Enabling the future of mining with LPWA networks (Reader Forum)
Mining has evolved from a hard, manual process, involving hand tools and rudimentary explosives, to one that takes advantage of sophisticated technologies that bring connectivity, automation, and intelligence into play.
Today, mines run conveyor belts like arteries, moving equipment and materials between the mine shaft and the processing plant. In some mines in the Western US, the conveyor belts are several miles long, and active for up to 24 hours per day.
The maintenance of these conveyor belts is vital to success. Historically, this has been a costly and labor intensive process to manage. For every 10 feet of conveyor, there are 14 bearings — on a 10 mile belt, the number of bearings (and potential maintenance issues) adds up.
If not detected early, the impact of a break or line failure can be incredibly costly and halt production for several hours, and potentially even days. The key to better managing these conveyor lines is not by replacing the manpower, of watching and inspecting the belts, but by supplementing that work with technology to ensure earlier detection of potential and current failures.
Transco Industries, a leader in conveyor components, design, installation, maintenance and repair, has implemented a low-power wide-area (LPWA) solution (using LoRa devices and LoRaWAN networking) for its conveyor belt applications for safer monitoring while reducing operating costs.
Transco’s sensors connect to private LoRaWAN networks to allow for the continued relay of real-time data in the extreme conditions found in a mine. Initially deployed in a Rio Tinto mine in Utah, Transco is already witnessing incredible savings from the deployment by using sensors deployed within the conveyor belt to determine potential breaks.
The conveyor belt is equipped with an end-to-end solution consisting of many sensors embedded in the belt itself to measure stress and prevent potential ripping. In the event of a belt rip, the sensors transmit a signal to the belt’s remote control location, immediately shutting it down so that there is no hazardous and expensive tear in the line.
In other instances, there is an alert system in place that notifies when a potential bearing is at increased risk for failure; thus sending the local mine operation to the location to review and in some cases change the bearing. In other cases, additional sensors are placed on belt idlers to measure its temperature bearing. Sensors report temperature data to allow mine operators to monitor bearing status to prevent overheating and fires.
Hard data from hundreds of battery-operated sensors is analyzed in real-time by a cloud-based server. The data is communicated over a secure and reliable connection with strong network coverage even in dense, highly complex areas, as found within mines.
The distance between the LPWA devices in the mine and the data analytics server can be up to 30 miles, and there is no need for the devices to be plugged into the mains power, such as with GSM, LTE or Wi-Fi networks, because it is a low-power network, using low-power devices. This means devices can be easily retrofitted to existing operations, as well.
While the mining industry has been around for centuries, technology’s continued impact on its evolving success only warrants continued growth and momentum in the future. As we look for ways to ensure both greater and faster results, while ensuring safety on the line, technology provides the best option.
Currently-deployed LPWAconveyor sensors are just the first step in this process. The flexibility, long range and low power features within these sensors leads the industry to new, unique implementations.
Marc Pégulu has been Vice President of IoT in Semtech’s Wireless and Sensing Products Group since June 2015. He held the position of Vice President of Wireless and Sensing Products from June 2014. Prior to this appointment, he held the position of Director of Marketing and Applications. He joined the Company in March 2006 and was involved in several key technology initiatives. Prior to joining, he held positions in chips and systems development at Thomson CSF, Thales, ATMEL, and DibCom in France and China. He holds a Master of Science degree in Electronics and Telecommunications from Institut National Polytechnique of Grenoble, France.