“America’s mines are open for business. Not for coal necessarily, but definitely for the critical minerals seen by the Biden administration as essential for economic and national security, like lithium to power batteries or aluminum for wind turbines. But there’s a hitch. Companies are struggling to hire miners.”—NPR, August 18, 2021
As miners retire, mining operators are finding it difficult to replace them. One reason for the personnel shortage can be attributed to the fact that mining places people and heavy mining equipment in the same place, and that is a formula for accidents. The good news is that today’s ultra-reliable wireless networks make it practical to operate autonomous and tele-remote vehicles, improving safety, job appeal, and overall equipment efficiency (OEE). Autonomous vehicles, typically used for haulage, are controlled over the network by an automated dispatch system that tells them where to pick up and deposit loads. Tele-remote vehicles, like dozers, are controlled by an operator viewing real-time video from a seat in a nice, air-conditioned operations center, drastically reducing a chance for injury, loss, or accidents.
Here are three reasons to move toward autonomous and tele-remote mining—and how Cisco Ultra-Reliable Wireless Backhaul makes them practical.
1 – Improved worker safety
Picture a surface mining vehicle that’s several stories high and carrying 400 tons of ore. An operator who doesn’t see a smaller vehicle might not even notice the collision. With tele-remote vehicles, operators can work safely from a temperature-controlled office in an operations center anywhere in the world. A collision or an earth fault inside a high wall might still destroy a vehicle, but the operator won’t be harmed.
2 – Improved recruitment and retention
Potential employees are worried about their safety, and many don’t want to work in extreme remote locations with little to do outside of work. Many fly-in fly-out camps have nothing but housing and food service. With tele-remote vehicles and an ultra-reliable wireless network, you can recruit drivers to work in operations centers located in or near cities. Another benefit: you don’t have to pay to fly miners to the pit for their four-week shift.
3 – Better overall equipment efficiency (OEE)
In traditional mining operations, drivers take a bus to the site, another bus to the pit, and then stand in a ready line to start their shift. That can take several hours—while equipment sits idle. Tele-remote and autonomous vehicles reduce or eliminate idle time, increasing OEE.
The crucial ingredient—fiberlike wireless
There’s been talk about automated mining for years, but only recently has it become mainstream. Why now? Vehicle sensors are better. Smarter AI algorithms help avoid collisions. And Cisco Ultra-Reliable Wireless Backhaul brings the fiberlike performance needed to connect assets on the move to critical applications. It leaves traditional wireless networks in the dust with 99.999% reliability, up to 500Mbps dedicated bandwidth, negligible latency, security, and no packet loss during handoffs between access points.
In autonomous mining, that reliability is crucial for supporting production goals. A vehicle that loses its connection to the network needs to be shut down for safety reasons. Operations can’t resume until connectivity is restored and safety requirements are met. Some organizations also require a drive-by to see which way the stopped vehicle is pointing. Production might be halted for an hour—at a cost to OEE and production revenue. Our Cisco Ultra-Reliable Wireless Backhaul avoids those interruptions.
Blueprint for success
We will shortly introduce a Cisco Validated Design to take the guesswork out of deploying Ultra-Reliable Wireless Backhaul in open pit mines. In the meanwhile, check out our existing Cisco Validated Designs for mining:
- Industrial Automation in Mining Environments
- Wireless Networks enabling Autonomous Vehicles for Underground Mines
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