Challenges of connecting mining to IoT
Inmarsat study reveals hurdles for mining digital revolution Metal Tech News Weekly Edition – July 8, 2020
Last updated 7/15/2020 at 4:32am
With hopes of improving efficiency, safety and profits, the vast majority of mining companies around the globe are incorporating internet of things technologies into their operations, according to a study completed earlier this year by Inmarsat, a global leader in mobile satellite communications.
The Rise of IoT in Mining, a report detailing the results of a survey conducted for Inmarsat, found the success of this digitization of the mining sector is being hampered by a number of obstacles.
"There are significant challenges to overcome: connectivity is often unreliable, cybersecurity approaches are patchy, there are too few employees with digital skills and data is not being collected and managed in a way that would best empower organizations," said Joe Carr, the global mining director for Inmarsat. "The mining industry has historically been slow to adopt radical ideas and it is clear that although miners are keen on the benefits internet of things brings, the largely unproven outcomes are hampering the industry's wide scale adoption. This approach threatens to leave the industry with a two-speed market, early adopters who are benefitting from reduced costs and better efficiencies and laggards who risk losing market share as they are pushed up the cost curve of production."
This year, Inmarsat commissioned Vanson Bourne, a specialist technology market research company, to interview representatives from 200 mining companies about their use of, attitude to and predictions for internet of things within their organization.
Target demographic for respondents come from organizations with at least 500 employees and have either decision-making or influencing responsibilities for internet of things initiatives, however, research did not include respondents from European mining operations as data was sought from internet of things maturity in remote regions where terrestrial connectivity is unlikely to exist.
The study was focused on six key areas that an organization must consider as part of their internet of things strategy, these areas are:
Each of these key areas were focused to better understand how the mining sector is approaching and determining the benefits and detriments of establishing a reliable internet of things system.
In short, the sector is beginning to embrace the use of internet of things but the cautious nature inherent to the industry is creating a disparity of acceptance to risk. The study further expounds on that disparity to hopefully give investors a clearer picture of the future of internet of things in the mining industry.
The fervor of IoT
The adoption of internet of things, in truth, has been resoundingly positive with 95% of the surveyed mining companies trialing internet of things enabled projects.
As motivations for adopting internet of things vary, three of the top five most important drivers for deployment of this networking technology relate to leveraging its ability to increase efficiencies and ultimately operating profits.
However, even though internet of things is starting to become widely adopted, the use cases and associated data usage are generally simplistic.
Aggregating data and implementing those insights, outside of immediate mine site operations, is perceived as complex or can be tainted by data security or trust issues and is largely outside the scope of many mining companies.
While it is clear internet of things is being adopted, for many it has not become the solution that they believed it would be.
Due to this, when asked to score whether their organization had achieved their expected benefits from internet of things deployment, in almost every case, respondents reported being more likely to having not achieved their desired goals.
Only in regard to the health and safety of staff did more respondents report having achieved their objectives, with 55% in the study group saying so.
At present, the core issues polled for barriers to adoption was a lack of in-house skills at 46%, followed closely by lack of available capital to invest in internet of things-based solution at 45%.
With the current growth of technology and the direction it is expected to develop into, the human element seems to be a primary hinderance for mining, a sector that traditionally focuses on mechanical and engineering development as opposed to information technology. This has created a vacuum that seemingly cannot be filled quickly enough to match the growth of management of newer technologies.
The manpower necessary to operate these latest technologies is not able to compete with the speed of innovation.
This, combined with a lack of adequate information technology infrastructure, are creating barriers to mining's adoption of internet of things.
The research shows that large portions of infrastructure from the fringes to centralized control systems are lacking and severely inhibits further adoption.
Yet, this has not stopped many mining companies from jumping onto the internet of things bandwagon, as 87% of the respondents stated that internet of things is, or will play a role in maintaining their license to operate, reducing environmental impact and improving the safety of mines.
"The outlook for industry-wide adoption is bright. Mining organizations are looking to increase their investment in IoT are overwhelmingly positive about the value of IoT to their operations and the benefits it is either already delivering or will deliver in the future," said Carr.
Determined by the study, it is still overwhelmingly expected that the benefits of internet of things will be achieved in the future, as 96% of respondents have either achieved return of investment in mining operations or expect to in the future.
Connection is the crutch
Inmarsat found that a lack of reliable connectivity is the core issue faced by mining companies hoping to take full advantage of internet of things enabled applications.
With current connection technologies, connectivity across mine sites hinders 45% of the survey respondents' ability to gather data.
A further 40% indicated connectivity was intermittent and often unreliable causing them to struggle to collect data. As little as 15% reported access to reliable connectivity wherever their data producers were.
Internet of things is essentially a network of networks and is dependent on reliable connectivity for its successful application. The remote, harsh environments found at many mines, the nature of a 24-hour operation and the challenge of numerous sites spread over great distances with varied and often changing topology all contribute to connectivity challenges, which can have a significant impact on progress in deploying internet of things projects.
Although the mining sector has increased its adoption of internet of things in recent years, with 65% of respondents fully deploying a project, 33% have still only trialed or are trialing and 2% having not even begun to do that, it is evident to Inmarsat that connectivity is the impeding factor in miners' abilities to fully harness the benefits of internet of things.
"The research points to a clear correlation between connectivity and those respondents who have fully deployed IoT projects. From our work in the industry, we see that poor connectivity can hamper getting a project fully deployed from a proof of concept into mainstream business operations. However, we also see from the research that for many who have fully deployed IoT projects connectivity continues to be a challenge. Inmarsat's connectivity and capability can help the sector transform quickly through the use of IoT," said Carr.
Although it may appear as though the industry is facing many hang-ups and doubts, it is resoundingly clear the mining sector is pushing as much as they can with what they are given at present.
As technology will only continue to advance and become more complex, and the implementation of those technologies trickle down to become specialized and more refined for simplified use, the options for the industry have possibly never been more.
With more resources and capabilities available than ever before, it can truly be considered a digital revolution, what the sector can do with it, however, is another story altogether.
More information about the internet of things can be read at Smart mining begins with communications in the February 4 edition of Metal Tech News.