The health and safety of staff in hazardous environments stands to be one of the biggest beneficiaries of the mining industry’s move towards automation and IoT.
Global mobile satellite communications services company Inmarsat is amplifying its commentary within the industrial IoT (IIoT) space.
Already expressing concerns around a perceived skills gap in fields such as data security, analytical data science and technical support that it says could put the brakes on IoT innovation in the energy sector, the company has drilled deeper into the specifics of how IoT will impact mining.
The company’s latest research suggests that the health and safety of staff stands to be one of the biggest beneficiaries of the mining industry’s move towards automation and IoT.
IoT mining growth
Estimates from IBM suggest that currently, 3.11 million pounds of minerals, metals and fuel are required by each person in their lifetime. With expanding world populations, we know that the global mining industry is still growing and what we might call the Internet of Mining Things (IoMT) is growing in line with it.
IoT benefits in the mining industry fall in line with positives seen in other verticals, from predictive maintenance to time saving measures. These advantages stem from automation and more efficient energy consumption. But it is safety that Inmarsat is keen to flag up in particular.
Its expectation for the next decade is that IoT technologies will be used throughout the mining trade. Inmarsat says that sensors generate a huge amount of raw data that is analysed in real time and translated into recommendable actions for equipment operators.
Mining safety obligations
The reality is that mining companies have massive safety obligations which they must meet in relation to their obligations to staff and shareholders, to governments, and of course to the environment.
In May 2017, market research company Vanson Bourne interviewed respondents from 100 large mining companies across the globe for Inmarsat’s report, The Future of IoT in Enterprise – 2017. The findings suggest that despite low levels of IoT deployment in the mining industry in 2017, 40 percent of organizations in that sector have plans to deploy IoT solutions within the next 18 months.
Health and safety emerge as the area in which mining respondents expect to see the most benefits from these deployments, with almost half (44 percent) expecting IoT to drive improvements to the health and safety of staff.
Improving health and safety also emerged as a key driver for IoT deployment, with 43 percent ranking it as a primary objective for their IoT strategy, just behind monitoring environmental changes (47 percent) and improving cost effectiveness (44 percent).
“The mining sector has worked over many years towards an industry-wide commitment of zero harm,” said Joe Carr, director of mining at Inmarsat Enterprise. Mines, he points out, are a uniquely specialized, hazardous environment and, as such, miners are highly focused on employee safety.
“IoT solutions can play a significant role by remotely monitoring conditions and gathering data to anticipate and react to potential safety threats,” he said.
Carr points to automation and connected wearable technology as two of the single best opportunities to address the dangers of the mining environment.
Wearable sensors can monitor and analyse a wide range of parameters, including sensing for dangerous gases or impact; raising the alarm if staff tracking is outside of acceptable parameters; and monitoring worker locations, to ensure they don’t enter hazardous areas of the site accidentally.
Inmarsat says that using IoT technologies to reduce fatalities and improve health and safety is only going to be possible if the connectivity provided by satellite technologies to move and analyze data is in place.
As Carr pointed out: “The big challenge for mines is that they are often situated in some of the most remote parts of the world, away from cellular and terrestrial networks in an ever-changing environment.”
The company concludes by saying that satellite communications offer better coverage and more reliable communication networks, crucial in the event of extreme weather or an emergency. They also provide connectivity in deep, open pit mines and even underground, using repeaters.
Inmarsat says it is producing a range of L-band services –which use the operating frequency range of 1–2 GHz in the radio spectrum – to enable IoT deployments in mines around the world.