The mine worker is critical to successful mine operations. This may seem obvious, but in an industry that is focused on moving toward automation and remote operations, this essential worker is not always featured prominently in future scenarios. Today’s mining environment is still very hands-on, with clipboards, manual valves, and unconnected systems. It could be dozens of years before all systems are fully digital and can be automated or remotely managed. Until then, the online tools we’re using in private life need to also be leveraged in the field environment.
The Connected Field Worker
The effectiveness of any mine worker is primarily impacted by two things:
- The need for strong collaboration with others to leverage the strength of the greater on-site or remote community
- The ability to access the right information in a timely way through online applications for workflow and asset management – improving efficiency and safety
Our personal social media apps have made video calls to family members or friends, common place. This same technology can use secure industrial video apps to bring experts and mentors into a plant or mine site virtually. This can eliminate hazardous travel requirements, or loss of productive time in the cab of a truck. The field worker’s video endpoint can be built into a hardhat, be a separate purpose-built appliance, or be a simple phone with a camera to support trouble shooting and discussions.
Again borrowing from our personal lives, industrial sites could benefit from the ease and effectiveness of asynchronous messaging. Sharing photos, sound recordings, and quick questions left for a delayed reply can improve productivity throughout the day. This messaging and the video calls mentioned earlier can be mixed with conferencing, voice activated calls, voice to text and then connected with the push to talk systems still commonplace in mining.
As the workforce becomes filled with younger workers and remote operation centers become more conventional, these tools will be essential to maximizing the productivity of personnel in the mine.
Secure Mobile Online Work
In the same way that banking and shopping are now possible from a tablet, managing field assets and completing workflows can be done online as well. Data that is recorded on clipboards or bulletin boards, can be moved online and accessed from anywhere in the mine or off site. This shift from physical records to electronic ones will make them easier to update from anywhere, resulting in more accurate and timely reporting. This will improve the effectiveness of everyone’s work.
Moving from binders, clipboards, and bulletin boards to tablets and software is a major undertaking, but there are several industry services that can help build the business case and manage the transition with you.
Online Everywhere: An overview
The underlying technology that builds a foundation for the online mine worker is connectivity. Since workers are mobile, this connectivity needs to be wireless. Let’s take a quick tour through the technologies required for connectivity, electronic work flows, and collaboration tools.
There are many wireless technologies present at mine sites today, but the two that are most important for connecting mine workers are Wi-Fi and LTE/5G. It’s unlikely that one of these will displace the other since Wi-Fi is much more cost effective for localized, high bandwidth use cases and LTE/5G is much more effective at covering large open areas. Tablets and mobile video endpoints can connect to either technology.
Since both technologies act as an extension of the enterprise network, their characteristics should be consistent with this as well. Access policies, prioritization policy, and security frameworks need to map seamlessly across these wireless environments, as well as existing IT and OT environments.
A good place to start the transition to online workflows is with the existing ERP, asset management, project management, and control systems. Most of these already have workflow modules that can extend to mine workers. Online training and online documentation tools typically require new software, but there are multiple Cisco partners that make this transition more effective.
Cisco has a broad portfolio of collaboration tools in the Webex suite as well as endpoints that lead the industry. Existing phone systems and push to talk systems can be integrated into these video and messaging platforms. For specialized industrial collaboration endpoints like hard hat systems and voice activated remote expert systems, there are multiple partners that Cisco has worked with to make those elements an effective part of the system.
Connected for Safety
Another benefit to a strongly connected workforce is virtual proximity. A very interactive and digital environment increases awareness of field worker location and activity. This promotes safety as it becomes immediately obvious when something isn’t right. Having digital reporting tools instantly accessible encourages much more timely reporting of minor irregularities with photos and quick descriptions. A culture of care and safety for the employee at industrial sites becomes more accessible and actionable.
“No matter what is happening in the world, we believe it is vitally important to help support the continued operation of technical infrastructure for utilities, oil and gas, mining and manufacturing organizations. Cisco helps provide solutions to keep critical industries up and running.”
Wes Sylvester – Vice President, Industry Solutions Group – Growth Marketing Segments & Industries at Cisco
Connecting mine workers will make them more effective in two ways:
- Strong and persistent communication with experts and mentors makes it easy to leverage a large knowledge base from anywhere
- Accessible online workflow and reporting tools make workflows more efficient and provide more complete and timely reporting data
Find out more about how Cisco helps mine operators with enabling their workforce at www.cisco.com/go/mining
Great Article. My brother is also a specialized engineer in Oil Industry.
Thanks Rahul! We wrote a very similar blog for Oil & Gas as well at https://blogs.cisco.com/energy/enabling-the-field-worker-in-oil-gas
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