If you’ve been following the mining industry’s progress in adopting automated equipment and technologies (see Mining Automation: What Does the Future Hold?) you may be familiar with the term “Industrial Internet.” Industrial Internet is a term coined by GE CEO Jeff Immelt that refers to building sensors into machines to gather data than can be used to troubleshoot issues, keep the machinery running at peak efficiency, and connect and share data with other machinery and devices across an entire operation. It’s a concept closely related to mine site automation as the growing interest in remotely-operated equipment is creating a demand for information and communication technologies to coordinate and manage the equipment.
Getting the Most from Mining Technology, an article published on Bcg.perspectives by the Boston Consulting Group, describes the Industrial Internet, or the Internet of Things, as a convergence of five technology trends: low-cost IP-connected sensors and actuators, powerful on-board control systems, ubiquitous high-speed network connectivity, scalable variable-cost processing and storage, and advanced algorithms and analytics. The article goes on to state:
“…recent advances in low-cost technology can drive productivity and safety benefits at mines just as they have done in other industries. They can also help miners avoid capital spending…Better integration across the mining value chain—from pit to port—will afford miners the same level of control and predictability that many other industries already have. Meanwhile, technology costs are falling and vendor solutions continue to evolve. For example, mining trucks have hundreds of smart sensors, costing less than 0.5 percent of the total manufacturing cost.”
Some consider the Industrial Internet of Things to be the next Industrial Revolution. The article Industrial Internet of Things: Sifting Reality From Hype, which appeared on Motion Control Online, points out that while machines and devices currently have some communication capabilities, they tend to exist in a silo environment. The Internet of Things promises widespread connectivity and data generation that could deliver huge improvements across the manufacturing process.
The article cites as an example Australian mining company Rio Tinto, describing a presentation at the recent Internet of Things World Forum in which John McGagh, head of innovation at Rio Tinto, discussed the company’s initiative to automate their fleet of roughly 900 dump trucks with sensors to track condition, speed, location, etc., allowing the trucks to operate without human drivers.
In another example, Mining.com reported in April that Codelco, a copper producer based in Chile, is the first mining company to join the Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC), a non-profit organization dedicated to identifying opportunities to advance the Industrial Internet. Codelco is seeking to improve productivity using digital processes, particularly in the areas of worker location services and remote equipment assessments. Other potential opportunities may arise in the areas of lab automation, information management, and data analysis.
Modern mining companies looking to improve operational efficiency rely on sophisticated laboratory information management systems (LIMS) for quality control, increased productivity, data management, and compliance with product and environmental safety standards. The need for rapid data capture and accurate analysis of sample data is another major challenge in mining. LIMS can generate data to develop predictive models that help mine operations become proactive rather than reactive, a significant advantage when substantial investments are at stake.