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We connect to our wearable fitness trackers. We set our smart thermostats. We ask our voice assistants to set our smart appliances to pre-heat the oven just before we come home.

Then, we step outside into public spaces that are increasingly connected through devices that allow us to receive instant information about bus schedules, traffic, health services, safety alerts, community news, and much more. The rate at which internet of things (IoT) technology is being developed and deployed in the world around us is astounding.

If we look at the so-called “smart cities,” we see that they deploy IoT sensors and advanced analytics to improve performance relating to municipal services and other aspects of city life. IoT is increasing efficiency and improving quality of life.

A big part of this concept is a network of connected objects and devices that send data through wireless technology and virtual computing. Cloud-based IoT applications consume, analyze, and portray data in real-time to help municipalities and citizens make better decisions.

For example, connected traffic lights can reduce road congestion; IoT sensor arrays can collect air quality data to manage pollution sources to make a city more livable, and smart garbage cans can send data to waste management departments to optimize pick-up schedules.

Some benefits of smart cities include more effective, data-driven decision-making, enhanced community and government engagement, safer communities, reduced environmental footprint, efficient public utilities through smart-grid solutions and improved utilization and maintenance of infrastructure.

While these advanced technology platforms have gained prevalence in large urban centres, recent investments in communications infrastructure and other gateway technologies have made the same technology available to the mining sector, with some of the same downstream impacts and benefits.

Adoption of robust wireless communications systems in underground mines in recent years has offered the same opportunities for the powerful IoT solutions in mines that have become commonplace in other settings. Reliable communication infrastructure in underground mining has enhanced safety and provided decision-makers with real-time information.

Some exciting areas where IoT technology more typically seen in the above-ground smart device sector that has begun to show promise in mining include air quality management, wearable devices, connected vehicles and mobile fleet management and computer vision.

In recent years, ventilation in underground mines has been taken to new levels with the advent of sensor solutions and variable frequency drives. Mines can now automatically control air proportionally to areas of the mine that require it most by correlating occupancy, air quality, and fan speed and direction. This advancement known as “ventilation on demand” has had a significant impact on ventilation costs and worker health.

Just as we strap on our favourite fitness tracking watch, more and more miners are sporting the advanced sensor technology to monitor their health, ensure safe work, and even predict illness events before they occur.

Connected vehicles and equipment have also started to gain prominence in the underground mining sector. Through on-vehicle sensor technologies communicating real time telematics and machine health monitoring, managers are getting a clearer picture of overall equipment effectiveness. This is allowing mine operations to move from a break-fix cycle to predictive and even precision maintenance.

For some time, computer vision solutions like facial recognition and obstacle avoidance have pervaded smart cities. This same core technology is also being used in mining. From smart ore-sorting technology and shaft inspection solutions to shotcrete thickness detection and tailings dam stability monitoring, computer vision has found certain niche use cases in the sector. In an industry where manual visual inspections that rely on human eyes and judgment are still widespread, visual AI can offer speed and accuracy. Moreover, back-end image processing for defect recognition is allowing for advanced data analytics and preventative interventions before failures occur.

In the end, the speed at which smart technology is popping up at mine sites around the world is continuing to increase. Before long, the experiences we are now used to in our daily lives, like our phones automatically pairing with our car, then seamlessly switching to our smart home system, will become mainstream in industrial work settings like mining. Currently, there are thousands of companies, large and small, developing IoT solutions servicing the smart city, smart building, and smart homes space around the globe. Many of these solutions have potentially meaningful benefits for the mining process as well. Adapting and adopting these solutions could make mining operations the underground smart cities of the future.

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Autor(en)/Author(s): Steve Gravel

Quelle/Source: Canadian Mining Journal, 04.05.2023

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