When it comes to smart mining, 5G technology increases efficiency and safety, says Kathrin Geisler.
One of the biggest challenges for mining operations are safe working conditions: underground, there are many hazards for workers, such as increased dust and gas concentrations, underground sudden water ingress or health hazards due to enormous heat and humidity. Furthermore, there are many accidents between mine vehicles and miners. Until now, it was not always possible with technical means in the often kilometres-long tunnels and haulage roads to monitor the complete processes and all employees underground to guarantee their safety.
By implementing a private 5G network instead of the previously common cabling both above and below ground, mining companies can automate labour-intensive and dangerous processes, ensure near-latency-free communication at all levels and provide efficient safe production in the long term. The future in mining is likely to be private networks that make the often still common, unstable GSM (2G) redundant and operate exclusively with 5G. The goal of digital transformation in mining is to guarantee efficiency and productivity in mining operations and to increase safety, automation and avoid accidents.
With 5G more and more mines are now, and will be in the future, able to track employees and workplaces underground through HD cameras in near real-time. Modern mining environments are already deploying 5G-based robotic systems for inspections, AI-based video analytics systems, 5G-enabled PDS (Proximity Detection System) for all machines and workers in the pits, and unmanned mining vehicle fleets both above and below ground.
The importance of hardware
Of course, this new technological infrastructure also requires the appropriate hardware, such as 5G-capable, explosion-proof mobile devices. The high-performance, explosion-proof smartphone IS540.M1 from i.safe Mobile has been developed for safe use underground or even in open-cast mining and has just been launched on the market as an ATEX and IECEx mining version of category M1. The Android Enterprise Recommended certified device guarantees timely security updates and upgrades to newer Android versions. Through standardised provisioning methods such as zero-touch, even larger device fleets are quickly integrated into the digital infrastructure during bulk enrolment and can be clearly managed. The device offers powerful AI and computing functions through the high-end chipset QCM6490 from Qualcomm - another feature of the technical equipment is the 48MP main camera for the utmost image quality and extensive multimedia functions, the clearly large 6in display, a multifunctional ISM interface and a powerful speaker.
Thanks to 5G and Wi-Fi 6 (with 2.4 and 5GHz support), even very large data volumes can be transmitted securely, for example for remote support functions via video or for PTT over cellular use, and all this with the lowest latency. The side button of the mobile device can be used for PTT or PoC, and a further freely assignable red button can be programmed for third-party employee protection/SOS applications.
Suppporting intelligent mining
With advanced 5G mobile devices, such as the IS540.M1, the intelligent mining approach is fully supported. As in other industries with potentially explosive working conditions, the focus in mining is on safety, efficiency, and digitalisation of processes. Scenarios such as: augmented reality and predictive maintenance; the control/monitoring of mobile robots, autonomous campus driving and platooning (automated column driving); near-real-time monitoring in process automation; workflow in the control loop and in plant control; asset tracking; access control; and logistics management are no longer dreams of the future and are currently on the agenda for smart mining.
Kathrin Geisler is with i.safe Mobile.