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Wireless is the answer to mining connectivity challenges

The harsh nature of a mining environment, along with its nomadic nature, means licensed wireless is the ideal solution for delivering reliable and future-proof connectivity and increased digital benefits.

Johannesburg, 01 Sep 2021
Read time 4min 10sec
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Gary Woolley, Executive: Solutions, Comsol.
Gary Woolley, Executive: Solutions, Comsol.

The nature of the mining industry is such that most mines are situated in more remote regions, leaving them distinctly under-serviced in terms of internet capacity and the ability to provide decent communications within the mining campus, and in turn, back to their head office, suppliers and customers.

When one looks at these twin challenges, suggests Gary Woolley, executive for solutions at Comsol, it is easy to see the twofold importance for wireless connectivity. For one thing, he says, wireless is great both from the perspective of connecting the entire site and with respect to providing the last mile access into the cloud.

“Within a mine’s campus, it is important to have robust solutions in place to enable the IT and communications to operate effectively. Remember these are hot, dusty and harsh environments, so choosing the right solution is critical. While there are a plethora of these products and solutions available, it is imperative to choose ones with the right IP rating to withstand the mine’s tough conditions,” he says.

“The advantage of wireless here is that it is a simple matter to enable it to reach anywhere on the complex. When one considers the moveable nature of certain mining operations, the fact that wireless is also nomadic and can be set up or moved to wherever the mine operations have shifted to, is another huge plus.”

Woolley adds that a wireless network allows anything on a mine to not only be connected reliably, but to be connected quickly, especially when compared to other technologies like fibre. Because of this, wireless networks are also driving the increasing adoption of  the internet of things (IOT) and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies.

“Any mine that seeks to improve its operational efficiencies, wishes to reduce safety, health, environment and quality (SHEQ) incidents, or merely wishes to boost productivity can hardly go wrong with a wireless implementation.

“That is not to say fibre would not be useful for a mine, but the challenge comes from both the installation process – digging trenches in areas that are often busy – and the fact that it is fixed to certain areas and ultimately needs WiFi for the last mile anyway.”

In the case of an open pit mine, continues Woolley, it is necessary to utilise mobile wireless units that can be moved around as and when, for example, blasting happens. The nomadic nature of such mining means these mobile units are perfectly suited for maintaining connectivity.

“Such units are also able to fill in any gaps on the campus where there may be no coverage. Remember that in an open pit, there are always massive vehicles moving around that need to be constantly connected from a safety perspective. More than this, it is important not only to be able to track these vehicles, but also to connect applications, on-board cameras and vehicle detection systems,” he indicates.

“Moreover, if it can help with monitoring the safety of these huge trucks, imagine how easily it can help increase productivity through the monitoring of everything from conveyor belts to vehicle transport routes, to preventative maintenance for any major equipment. An effective wireless canopy will even assist with non-mining systems like security and CCTV cameras.”

He notes that we are now witnessing the increasing automation of mines, with autonomous machines using wireless technologies to link the machine to the control room. This approach, he adds, mitigates the risk of people getting injured by reducing risk, while also saving lives and improving efficiencies and productivity.

“Ultimately, however, the implementation of a wireless network is about more than just saving lives and money – as important as those are – but also about being cleverer with how you use technology. Think about a future where analytics is leveraged to analyse information in real-time to help determine where to drill or mine next.

“Finally, it should be noted that a good wireless implementation is about more than just having the right technologies and fitting them together properly. It is just as crucial to talk to right people who understand the technology and know these harsh environments intimately. It is vital to choose the right partner – that way you are not only guaranteed to have the right technology implemented, in the right places across your mine, but also assured that it is all backed up by a watertight SLA,” concludes Woolley.

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