While COVID-19 is accelerating mine digitalization, wireless networking will be a key enabler

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In the already volatile and challenging market environment, the COVID-19 restrictions imposed by governments and social distancing rules have forced mining companies to redesign staff rosters, slow down production or put their operations on hold.

Once the corona-crisis is over, mining operators will have to reinvent themselves and adopt new ways of working. In the ‘new normal,’ productivity, efficiency and worker health and safety will be more important than ever. Over the past years, mining operators have started engaging in digital transformation projects, and – as part of an effective response to the pandemic – we can only expect these initiatives to accelerate.

Remote and autonomous operations

Mining companies are pursuing a strategy of extreme autonomy, where all manually operated equipment including diggers, haulers, crushers and trains will eventually be replaced with their autonomous counterparts. Remote operations will further supplement automation, allowing personnel to monitor processes and operate machinery at a distance.

Providing the robust, predictable and secure wireless connectivity that is essential for extreme automation is beyond the capabilities of the many Wi-Fi networks that are currently deployed in mining environments. Today’s 4.9G/LTE, and tomorrow’s 5G private wireless cellular networks, provide the capacity and coverage and reliable, low-latency communications needed to enable upstream video transmissions, sensor data collection or remote control of vehicles and machinery.

Mission-critical communications

As a complement to their current Wi-Fi networks, nearly all mining companies also run separate networks, like TETRA and P25, for critical person-to-person communications.

These legacy technologies can also be fully replaced by the same 4.9G and 5G networks, offering mission-critical Push-to-Talk (PTT) and Push-to-Video (PTV) services. In the hazardous world of mining, a single button-push could make the difference between life and death for workers who have become trapped or confined in an area where they cannot get out.

Situational awareness

Geo-positioning, video surveillance and massive sensing is key to the safety, sustainability and security of future mine operations. To achieve 360-degree situational awareness, the wireless network must be able to meet the excessive bandwidth demands of video cameras across an entire coverage area spanning mine sites, conveyor belts and processing plants. Some of these cameras may be mounted on mobile vehicles or drones. The network must also be able to manage and link thousands of IoT sensors that provide real-time machine health and diagnostics, position reporting, process monitoring and environmental data to telemetry applications.

The network can make or break mine digitalization

CCTV cameras and drones crave true mobile broadband with sufficient capacity. Remote operated vehicles and machinery require low latency. Geo-positioning services need more precise coordinates than GPS. Critical person-to-person communication depends on reliable two-way voice and video. And emerging IoT and analytics applications need to support massive numbers of wearable and non-wearable devices and sensors, while dealing with huge volumes of data. Again, delivering all of these essential capabilities is only possible with today’s 4.9G/LTE and tomorrow’s 5G cellular wireless networks.

Nokia Industrial-Grade Private Wireless, from now to next

At Nokia, we believe that building a state-of-the-art communication network is the best starting point for better decision-making and in bringing greater agility and automation to open pit and underground mining operations. This should, in turn, underpin a connected, digital platform that supports and fosters the development and deployment of new applications and services, from pit to port.

Nokia supports more than 150 enterprises worldwide, of which more than 40 mine sites, have accelerated their digital transformation by deploying our Industrial-grade Private Wireless networks. To make sure our solutions are interoperable and field-tested, we are collaborating with major mining players like Komatsu, Sandvik and NORCAT.

For more information, please visit https://www.nokia.com/networks/industries/mining/

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