (also called the Bingham Canyon Mine), which is the world’s largest copper mine, is 2.25 miles wide and 0.75 miles deep. The sheer size of mines to plan, lay out, navigate and control. Luckily, the IoT has helped planners, supervisors, geologists, drill-and-blast teams do their jobs more effectively using software that can actively create a 3D map of a mine using data from equipment sensors and Geographical Information Systems (GIS). This 3D map can help specialists optimize the layout of the mine, plant its vehicle paths and more, which ensures the most efficient and safest operations possible.

Mining Meets the 21st Century

Because mining has been considered a hazardous and laborious process, it was long thought of as the antithesis to a forward-thinking field — especially in terms of technology. In the past, mines tended to be operated carefully and conservatively. However, thanks to the growth of the IoT, this oft-held association is changing, and mining companies are undergoing a digital transformation — realizing that they can benefit from stepping forward into the future and using internet connected technology to benefit their business. By offering a safety boost, additional annual revenue and more, the Internet of Things has proven to be an important and profitable improvement in the way that the mining and metals industries operate.