Next Generation of Mines Will Incorporate Advanced Communications and the Industrial Internet of Things

Next Generation of Mines Will Incorporate Advanced Communications and the Industrial Internet of Things

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The mining industry is advancing with technology that improves safety, efficiency and communications
Friday, November 18, 2016 - 9:00am

CONTENT: Article

The mining industry is increasingly leaning on technological innovation to improve safety, operational efficiencies and performance. With that comes the requirement for extensive and intelligent communications networks, all laying the foundation for the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).

Mining’s wide, rugged terrain, underground networks and large distributed industrial operations makes it an ideal candidate for IIoT.

“The next generation mine is dependent upon a scalable communications network architecture that supports sensors, machine-to-machine protocol and access to real-time voice, video and data,” said Rick Tyrell, Network Architect – Telecom, for Black & Veatch.

The Industrial Internet of Things is made up of a multitude of devices connected by a number of different communication technologies. The resulting system can monitor, collect, exchange, analyze, and instantly make intelligent decisions – all without human intervention. Similarly, machine-to-machine (M2M) communication is a broad label that can be used to describe any technology that enables networked devices to exchange information and perform actions – again without the manual assistance of humans.

Mines are becoming more instrumented and automated, and therefore, more operationally efficient, Tyrell said. Remote monitoring and control, paired with information communication technology (ICT) and analytics, yields large volumes of data. “This data can provide insights to drive intelligent decision-making and implement asset management processes,” Tyrell said. Smart integrated infrastructure can be created through the use of IP-enabled (Internet Protocol) sensors – both wired and wireless – which provide visibility, safety and efficiency for mining operations, he noted. 

Virtual Networks Offer Large Savings 

Traditionally, industrial networks have been pieced together over time, enhanced on an as-needed basis to fit a company’s many different needs. The result is a segmented infrastructure with separate systems, disconnected from one another and unable to communicate. 

“Multiple, isolated systems cause duplicate infrastructure – and therefore duplicate investments – making it difficult and costly to share data between departments,” said Dean Siegrist, Associate Vice President, Private Networks at Black & Veatch. “When technology becomes obsolete, adding new networks becomes both timely and expensive.”

Converging siloed networks into one virtual network can save up to 25 percent versus operating a segregated system, according to research from the Smart Cities Council. Network virtualization technologies allow multiple services to use the same physical infrastructure. Virtualization minimizes the physical hardware, such as storage and server resources, required for network upgrades. 

IP-based network architecture, such as Multi-Protocol Label Switching (MPLS), offers a flexible, scalable foundation, so as a company grows, so can its network. MPLS is a network technology that can be used to “virtualize” multiple physical networks into one.

“A mine, with its distributed operations and dispersed facilities, can prosper by advancing its communications network and architecture,” Siegrist said. “The extraction operation, transportation and logistics, as well as energy, water and security, can all be optimized with modern communications and technology applications.”

An MPLS/IP-based virtual network can be implemented over any media type, both wired and wireless, including point-to-point links or multi-access links. This provides a flexible network foundation to not only support the IIoT, but a platform most suitable for the rough, physical terrain of mining. 

Take Action: Developing a Plan 

Creating a scalable network architecture is best achieved when following a proven methodology designed specifically for it, Tyrell said. He listed the following steps to take: 

Step 1: Have a clear understanding of the goals and objectives for upgrading the network. What are all of the stakeholder requirements, regulations, performance indicators and drivers? 

Step 2: Assess the current infrastructure and define its capabilities. Examine whether the existing network is being fully optimized. Is there duplicate infrastructure that could be eliminated with an MPLS/IP-based system? 

Step 3: Conduct a thorough gap analysis. Comparing the current state assessment against the future state requirements helps identify organization, technology and process gaps that need to be filled. 

Having a strategic roadmap reduces project start-up and delivery times and improves cross-organization communications. It identifies the technology options and solutions available, prioritizes them and, most importantly, ensures alignment with the goals of the project. The result is a master plan used to guide all remaining work.

“Black & Veatch serves the mining sector by using all of our core capabilities, and we offer the needed IT insight to assess, design, engineer and install a modern, scalable network infrastructure,” Tyrell said. “Ensuring that the communications and IT network is used to the best of its abilities is a key step in realizing operational and efficiency goals while maximizing the value of the IIoT.”

Editor’s Note: This is the final installment of a five-part series on mining that can be found in the Solutions Online library on