Mining automation a potential industrial application of 5G
Boliden AB invests in mining automation with connected drill rigs
Mining is a labor intensive, expensive undertaking that comes with a wide range of concerns, foremost among them worker safety and environmental impact. As operators invest in mining automation with the goal of increasing productivity and creating a safer, more sustainable site, connectivity is an imperative.
Let’s look at what Boliden AB, a major Swedish mining interest, is doing to prepare for mining automation. At its sites, Boliden uses a piece of equipment called a Pit Viper, which is about 30-meters tall, and drills a hole into the ground that is filled with explosives then detonated. The blast creates a rock-filled pit; the rock is loaded onto trucks and sent to be processed for ore. Rather than buy more Pit Vipers to improve boost production, Boliden opted to connect its existing Pit Vipers.
Anders Erlandsson, senior advisor at Ericsson ConsumerLab, said as Boliden retrofitted their Pit Vipers, the company “added a couple of camera, a communication module and upgraded control system.” This lets drill rig automatically follow a pre-defined path and allows for human workers to remotely appraise field conditions. In its current state, the mining automation project is connected with Wi-Fi.
“This has opened up the next frontier of productivity,” Erlandsson wrote in a blog post, “but the experience has not been flawless.” A the open pit mine Aitik, Wi-Fi has trouble providing coverage. He said operators had to run cable to Wi-Fi access points, as well as rearrange and optimize the configuration to make this work correctly. “Coverage was focused on only the active areas of the drill rigs, and regularly needs to be adjusted…This solution also severely limits adding other automated mining equipment, or other connected objects.”
This is a problem that can be fixed by 5G, Erlandsson wrote. Next-generation cellular is capable of connecting autonomous vehicles, remote monitoring and further “enabling tracking of large numbers of battery-powered and connected sensors throughout the mine, without having to replace those batteries every other month.
According to Ericsson, automation of a Pit Viper can increase annual operating hours from 5,000 to 7,000, which lets Boliden get as much work out of its seven automated rigs as it could with seven traditional drills.