Metal Tech News - March 8, 2023
Taking one step closer to the autonomous mine of the future, Rajant Corp.'s formidable Kinetic Mesh wireless network has been paired with Sandvik tele-remote and autonomous vehicles destined for De Beers' Venetia underground diamond mine in South Africa.
Ordinarily, wireless networks require fixed infrastructure that covers a set range. Even with 5G wireless technology, signal penetration underground presents a significant challenge for mining companies that seek to move into the autonomous scene as connectivity would be sporadic at best – and using hardwiring for direct connection presents even more risks for disruption, not to mention viability and cost.
Rajant's Kinetic Mesh works through a combination of its BreadCrumb wireless network nodes and InstaMesh software. These technologies, which turn receiving devices into transmitting relays to further boost signal strength and stability, create a kind of spiderweb of junction points capable of continuously routing data via the best available path and frequency – creating a safety net for potential loss of signal.
"With the mining industry deploying more autonomous and semi-autonomous equipment and applications every day, they require mission-critical, high bandwidth, secure, machine-to-machine communications systems," said Rajant Executive Vice-President of Global Sales and Marketing Geoff Smith during its reveal at MINExpo 2021. "Rajant Kinetic Mesh maintains uninterrupted high throughput and low latency to overcome any interference, above or underground, enabling all autonomous applications as well as trackable systems to support worker safety."
With such a rugged and reliable system of interlaced connectivity between all devices, paired with the smartest heavy equipment built to date, the underground mine of the future is that much closer to operation.
Announced in late 2020, Sandvik presented the world with its AutoMine Concept, the first fully autonomous underground mining machine specifically built for automation.
"The AutoMine Concept is unique because it has been designed ground-up for autonomous use. It is the world's first fully autonomous underground mining machine built specifically for automation," said Sandvik Mining and Rock Technology Vice President of Automation Riku Pulli during the reveal. "This technology raises ease-of-use, effectiveness of asset utilization and adaptability to a new level, resulting in higher productivity. These technologies will truly change the face and pace of autonomous mining."
Rajant already provides resilient connectivity for surface operations at Venetia, South Africa's largest diamond mine. To expand operations, the Venetia Underground Project – a $2 billion investment – will rely on autonomous and remote-operated vehicles to mine the diamond-bearing rock efficiently and safely.
Thus, it is paramount to explore new techniques for precise sub-level caving extraction.
"Our collaboration with Rajant demonstrates real cooperation in adopting best-in-class technology to enable our customers to mine safer and more efficiently," said Elen Toodu, director of global automation product line and projects, Sandvik Mining and Rock Solutions. "Allied with Sandvik's world-leading mining machines, the Rajant Kinetic Mesh wireless connectivity allows full utilization of our advanced systems."
Sandvik's intelligent loaders and trucks feature smart solutions that rely on ubiquitous network connectivity within the challenging underground environment. Installing Rajant BreadCrumbs throughout fixed points within the mine and on every vehicle to directly connect to the machine's systems will ensure 100% connection to the onboard systems.
"All Rajant BreadCrumbs communicate with all other radios, creating a unique, high-capacity, dense mesh network of connected assets, operating the advanced software systems at the heart of modern mining," said Chris Mason, vice president of sales for Rajant's Europe, Middle East, and Africa regions. "Rajant continuously develops its network offerings by working closely with machine and system manufacturers and the end-customer, enhancing the hardware and software systems that deliver mission-critical connectivity."
By developing stable intranet connectivity to an underground system, mines that otherwise could not viably implement autonomous operations can now begin to explore options for deployment with Rajant's Kinetic Mesh network – combine that with the tailor-made underground smart heavy equipment, and this pairing is truly the ideal scene for any company interested in expanding its operations below the earth.