Digital transformation of mines webinar: answering the questions of IT and transformation leaders in mines
Digitization is a major opportunity for the mining sector, promising new levels of operational safety and efficiency through the addition of Internet of Things (IoT) and industrial IoT (IIoT) platforms to standard operational technology (OT). But it’s also a realm with a wide array of technology options, with connectivity alone encompassing standards such as Long-Term Evolution (LTE) and Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) plus low-power wide-area network (LPWAN) protocols such as LoRa (Long Range).
To help make sense of the options available to digital mining operations, IIoT leader Worldsensing and mining giant Vale hosted a webinar on how to leverage IoT technology to advance your mine’s IT strategy. This post covers some of the questions that were left unanswered at the end of the session, with replies from Worldsensing’s director of products, Bernat Trias, and CTO, Albert Zaragoza.
How effective is wireless monitoring in underground mines? Do you only do solutions for tailings dams?
Bernat: Worldsensing’s wireless monitoring system, Loadsensing, features nodes which are ruggedized and have been tested in temperatures ranging from -40ºC to +80ºC, so they can withstand harsh environments such as underground mines. Although we have a lot of deployments in tailings dams, Loadsensing nodes can read multi-point borehole extensometers, pressure cells and other frequently used sensors for underground monitoring. The Loadsensing laser distance meter node can be particularly useful for convergence monitoring. Loadsensing may also be used as a last-mile solution inside deep galleries. The nodes wirelessly send data to gateways underground that are connected to fiber-optic points used for machinery control and cameras, in order to transmit the data to the surface. We are open to projects to test the depth limits of our monitoring system and understand how ambient conditions may impact the network quality in deep underground mines.
What do you think is the biggest benefit of long-range wireless for the mining industry?
Bernat: The main benefits of long-range wireless monitoring include increased efficiency because mines don’t need to perform tedious manual monitoring, cost savings versus manual and cable monitoring workforce safety because the mining staff doesn’t need to take readings in perilous areas and risk management because of the real-time data and alerts that the monitoring system may provide.
How do you contract the maintenance of solutions? Do you have examples where clients purchase a solution and maintain it themselves, or does Worldsensing supply end-to-end solutions?
Albert: Worldsensing works with over 200 partners around the world who take care of all the installation and maintenance needs for our customers. If you are a big company that would like to self-maintain, you may contact us here.
Do you have experience gathering technology from different devices? In other words, to integrate all that technology?
Albert: We have experience integrating loads of geotechnical sensors in different locations and have a product ready to integrate data and ingest data to and from third-party systems. Click here for an infographic showing some of the sensors that we can connect to in a tailings dam.
What is the cost per sensor using LoRa and how does it compare to LTE or GSM?
Bernat: The cost per sensor using LoRa is relatively lower compared to regular LTE and GSM primarily because of the low power consumption of LoRa devices and the associated connectivity fees, if any.
We may help you evaluate the investment for your specific use case or project. Just get in touch with us here…
Article courtesy of our partners and friends at Worldsensing
Australian based geotechnical monitoring group Geomotion, has successfully come to a heads of agreement with SkyGeo for their cutting edge InSAR satellite monitoring technology to be used in Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, Myanmar and Indonesia.
Geomotion sees InSAR as complementary to existing instrumentation, not as a replacement, working so well together to offer their clients information that has previously been nearly impossible to obtain
InSAR stands for Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar and is a proven technique for measuring ground movements. Satellites record images of the Earth, and these images can be combined to measure movements of the ground surface.
InSAR is particularly useful for monitoring dynamic position changes. InSAR’s broad spectrum of impressive features allow for a new depth of insight for projects. A large number of measurements and weekly updates provide a detailed insight in the slope and speed of subsidence. A sudden drop of a small area might be a reason for local inspection. Wider gradual subsidence tells a different story.
InSAR allows for possible millimetre accuracy, measurements of areas as small as 100m2 up to 10,000km2 and up to 100,000 measurements per km2. Additionally, the data archive goes back to 1992 and covers 70% of the Earth’s land, meaning in some cases it is possible to have data dating back up to 25 years.
InSAR presents viable and important solutions across many industries, including Mining Stability, Tailings Dam Stability, Civil Engineering and Energy, including oil and gas projects both onshore and offshore.
Mining stability monitoring is a service to provide persistent geotechnical risk surveillance to identify areas of abnormal surface movement over time. Mines need to be up and running 24/7 and Geomotion helps achieve that goal by identifying instabilities early. By assessing time-dependent shape changes in InSAR data, geotechnical domain experts can identify patterns of instabilities.
This is a direct pathway to improve asset management in mining operations. Combined with strategically placed geotechnical or structural instrumentation a comprehensive monitoring plan is established.
Each mine has several areas of high geotechnical risk, that each require dedicated iterative assessment. Tailings dams pose a special category of risk. Because of environmental issues in the recent past, most mining experts are now looking for continuous monitoring systems to predict instability better. Solid tailings are often used as part of the structure itself and with the tailings being liquid or a slurry of fine particles within groundwater, significant instabilities arise in a variety of ways that are usually not completely understood. With InSAR, Geomotion can help with this understanding. We characterise and quantify these time-dependent degradation processes on a wide area scale and identify different dynamic patterns. Monitoring these patterns continuously is a proven permanent risk management method.
Geomotion/SkyGeo JV configures InSAR monitoring solutions for their clients, each with a graph of deformation over time. Risk management practitioners use this for predictive maintenance. Geomotion/SkyGeo JV monitors subsidence for many civil engineering projects in this way including roads, railways, dams, bridges, tunnels, airports, pipelines, neighbourhoods, sewage systems, buildings and water defence.
InSAR technology is available from the Geomotion/Skygeo JV now. Enquiries regarding how InSAR can benefit your project can be made today by contacting Geomotion’s offices on 1300 884 542 or click here to send an email. Alternatively, use the form below and a Geomotion representative will get in touch with you soon.
Failures of tailings dams are one of the most hazardous processes that may occur and can cause extensive damage to life, property, and health. The mining industry has experienced several significant dam failures in recent history: Merriespruit 1994 (South Africa), Omai 1994 (Guyana), Aznalcollar 1998 (Spain), Baia Mare 2000 (Rumania), Aitik 2000 (Sweden), Bento Rodrigues 2015 (Brazil) and recently in Mexico (2018). Historical records of tailings dam failure are of about 20 events per decade, showing a tendency to shift from developed countries to developing countries.
For decades, tailings dams have been monitored via manual monitoring systems. This typically involves selected spots along the barrage, where boreholes are drilled and periodically visited. Here, manual measurements are taken with a variety of instruments, mostly consisting of water level meters, piezometers, or inclinometers. However, this kind of measurement does not produce sufficient data to consistently measure the performance of the embankment dam if sporadic readings are collected manually. As such, some failures of dams can be attributed both to the combined effect of rapid dike construction and to poor maintenance and monitoring – usually through wired and/or manual means. Below are some reasons why a wireless monitoring system is a key tool for the safety management of the embankments.
1. Improves knowledge of the most critical potential failure mechanisms
It is important to identify the main cause of failings in order to plan better and to implement the correct measures to stop them.
Tailings dam failures can originate from overloads, anomalous behavior of the material used to build the dam (normally tailings), or from problems with the drainage mechanisms, which result in an increase of pore water pressure, and therefore a loss of resistance.
They can also result from other things, like poor monitoring systems, for instance. With manual or wired in-situ readings, operators do not have sufficient amounts of data to gain a clearer picture of the main factors playing a role in failure mechanisms. This massively increases risks in and around tailings dams, as those supervising the area cannot predictively act in order to stop potential failures. The amount of data and regularity with which it is collected through wireless monitoring solutions provides a solid basis for a correct risk analysis, and for building risk-potential models. This is key for long-term risk-planning and for understanding critical failure mechanisms.
2. Detects situations that are likely to trigger a failure of the dam
Real-time data-gathering means that operators have continuous knowledge of the dam’s status. It also means that they can very quickly build “normative” models of how the dam should be behaving, meaning that any anomalies are flagged up as soon as they occur. This allows operators to detect situations that are likely to trigger a failure of the dam – such as water level exceeding a certain limit, or acceleration of horizontal displacements in depth – and to respond preemptively to these situations.
As such, wireless monitoring systems permit for the implementation of corrective measures as soon as possible, preferably before any kind of incident can take place.
This is key not only to reducing risk and saving human lives but also to a business’ profit margins. Post-incident remedial action and the downtime of the dam cost significantly more than predictive maintenance activities.
3. Serves as a tool for designing the dam’s growth
Accumulated data-sets gathered through wireless monitoring devices are key to the successful future planning of the dam’s growth. Rather than create a growth strategy based on historical memory and previous actions, with a wireless monitoring solution, operators can use solid data to implement models that show the future probable status of the dam and its environs, and allow them to plan more accurately for any possible future changes and incidents within the context of its growth.
As part of an Operational Intelligence solution, wireless monitoring data can also be used to create “digital twins” or parts of the dam, or the whole site, in order to virtually model future actions in a “videogame” version of the environment.
Either way, wireless monitoring means that the risk of future failures and incidents is significantly reduced, through using the most scientific methods possible to calculate future risk potential.
4. Provides a sound basis for the establishment and implementation of the proper response in case of a failure involving human hazards
Equipped with the ability to model future incidents and predictively respond, operators can establish set responses to particular incidents that regularly happen, and set up crisis contingency plans in the case of an emergency.
This is all enabled through the constant relay of precise data about the status of different parts of the tailings dam.
For example, wireless nodes transmitting data from water level meters and inclinometers installed on boreholes enable periodic controls. Piezometric sensors provide information regarding the pore water pressure, and the measurement of the ground displacement in depth is automated by an in-place inclinometer which allows operators to measure the horizontal displacement on depth. Waste management gauges, which measure the water level in the dam or settlement cells to monitor the settlement processes of the walls and surroundings, are also crucial here. Moreover, meteorological stations measure variables such as rainfall and wind speed and are critical in terms of allowing operators to consider and plan for new climatic scenarios – especially in the context of climate change and increasingly erratic weather patterns. Again, this allows for predictive and early-stage responses to any potential anomalies that arise, massively reducing the risk of incidents occurring.
5. Provides long-term monitoring with very little maintenance
A monitoring system that is both long-term and low-maintenance is absolutely critical for tailings dam environments.
Manual maintenance of sensors and data-loggers – and more – is in itself incredibly risky, meaning that maintenance of a monitoring solution must be minimal.
This requires durability so that equipment can survive in sometimes very harsh physical conditions; longevity of battery life, so that equipment does not need to be placed frequently; and long-distance transmittance, so that it can continuously relay data from difficult, hard to reach environments over long periods of time. Depending on the system used, the long-range communication between the gateway and the dataloggers in most wireless monitoring systems allows for a distance of up to 9 miles or 15 km between the gateway and the data-loggers in an optimal situation. In the context of a mine, this means that, by placing the gateway in the mine’s central office, almost any point of the mine where a sensor is placed can be reached, meaning that no manual readings ever need to take place. Embedded, long-life batteries make remote data acquisition systems autonomous for up to 10 years, enhancing the maintenance cycles of the monitoring system. This massively reduces risks as equipment rarely fails, meaning continuous, accurate readings for years. In turn, this decreases potential downtime and means that there is no need to manually maintain the monitoring system.
Wireless monitoring is realistically the only way to properly monitor tailings dams to prevent and manage failures. Many mining and damming companies still rely on manual or wired in-situ readings as part of their core instrumentation and monitoring processes. This is problematic as tailings dam failures are incredibly dangerous – indeed they threaten lives – but manual monitoring systems do not give sufficient amounts of data to allow the situation on the ground to be monitored consistently or frequently enough to prevent this kind of incident from happening. Moreover, wired in-situ monitoring systems – using cables, for example – are vulnerable to physical damage over time. It is hard and expensive work to protect the cables, and they require a wired centralized acquisition system that relies on external power supply (solar kit or electricity).
Wireless monitoring systems eliminate all of these problems, providing a real-time, continuous flow of data enabled through reliable, long-distance, low-energy and low-maintenance technologies. The flexibility and longevity of this kind of system fit well with an embankment dam and its raises. Crucially, wireless data acquisition systems can transmit readings from in-ground sensors that measure the cause of any potential anomalies, not only the effect, as is often the case with other instrumentation and monitoring systems. Measuring the cause allows for the implementation of early, preventative actions if any anomalous performance of key variables is detected. Transmitting data from all these different sensors means that all site areas are covered and hazards are therefore reduced. This comprehensive monitoring system is thus indispensable to any tailings dam company, significantly reducing the risk of failure onsite through producing actionable insights that allow operators to make better, evidence-based decisions.
Article courtesy of Worldsensing
Premier Coal is situated in the Collie Coal Basin in the South West of Western Australia,
approximately 200km south-south-east of Perth. The mining operations are about 15km east of the town of Collie, which is situated in the jarrah forests of WA.
Premier Coal Mine produces a clean coal with low ash and sulphur content such that it does not need to be washed and requires only crushing, sizing and blending prior to use. The coal handling equipment installed at the Premier Coal Mine is very effective. The system has been designed to supply coal in a very consistent way so that there are no variations in quality.
The coal handling plant consists of a crusher, screening plant, stockpile stacker, reclaimer and delivering system for Premier’s customers, either by conveyor, rail or truck.
As part of Premier’s open cut pit monitoring, over 29 piezometers were installed in 11 locations across the area. Previously, the data was collected manually by site personnel.
Geomotion proposed the Loadsensing G6 Data Logging system to automate the collection process, including a 5-channel node at each location and a centralised gateway. The data is presented directly in Premier’s data management software.
This system fully automates the collection and presentation of piezometer readings, ensuring the data available for analysis is kept up to date at all times.
January’s fatal tailings dam collapse at Vale SA’s Corrego do Feijao mine has sent the global mining industry once again scrambling to check the integrity of its tailings management systems.
The January 26 tailings dam collapse at the Corrego do Feijao mine near the town of Brumadinho, in Minas Gerais, killed more than 300 people and came just four years after the Samarco tailings collapse in the same state became Brazil’s worst environmental disaster and also killed 19 people.
Brazi’s mining regulator ordered Vale to suspend operations at its Fabrica and Vargem Grande complexes immediately after the Brumadinho disaster.
In a statement, Vale said the mining regulator ordered the suspension in light of the possible failure of five dams at the mining sites in the interior state of Minas Gerais. Since then, both authorities and mining companies have stepped up scrutiny of so-called upstream dams, which have been subject to multiple high-profile failures in recent years.
In a statement, Vale said it was abiding by the regulator’s decision but was asking the body for permission to dismantle the dams, while continuing some operations at the mine, “which would bring about limited impacts on production”.
The miner did not offer an estimate on how much production likely would be lost. However, the company had previously planned to maintain operations at Fabrica via dry mining, which eliminates the need for upstream dams. The company estimated that plan would result in 3mt of lost production in 2019.
“The cost of the wireless monitoring makes more sense than a couple of employees driving around different locations, taking measurements every few months. It eliminates errors, increases safety in remote locations and reduces costs because it is less labour-intensive,” - Kim Malcolm, Geomotion
Minas Gerais is still recovering from the 2015 Samarco collapse which buried a village and poured toxic waste into a major river.
Vale chief executive Fabio Schvartsman said the dam that burst was being decommissioned and its capacity was about a fifth of the total waste spilled at Samarco.
Schvartsman said there had not been any recent construction around the dam and apologised without taking responsibility in a television interview.
“Apologies to society, apologies to you, apologies to the whole world for what has happened,” he said. “I don’t know who is responsible, but you can be sure we’ll do our part.”
The disaster prompted the world’s largest miners to announce risk reviews of their tailings facilities.
BHP Ltd, which was Vale’s JV partner in Samarco, said it had “significantly increased the rigour of its assessment and management” of tailings since 2015, including a risk review which resulted in more than 400 actions being assigned to company assets.
“These actions are 93% complete, with the remaining actions considered low priority such as administrative actions and long-lead items regarding closure and climate change impacts. None of these actions is overdue,” the company said in a statement on February 19.
Rio Tinto Ltd – which has 100 active tailing facilities and a further 36 closed or under rehabilitation – said its tailings facilities were subject to three levels of governance and assurance.
“In August 2015, Rio Tinto introduced a standard for management of tailings and water storage facilities in order to ensure all our managed facilities are operated in accordance with one global standard,” chief executive J-S Jacques said. “In light of this tragic event, Rio Tinto is again reviewing its global standard and, in particular, assessing how we can further strengthen the existing audit of facilities.”
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the disaster is how late Vale was in recognising the dangers.
Schvartsman said equipment had shown the dam was stable on January 10 and it was too soon to say why it collapsed. However, according to Geomotion Australia managing director Kim Malcolm, modern instrumentation and software allow for real-time monitoring of tailings facilities.
“In the past it was prohibitive to have real-time monitoring because of all the cabling required but now wireless data loggers are readily available; there was never previously anything available that could do that,” he said.
Geomotion works with a number of major miners in Australia including Rio Tinto, South32 Ltd and Newmont Australia providing geotechnical and structural instrumentation and asset monitoring. Malcolm said the days of having just a few sensors on a tailings dam, intermittently monitored by hand were rapidly ending.
“The cost of the wireless monitoring makes more sense than a couple of employees driving around different locations, taking measurements every few months. It eliminates errors, increases safety in remote locations and reduces costs because it is less labour-intensive,” he said.
Software such as the Mission Monitoring operating system also allows companies to anticipate problems as well as alerting them to impending spills.
“It is less about the alarms but about the constant, real-time review,” Malcolm said. “It allows you to see the trends well before anything happens.”
The web-based software could also present opportunities for companies to better relate their tailings management to affected communities.
“The software is designed so alarms are set up on individual smart phones,” Malcolm said. “It allows companies to select who has access to the alarms and they can even present the monitoring data on open websites to ensure their management has a more public-facing interface.”
– Dominic Piper - Australia's Paydirt (March 2019)
A NSW goldmine forced to shut down for three months last year after an earthquake has again halted operations following a dam wall breach.
The wall of a tailings dam at the Cadia mine, about 20km south of Orange, partially collapsed on Friday after there were two magnitude 2.7 earthquakes in the region on Thursday.
Its operator Newcrest Mining says there is no threat to personal safety and it has secured the area around the dam.
A "comprehensive geotechnical monitoring system" was implemented, the company said on Saturday.
The material involved, which was contained within the southern dam, was described as "a slurry of finely ground rock, water and a low level of benign processing re-agents".
The mine was forced to shut down after it was hit by a magnitude 4.3 earthquake in April 2017 and didn't return to partial production until July, causing a huge hit to the company's first-half profit.
Source: The West Australian (AAP)
Geomotion have been commissioned to supply and install geotechnical instrumentation for the Waste Fines Storage Facility Project at Hope Downs 4 DSP Pit.
The Hope Downs 4 (HD4) mine is an iron ore mine located in the Pilbara region of Western Australia, 100 kilometres northwest of Newman. The mine is partly owned and operated by Rio Tinto Iron Ore (RTIO) and is one of twelve iron ore mines the company operates in the Pilbara.
UON’s client RTIO required an increase in capacity to the mining site's current waste fines facilities, necessary to continue plant operations. The works involved supply, install and construct the piping and waste fines facilities infrastructure including geotechnical monitoring equipment, relocation of existing infrastructure inclusive of the removal and replacement of HV and fibre optic cable, pumping equipment and an extension to the piping facilities inclusive of trenching earthworks.
The geotechnical monitoring system used the proven Vibrating Wire (VW) Technology on Piezometers and Pressure Cells running below ground conduit excavation along the pit bench attached to Load Sensing VW Node Dataloggers inside two Terminal Boxes located at the pit surface for remote monitoring.
The VW Piezometers were installed in 20L buckets filled with saturated waste fines slurry to measure and monitor pore water pressures. The VW Pressure Cells were installed on 500x200mm blinding concrete plinths, backfilled with waste fines, to determine the distribution, magnitude and directions of total soil pressure. The design will be used to monitor and control placement of ﬁll and essentially provide adequate warning of excess soil pressures into the operational life of the pit structure.
Geomotion recently completed the establishment of a complete remote monitoring solution for South32 at its Worsley Alumina refinery near Collie. The system draws on data from piezometers spread over 5km across the site.
Manual monitoring of piezometers across the site was a lengthy process usurping a significant amount of man hours to ensure the safety of the plant infrastructure. With the new system implemented by Geomotion Australia, data is updated daily on a web based data management platform, with the ability to increase read frequency during critical periods. It allows up to date monitoring, comparison to weather events or pumping activity on site, and offers a comprehensive yet accessible review and report functions.
The Loadsensing G6 data logging system allows up to 10 years power autonomy, yet maximum coverage across the site. With a single Gateway positioned at the site communications tower, the site is covered for monitoring of tailings dams across the facility. Maxwell Geosystem’s Mission Monitor powers the data management and reporting functions.
The project follows the successful implementation of over thirty G6 data loggers across the Illawarra Region with Geosensing Solutions on behalf of South32.
To declare that the scale of MINExpo is humongous doesn’t even begin to paint a full picture of the event. With over 1,900 exhibitors taking up more than 840,000 sq.ft, of exhibitor space in the Las Vegas Convention Center, the enormity in terms of raw numbers is evident, but that scale goes beyond those numbers. It’s fairly safe to say the show brings together the people, tools and expertise from every corner of the mining industry.
Those tools are what ended up being the most monumental aspect of the event though, as the bulldozers, excavators, mining trucks and more overpowered the entire space. Even the small pieces of equipment showcase a size that is as impressive as it is astounding, and it’s impossible to not think about the logistics around how these tools are actually utilised. Granted, I’m sure that most of the attendees don’t have those same feelings about tools they use on a daily basis, but it’s clear they’re captivated by what they can see and experience at the event in a different way.
I wanted to find out what sort of feelings drones were compelling in this audience, and while UAVs certainly didn’t take centre stage, it was interesting to see how both exhibitors and attendees view and think of the technology. A number of the developments and happenings that were on display at MINExpo 2016 will no doubt influence the future of how UAVs will be used in the mining industry, and with companies like Airware making a serious investment in this market, I thought I’d try to get a sense of where things are now and where they’re headed.
Getting a Literal Feel for the Industry
While I could further elaborate about the significance of standing next to machines that weigh up to and over 1.38 million lbs, the fact that such things have that kind of prominence at MINExpo is what’s especially noteworthy. The event makes it easy to see and understand that mining professionals want to get a sense for what a particular piece of equipment looks like, and even what it feels like to handle or touch that equipment. The necessity of that tactile sensation was especially apparent with drone technology.
I watched a few different attendees come by the RDO Integrated Control booth to touch and hold a few products from senseFly. Their eBee and albris units were both on full display and more than one attendee made it a point to stop and pick up the unit to see how much it weighed and what it felt like to physically handle. Various comments were then made about it being smaller than they envisioned. Clearly, the expectations some had built up around what the technology looked and felt like did not line up with reality.
Similarly, attendees were curious about how something as small as the DJI Matrice 100 could make much of an impact in the sort of environments attendees are used to working in. Would something like that hold up when flying through the debris and other commotion of an active mining project? After getting a better sense of the drone’s capabilities, which include universal power and communication ports, the fully programmable nature of the drone and its’ enhanced GPS, attendees went on to ask far more specific questions that would help them solve specific issues on a given project. Naturally, that was after picking up the drone and seeing what it felt like for themselves.
It’s clear that mining professionals have expectations around equipment they can use on a project, and at least some of those expectations are based on how these tools actually look and feel to the professionals who will be using them. A more widespread embrace of drones in this market might just be a matter of literally getting a UAV in the hands of more people.
The Industry is Both Creating and Embracing New Technology
There are always challenges when it comes to embracing change, and that’s as much due to people as it is to technology. A certain approach or tool is seen by an organisation or even an entire industry as the way things are done, and changing that can be difficult. That was part of the reason it was so encouraging to see that new technology is not only being embraced by mining professionals, but these changes are being driven by powerful concepts and relevant needs.
VR technology was showed off in various booths, including the Trimble booth where attendees were able to step into a virtual mine. The technology is designed to showcase the concept of the connected mine, which connects data from all over a mining project with the people who are making critical decisions. The concept of the connected mine wasn’t limited to the Trimble booth though, and neither was the VR Oculus Technology, which was being used by various companies to show attendees everything from how their equipment could be utilised to conducting training programs.
The embrace of these new tools and technologies certainly extends to drones, and the development of something completely new that is driven by a market need is personified by the RIEGL RICOPTER. As one of the leading providers of LiDAR scanners and scanning systems, the company hadn’t been looking to develop a drone, but became the first to offer a fully integrated, survey grade LiDAR UAV solution based upon the fact there was no perfectly suited carrier for RIEGL’s VUX-1 LiDAR sensor available on the market. The RICOPTER has, since introduction in 2014, offered the market a complete solution that fits a specific need for mining professionals, which includes the necessary sensors, UAV platform, and accompanying software from one single manufacturer.
Tools like the Vapor 55 are also important to mention when it comes to the creation of a relevant new technology, especially in terms of how it can be utilized since it’s payload agnostic. The advantages of the helicopter model start with the additional safety aspects along with being built for dangerous environments like a mine, but the autonomous auto-rotation feature is what really sets it apart.
These are the kinds of concepts and tools that have already changed the mining industry in countless ways, but it was clear professionals across this sector are both ready and willing to take a closer look at what it will mean to leverage such things.
Disruption at Different Scales via Various Products
A few of the education sessions at MINExpo focused on how things are developing in different markets and with technology in a very general sense, but it’s clear that changes in both of these areas have caused disputation in the mining industry that continues to make waves. Sessions dealt with various topics that included, “Maintenance,” “Research”, “Automation” and “Underground Mining”, but the info shared in each went into far more detail than is indicated by the session titles.
The “Markets” session featured a presentation and discussion as participants talked through how the mining sector has been fundamentally reshaped, and in that process has become more volatile and more vulnerable. Revenues and the EBITA of the global mining community were also showcased, as well as some numbers that detailed how the growth in certain regions was exceptionally fast, and why that won’t be repeated. During “Automation #1” the presenters worked to show what kind of change the industrial Internet will drive but made sure to highlight where automation will play a role in terms of the impact to safety, productivity and reliability.
Additionally, companies like Hélicéo are driving a different sort of disruption with products like the DroneBox, which can be utilised on a number of different platforms, including a multi-rotor and fixed wing drone. One thing that’s talked about in many different contexts is how drones shouldn’t be thought of as something that can solve every problem on a project but should instead be simply thought of as a tool. Being able to utilise different platforms while capturing the same necessary information will go a long way to helping more people understand that concept.
Disruption is something Delair-Tech has seen with UAV packages that feature up to 200 km range and over 2 hours of endurance, but they’ve seen it in a very different manner, mostly because their customers are already asking to see how things can be further disrupted. The feedback they’ve gotten has been about where UAV technology can go from here, as they’ve used tools like drones and are now trying to assess how to procure additional benefits. It’s one of the reasons Delair-Tech has set up new offices in the United States.
It’s impossible to accurately measure the speed of these kinds of disruptions and how they’re impacting various professionals, but they are absolutely happening in the mining space, and they’re changing the expectations of everyone.
Data and the Connected Mine
The concept of the connected mine is one that came up in terms of VR technology, but it’s also one that companies are trying to make a reality in far more concrete ways. As an example, Topcon’s UAV fixed wing and rotary wing solutions are designed to connect the field and the office in real time. Their intelligent mining solutions include mass haul solutions, surveying and monitoring solutions, aerial imaging solutions, excavation solutions and plenty more.
As pervasive as drones have become, there are still some that wonder about the true benefits of the technology, either because they’re unsure of what UAVs are actually capable of doing, or they don’t understand how they can make a difference. Some of those people were at the event asking such things aloud, but as soon as they saw the data that’s associated with a drone they understood the true benefit. Using data as the starting place allowed them to see that drones aren’t about doing something especially different or unnecessary. They know what it means to capture and uutilisevarious kinds of data, and thinking of drones as an easier or more efficient way of gathering that data is typically the most effective way of talking through the true benefits.
The concept of the connected mine is one most attendees were familiar with, but many struggled with the logistics around actually creating or enabling one, either because of their own internal processes or because they simply didn’t have tools to permit that kind of connectivity. How drones will be part of these connected mines is an open question that likely varies from one organisation to another, and perhaps even from project to project. However, a focus on data and what can be done with that data provides a much more effective starting place in terms of figuring out the right approach and tools.
The Importance of Specificity
MINExpo features countless companies that are selling a single product or variation of that product, with examples ranging from boots to tires. However, there were also plenty of companies that featured massive options and choices, whether they were related to consulting services or heavy machinery. It’s easy to see how companies with that single product are able to be specific with their customers, but the reality is that organisations with those various options can be just as specific. Examples of that specificity were everywhere, but in terms of drone technology, it was especially prevalent in the product that the Rigid Robotics team had to show.
Instead of being a drone company that has created a product to serve the mining sector, Rigid Robotics is a mining organisation that has created a drone. They were showing off their CONDUCTOR platform, which is a tethered unmanned aerial system. The CONDUCTOR is designed to offer specific capabilities that mining organisations will be able to leverage, which are related to persistent surveillance, volumetric measurements, and more. The tether also means the drone does not require downtime in order to refuel or recharge, which solves a major concern that many mining professionals have expressed about the technology.
At the Geoshack booth, Lockheed Martin’s Indago Mapper drone was on display, and representatives talked up how the UAV can collect data and view composite photos showing the progression on a job site. Additionally, Sentera’s Phoenix Mapper fixed-wing drone has a highly reliable, easy-to-use, professional-grade autopilot and intuitive flight-planning process, all of which means that miners can quickly grasp how to actually fly the drone, which is another key issue in terms of adoption.
Regardless of the product, it was clear that the mining professionals here weren’t especially focused on potential or possibility. They wanted to discuss how these tools actually could and would be utilised and those were the specifics exhibitors and attendees talked through in detail.
Drones, Autonomous Mines and the Future
There were only 11 companies listed under the “drone” product category for the event, and a few of those companies seemed confused that they were listed there to begin with. So the technology still has a way to go in terms of adoption. Nonetheless, an informal poll showed that around 70% of the people at the event knew about drones and how they might impact a project, while 10% had either actually used or experimented with using a drone on a project. The interest is clearly there, and with the lengthy Section 333 process no longer serving as a barrier to entry, many people and organizations are open to taking the next step.
In fact, if I had to say, I would guess the reason there weren’t more UAVs and drone companies at the event is because Part 107 only recently went into effect. While some had been counting down the days until it became official, others were fine with waiting to see what would happen. Many of those people who were content to hold out are in the mining industry. With that barrier to entry eliminated, numerous people expressed an interest in drones in a way even they admitted they wouldn’t have done just a couple months ago.
As proof of that sentiment being legitimate, the concept of creating a completely autonomous mine was one that came up in more than one instance. It’s a concept that would see a mining operation taking place in the middle of the Australian Outback, even though the people controlling everything would be located far away from that location, and there wouldn’t actually be anyone working within that mine. All the world would be done autonomously.
Anyone with even a vague notion of that kind of future knows drones will be a major component of this kind of autonomous ecosystem. They’re also aware of the fact that utilizing UAVs today brings the industry a step closer to that eventual dream, which makes it a worthwhile effort in more ways than one.
MINExpo won’t be back until 2020, but you can check out plenty pictures from this year’s event below to get a sense of how drones and various other pieces of equipment are set to make a difference in the interim.
About the Author
Jeremiah Karpowicz is the Executive Editor for Commercial UAV News. He has created articles, videos, newsletters, ebooks and plenty more for various communities as a contributor and editor. He is also the author of a number of industry specific reports that feature exclusive insights and information around how drones are being used in various markets. You can read all of those reports here.
Get in touch with him on Twitter: @jeremiahkarp