As part of our series on #DisruptMining Innovation, in today’s post we’ll share some of the work we’ve been doing with Cisco to build the next-generation of connected mines.
The Internet of Things is redefining the future of mining, paving the way for autonomous operations supported by computer systems equipped with cognitive analysis and machine learning. Amid this paradigm shift, reliable connectivity is emerging as the backbone of the next generation of mine.
“Efficient production in the mining industry is all about minimizing the degree of variability in performance in any part of the process,” says Todd White, COO of Goldcorp. “The key to minimizing variability is to make the right decisions at the right intervals to get the right outcomes. The ability to monitor equipment productivity, machine health and workers underground gives us the insight needed to manage outcomes effectively. I couldn’t imagine having an underground mine today without this level of connectivity.”
This was the impetus behind the deployment of Cisco’s multi-service, secure IP network at Goldcorp’s Éléonore mine enabling Wi-Fi connectivity underground. Commercial production commenced at Éléonore in 2016. The Wi-Fi communications network provides improved visibility of the mine’s operations through continuous tracking of equipment, people, operations, and even air quality, enabling mine managers to monitor, manage and fine tune processes and operations in near-or real-time.
Connectivity is just a starting point, but an essential infrastructure component on the road to autonomous mining where cognitive analytics and machine learning are applied to processes and procedures to optimize production.
Goldcorp initially engaged Cisco during Éléonore’s construction phase to provide an IP network that would enable real-time production visibility and control to increase efficiency, reduce costs and improve safety.
“The primary business case was worker safety, providing visibility on where workers were in the mine and tying that to Ventilation-on-Demand,” says Alex Smith, Account Manager at Cisco Canada. “It’s an open standards network, so supporting applications can be built on top of it.” Linking into this communications backbone are Voice-over-Internet-Protocol phones, used to communicate with underground workers.
At Éléonore, all underground workers, vehicles and other heavy equipment are outfitted with radio frequency identification tags which transmit a unique ID number via a WiFi connection to the Cisco access point throughout the mine.
Radio frequency identification tags (RFID) are also attached to vehicles and other heavy equipment at the mine, so their location can easily be determined underground. Telemetry units integrated into vehicles monitor various functions and systems within each vehicle’s engine, and issues alerts to mine managers should any system require attention optimizing maintenance and reducing downtime.
Based on Éléonore’s success, secure IP networks are being rolled out at Goldcorp’s Peñasquito, Red Lake and other mining operations.
Enabling on-site system decisions is Cisco’s edge analytics in which an automated analytical computation is performed at the point where the data is collected, such as at a sensor, network switch or other device, instead of sending it to a remote server for analysis. Cisco is taking edge analytics to the next level by linking business-critical data from edge analytics to the powerful cloud-based analytics and machine learning, enabling more efficient use of data and networks and providing long-term business insights to drive productivity.
Cisco hopes to bring these new insights to Goldcorp’s Borden mine to support the new autonomous mining operation.
“We are excited to be working with Goldcorp on their new Borden mine. Together at Borden we are architecting a whole new blueprint for the mining industry to showcase how to drive digital transformation in the industry,” says Bernadette Wightmanq, President of Cisco Canada. “At its Éléonore mine – and now at the new Borden mine – Goldcorp is leveraging digital technology to realize strategic business benefits including enhancing productivity and efficiency in their mines, improving decision-making and helping to ensure employee safety. Goldcorp has a long record of innovation, and with Cisco’s advanced technologies and strategic network of partners, together we can push the frontiers of the mining industry.”
“Borden is a brand new concept for a mine,” notes Abhi Gupta, Account Manager at Cisco Canada. “There’s nothing legacy about it, so it allows us to use a new breed of network.”
Cisco plans to build upon what it’s learned at Éléonore and other mines providing converged communications infrastructure, but admits that there’s still some blue sky thinking on what Borden’s IP network will finally look like.
“Some new ideas that will challenge the status quo may very well come out of the #DisruptMining innovation exposition at this year’s PDAC,” Gupta says. “We want to be part of the next big idea in mining,” he adds.