The need for communication technology on mining sites
Due to the immense strength of the industry, mining in Western Australia is leading the charge when it comes to the early adoption of disruptive technology and software – especially when compared to other industries. For example, while legislative hurdles prevent the use of autonomous vehicles on public roads, the use of them is becoming prevalent on many mine sites. Looking at iron ore giant, Fortescue, reveals they have rolled out over 168 autonomous haulage trucks as well as a fleet of Ford Rangers.
Plus, in order to provide remote training and support amidst lockdowns and travel bans, mining company BHP used Microsoft’s HoloLens 2 to switch to augmented and virtual reality. Initiatives like this are financially viable thanks to current market conditions and a high value for commodities, while creative solutions that make mines safer, more productive, or save on costs are becoming more and more common.
While these solutions offer great advancements, a challenge that is given less consideration is the need for optimised mining network infrastructure and cloud computing that supports real-time communication. Despite being situated in some of the most remote and isolated parts of our great state of WA and beyond, the whole mining process from exploration to drilling, feasibility, construction and production, is dependent on effective external and internal communication.
While tier 2 and 3 miners may not be using the same advanced mining technology as larger sites, their need for real-time data and collaboration remains the same. Their day to day operations necessitate access to cloud platforms like InFlight, Office 365 and deposit modelling software SURPAC. This, along with communication requirements around strict OHS standards, and the need for good entertainment and Wi-Fi for the sake of staff acquisition, reveals that mining companies of all sizes require a scalable network infrastructure that accounts for and supports their specific needs.
So how can this be delivered when no two clients, projects or locations being surveyed, drilled, and constructed are the same? Each site often poses vastly different geographical challenges, with some even battling cyclone propensity, and almost all exist outside the range of traditional mobile coverage. The answer lies in taking the time to understand each project, then designing and implementing a network infrastructure that supports the use of the cloud and aligns with necessary business processes – and of course choosing the right partner.
Every stage of the mining process, from exploration right through to production, has different technology needs, and thus requires different things from the network. How an optimised network infrastructure can support every stage of a project has been broken down below.
The role of network infrastructure in the stages of mining projects
Stage 1 & 2: Exploration and drilling
The exploration stage is typically characterised by shoestring budgets, and the use of portable communications trailers and skids that can be quickly deployed and easily relocated. With a network that supports the synchronisation of data, information gathered in the field can be saved in the cloud and shared in real time with external parties like research teams, geo teams, head office, and third party contractors. This is also the case for drilling, since longer term deployment requires the communication of significant data to head offices for analysis.
Stage 3: Feasibility
The feasibility stage requires consultation with the partner building the network. This is so miners can receive an accurate snapshot of pricing around infrastructure and fibre builds, and so the partner can understand how to navigate the geological and geographical challenges of working in WA. It is important to work with partners who understand mining timeframes from conception completion, and have a proven track record of working to defined budgets.
Stage 4: Construction
During this stage, an agile network infrastructure will work in conjunction with the short and long term needs of a site. Each stage of construction requires different contractors who are fulfilling a range of roles, and thus will need different things from the network. Those building the network will make sure everyone has the connectivity and data availability they need to do their bit, and can scale as required as things change and evolve.
Plus, if anything is redesigned on the fly, cloud computing allows head office engineers to access and approve new designs fast. This keeps things moving without having to slow or halt processes.
Stage 5 & 6: Production; Support and maintenance
During production, the network is in action facilitating fast and effective communication that keeps productivity moving. This is where managed services that maintain this productivity come into play. Miners can access ongoing, proactive monitoring of their network, so that any arising issues are instantly troubleshooted by their own team of specialist IT technicians.
This is useful when it comes to support and maintenance as well, since these technicians will be hard at work improving and modifying systems, and upgrading infrastructure. If any new buildings are installed on-site, they will suitably adapt the network, and their in-depth cyber security training means they know how to keep assets secure. Plus, with off-site back up thanks to the managed services team, miners can have peace of mind knowing there are disaster recovery plans in place.
Talk to Cloud Connect
The right technology partner is able to provide valuable insights into the best practices of your industry, and others. At Cloud Connect, we understand your operation and can support you in every step of the journey we just outlined. Reach out to us today and let’s discuss how we can build the right mining network for your project.