As 5G networks become more widely available and affordable, the potential benefits for communication and automation in mining are significant. We can expect to see even more innovation and disruption as the mining industry continues to embrace 5G.
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Unleashing the Speed and Capacity of 5G
As the fifth generation of cellular networks, 5G is a major leap forward in the evolution of information technology. It can deliver data speeds 100 times faster than the previous generation of cellular networks, 4G. This next generation translates to greater bandwidth and less latency for devices on the network. Mining is just one of the countless industries expected to be revolutionized by adopting 5G.
The ongoing and rapid adoption of 5G in the mining industry is happening globally, with major players like Huawei and Cisco leading the way. One of the more prominent 5G mining projects has been creating an “intelligent” diamond mine in China, resulting from a partnership between Huawei and the state-owned Shaanxi Coal Group.
Using 5G, cloud computing, and AI technologies, the mine has more than 2,700 sets of interconnected equipment, producing 170 million pieces of data daily.
According to a press release posted by Bloomberg, this information is being used to create digital models, inform decision-making, and develop new applications with the help of "zero-code" development tools. One key result has been 18% fewer workers laboring underground.
Enhancing Communication and Collaboration
One of the most essential benefits of 5G adoption in mining has been the use of modern communication tools in underground mines that are common in other industries. For example, 5G allows video calls between a control center and underground operations.
Adopting 5G is probably the most valuable regarding communication among machines. Modern mining operations have thousands of sensors capturing data, and the ability to leverage this data is essential to a mine’s productivity and safety. By enhancing communication, the adoption of 5G will transform a mining operation’s ability to make use of this data to develop new insights and foster collaboration.
Intelligent mine technology already generates insights on equipment performance, operations, mine geology, and environmental impact. For example, the Australia-based Newcrest Mining Company uses sensor data at its Cadia Valley mine to build predictive maintenance models, allowing teams to proactively prevent equipment breakdowns. According to International Mining, leveraging mine data saved Newcrest Mining more than $50 million in 2018.
Automation and Remote Operations
Despite technological advances in recent years, mining operations rely on humans for physical mining operations and data collection. There is a massive opportunity, made possible by 5G and AI, to automate mundane tasks and allow workers to spend their time on more valuable activities. For instance, 5G allows for the real-time video monitoring of belt conveyors that AI could analyze to detect quality or safety issues. If the AI detects an issue, it can trigger an alarm.
5G is also powering automated drill rigs capable of moving along a predefined path and performing repetitive tasks. For jobs that do not have a predefined path, cameras sending real-time video allow human operators to remotely operate a rig.
At the Boliden Atik copper mine in northern Sweden, five rigs recently retrofitted with autonomous features are poised to boost annual hours of operation from 5,000 to 7,000, according to Ericsson.
This additional automation also decreases the need for labor, staff transportation inside the mine, service stations, and parking. The mining operation is also capable of increasing the number of blasts through the use of rig automation.
These improvements eliminate human workers, exposing fewer people to dangerous conditions and heavy machinery.
Safety and Environmental Benefits
Due to the nature of the work, mining operations put people in harm's way. Many of today’s mining initiatives are focused on increasing safety by decreasing the presence of human workers.
5G is critical in this effort to increase safety by increasing automation. It also allows for more real-time information about potentially dangerous situations. This gives operators more opportunities to prevent accidents and act quickly in response to an emergency situation. For example, deploying 5G in the Phalanndwa Colliery coal mine in South Africa has enabled the command center to better identify gas overflows and other dangerous circumstances. According to Forbes, the network also helps the center quickly initiate shutdown and other safety procedures,
Overcoming Challenges and Future Prospects
One of the mining industry's most significant technical challenges is bringing various systems and platforms together. Many mining operations use dozens or hundreds of different devices and systems. Often, each platform has its own data formats and hardware. Few industry standards concerning interoperability make it difficult for different platforms to be used together.
Mining prospects largely depend on leaders' ability to establish standard interoperability protocols. In one promising development, Huawei recently launched an operating system that unifies device languages in a way that streamlines operations. By lowering the friction in data sharing, the Huawei system improves communication among machines and humans. Powered by 5G, future developments in this area will undoubtedly unlock even more communication and automation.
Continue Reading: Tracking Underground Miners More Efficiently with Smart Technology
References and Further Reading
Bora, A. (2023, August 22). How 5G is Empowering Mining Operations. Forbes Business Council. https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesbusinesscouncil/2023/08/22/how-5g-is-empowering-mining-operations
Ericsson ConsumerLab. (Retrieved 2023 October). A Case Study on Automation in Mining. https://www.ericsson.com/en/reports-and-papers/consumerlab/reports/a-case-study-on-automation-in-mining
Velsaco, P. Mexico Business News. (2023, October 24). 5G, IoT Solutions are Transforming the Mining Industry. https://mexicobusiness.news/mining/news/5g-iot-solutions-are-transforming-mining-industry