Rajant offers connectivity for every mine
Metal Tech News - June 28, 2023
Last updated 6/27/2023 at 12:22pm
Kinetic Mesh tech delivers reliable, fast, and scalable network solutions to modern digital mines of all sizes.
From giant equipment autonomously digging ore at global-scale copper mines to industrial internet of things sensors monitoring the health of man and machine at a local gravel quarry, mines are increasingly relying on digital technologies to improve efficiency, productivity, and safety. This digitization of the modern mine makes a rugged and reliable communications network an operational imperative.
To gain the connectivity needed to transmit the enormous amount of data at today's mines, mining companies and equipment manufacturers are increasingly turning to Rajant Corp.'s patented Kinetic Mesh technology.
Much like its name suggests, Kinetic Mesh is an interconnected wireless network that creates a web of intranet coverage throughout a mine. The secrets to this sitewide coverage are Rajant's wireless network nodes known as BreadCrumbs, which can be installed on mining equipment and key fixed locations to create a web of communication relay points, and InstaMesh networking software, which continuously evaluates and directs signal traffic via the fastest and most reliable pathways.
Todd Rigby, director of sales at Rajant, told Metal Tech News that working together these allow mines and other industrial sites to "have the same level of data reliability that they would have if they were in an office with their computer plugged into an ethernet jack in the wall."
In contrast to traditional wireless networks like Wi-Fi or LTE, which depend on fixed infrastructure that can be expensive to set up and reconfigure in order to deliver complete coverage to everchanging mine sites, Kinetic Mesh utilizes the rolling stock to provide a dynamic, robust, and self-healing industrial network.
This is why world-leading mining equipment manufacturers such as Epiroc, Hitachi, Komatsu, and Sandvik have certified Rajant's Kinetic Mesh to provide the reliable network required to provide the consistent high-speed connection needed for autonomous and semi-autonomous trucks, loaders, drills, and other mining equipment.
"Unlike other wireless networks that are dependent on fixed infrastructure, Rajant mobile BreadCrumbs can communicate with each other allowing machines to interconnect which adds additional layers of connectivity and redundancy while Rajant networking software InstaMesh is self-optimizing to overcome the constant environmental changes, data loads, interference, and on-the-move requirements of modern mines," said Epiroc Vice President of Integration Brian Doffing.
In an age where IIoT devices transmit data on the health and efficiency of heavy equipment, monitor the alertness of operators, and track the location of machines and miners alike, the need for a reliable network is not just relegated to global-scale mines with advanced autonomous mining systems.
"Three to five haul trucks, in my opinion, easily justifies the cost to putting in a mission-critical wireless network," Rigby said. "As the mine gets larger, the fleet gets larger, and you add more applications like fleet management safety systems, driver fatigue monitoring, and all the way up to tele-remote and full autonomy, the need just gets greater."
The Rajant director said the ability to monitor the health of heavy equipment alone could save a mine operator much more than the cost of installing a Kinetic Mesh network.
"Basically, every equipment manufacturer includes as part of their package from the factory an extensive sensor package to help the owners of that equipment track health of that machine," he said. "You need a reliable wireless network in order to pull that sensor data in real time."
This real-time data could mean the difference between a predictive maintenance repair that is relatively quick and a catastrophic failure that can cost well into the seven-figure category and put the equipment down indefinitely.
For example, to replace a motor in a 250-ton haul truck that is common in mines can cost upwards of $1.5 million to replace.
"Ignorance is bliss, and then all of a sudden you blew a million and a half dollars on the new motor," Rigby said.
And most sites do not just have an extra mine truck motor lying around in case a crankshaft goes through the side of a block.
"You don't make money on equipment in the shop," he added.
No internet required
A great internet connection, or any internet at all for that matter, is not a prerequisite to installing a Rajant Mesh Network.
"There's a lot of remote mines in the world that do not have an outside internet connection," Rigby explained. "As long as your application servers are located on site, you can have a functioning network just by turning on a couple of BreadCrumbs – they will connect and work right out-of-the-box without any secondary systems.
These BreadCrumb nodes form the mesh network without the need for a management server or master control nodes – they simply connect to each other. This not only lends itself to a simple setup but adds to the robustness of the network.
Networks dependent on master nodes or servers could crash if either component went down. If a Breadcrumb becomes inoperative, the signal would just route through the other nodes within the network.
The advantage of having a site connected to the internet, especially for large international mining companies, is the data collected within an onsite mesh network can be transmitted to corporate headquarters to provide management information on a mine's status in real time.
"If you're just a small mine or you're so remote that that internet connection is not available that's really not an issue at all, the onsite network works just as well with or without an internet connection," the Rajant director told Metal Tech News.
Fast underground network
While it is easy to envision a web of interconnectivity between BreadCrumb nodes mounted on the machinery and key fixed locations within an open-pit mining scenario, but what about providing robust network coverage deep underground?
Rajant is very familiar with extending its network deep underground with what is referred to as linear mesh.
While linear mesh is very useful in extending connectivity into the depths of underground mines, similar networks are also common on surface for railroads, pipelines, highways, border monitoring and other similar straight-line environments.
"Instead of building a web, you're effectively building a straight line now," Rigby explained.
What makes Rajant's linear network better than others is the speed at which it can transmit the data.
Traditional Wi-Fi networks cannot simultaneously send and receive data, which means they collect packets of data and then forward those packets down the line. This creates increasing amounts of latency with each data transfer.
BreadCrumbs, on the other hand, have radios dedicated to both receiving and sending, so the data effectively streams straight through.
"So, our latency is extremely low – it is less than four-tenth of 1 millisecond per hop, and that is truly the best in the industry," Rigby said.
This latency is so low that it has been proven to support Sandvik tele-remote and autonomous loaders and trucks at De Beers' Venetia underground diamond mine in South Africa.
Rajant BreadCrumbs mounted in fixed points within the underground mine and on every vehicle ensures that the remote controlling systems have full connection to the onboard systems.
"Testing and validating with Sandvik demonstrated the ability to maintain the network connections required, not only to ensure safe operations but to be able to stream live video from the machines as they operate autonomously," says Jouni Koppanen, product line manager of underground automation at Sandvik Mining and Rock Solutions.
So far, Rajant networks have been installed in more than 270 surface and underground mines around the globe, and the company believes it has the solution to any connectivity difficulties a mining operation might have.
"We take that same commitment to every mining operation we work with around the globe and if somebody's struggling, I would say the struggle is unnecessary," Rigby told Metal Tech News. "We have the answer and we have the reliable solution, and we'd love to work with you."