As mines move towards becoming ‘smarter’ and more automated, the Internet of Things (IoT) has become a commonly mentioned topic in the mining industry, even called the basis of the modern mining sector. It helps smart mines run and benefits mining operations. However, while there are many pros to IoT, there are also some cons.
The Internet of Things is among many other technologies that are transforming the mining sector, which is on a mission to improve the health and safety of workers in mines as well as mining sustainability.
There are examples of where IoT is used across various industries and areas of life, and over time it has seeped into the mining industry as not only a useful technology but a necessary one for the future of mining.
What is the Internet of Things?
The Internet of Things uses the internet to work. It broadly refers to thexte internet connection to any physical device and everyday object that can be turned on and off, like a mobile phone or laptop. Most devices that work with IoT are part of daily life.
IoT enables us to control devices remotely, and enables devices to interact with one another and exchange information – some say it gives devices a ‘soul’.
Examples of IoT devices
- Home devices such as geysers and even certain cooking appliances are sometimes embedded with hardware that connects to the internet, so you can turn them on and off remotely through your smartphone or sometimes even through voice control
- Security systems for the home, or for commercial or industrial sites
- Motion sensors for picking up vibrations in structures like buildings that may signal structural problems
- AR glasses (Augmented Reality glasses) have screens on the lenses on which the wearer can see 3D animations overlaid with the real world.
Examples of how IoT is used in the mining industry
- Augmented Reality devices and glasses as well as sensors and security systems also all come into play in mines and mining training
- Equipment that operates with AI and automation, such as automated drills and trucks in mine tunnels
- Devices for monitoring air ventilation and air toxicity and pollution levels in underground mines
- Tracking, gathering and sending of data from devices around the mines
- Assessments of data inputs taken from internet-connected devices that AI uses to make predictions – useful for exploration as well as mine safety measures and more.
Benefits and drawbacks
The major pros of IoT in the mining sector
The applications of the Internet of Things in the mining sector and within mines are endless and in this way, it provides many benefits in the industry, such as the following:
1. Enhances efficiency
The ability of the Internet of Things to collect masses of real-time data on all aspects of mines’ operations means this data can then be analysed using Artificial Intelligence and machine learning, which AI then uses to make predictions and recommendations for miners, such as reserves for exploration. This makes exploration and other parts of the mining process more streamlined, saving time and improving results.
2. Improves health and safety in mines
IoT plays a key part in mining safety. It has tonnes of possible uses that can help protect the health and safety of employees working in mines, especially underground mines which are known for being risky environments to work in.
Enabling real-time tracking of air ventilation and levels of hazardous fumes is just one example. IoT can also help miners to monitor the mines for vibrations that may indicate structural weaknesses or that give a warning a tunnel is about to cave in.
IoT systems can also be used to keep an eye on groundwater levels around underground mines and send warnings if these get too high.
Not only does IoT monitor real-time goings-on that may endanger miners’ health and safety, but it gives miners the ability to predict future dangers.
And of course, IoT makes it possible to use automated vehicles for operations in place of sending humans into underground tunnels in such vehicles.
3. Enables the tracking of workers’ health
This is an extension of health and safety in mining but on an individual physical level. IoT allows employers to monitor personal protective equipment (PPE) on workers that collect data on their physical states such as their body temperature, heart rate, and perspiration levels.
PPE devices send alerts when something looks wrong with one of these, giving early warnings to indicate the employee may be in danger or at risk of being in danger, such as that they are overexerted. This is a useful preventative measure to protect employees’ health on the job.
The cons of IoT in mining
1. Signal difficulties in remote sites
Mines located in remote areas might have problems when it comes to 3G/4G/5G signals due to their limited connectivity, meaning they would not easily be able to run as smart mines or through IoT
2. Connectivity issues in underground mines
Signal connectivity may also be scant and unreliable in underground mines, and as mines are starting to have to go deeper for ore, this could become a bigger issue.
Mine companies must find reliable connectivity technologies they can use. Satellites can be useful in these instances, as a way to connect operations in mines and for communications.
3. Big data hacking
Being connected to and transferring so much data through the internet makes mines more vulnerable to cyber attacks, so cybersecurity will become a big focus in mines as they rely more on IoT.
What do you think of the Internet of Things and the mining industry’s adoption of IoT? Let us know in the comments below.
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