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At a crossroads: two paths to mining modernisation

Business and Enterprise

Posted on April 5, 2017

4 min read

In the face of mounting pressure to modernise, miners are left with a crucial technological choice: evolution or revolution?

With the volatility and variability of the health of the global minerals market, Australia’s miners are embracing the challenge of modernising their communications technology infrastructure to drive efficiency and productivity, but are struggling with a choice common to every industry: to slowly upgrade their existing infrastructure or replace it entirely.

Today’s mines are challenged by an array of disparate technologies deployed in parallel with one another and nowhere is this more apparent than with wireless communication.

Modern, streamlined wireless technology would allow mines to benefit from real-time data analytics, simpler cross-mine communications and the blanket connectivity required by industrial IoT products.

These upgrades are needed because the challenges posed by legacy systems are becoming increasingly hard to accept.

Supply chains and procurement have traditionally leaned towards best-effort infrastructure, overlooking the importance of scalability, sparing or supplier-maintenance and lifecycle.  As the production dependency on these systems grows, weaknesses or slow recovery from failure can have a significant and sustained negative impact on production. It’s a simple case of the design that supported the original investment not having the modern needs of these networks in mind. As a result, weaknesses may have inadvertently been introduced into production by not revisiting design requirements.

In addition to production efficiency, safety is a prime driver of technological adoption in the mining sector. The integration of other systems, such as radio networks to support safety and rescue teams is essential.

With changing purpose and function, the functionality, utilisation and security of communications networks must continuously be revisited to ensure suitability and to manage production risk. As producers consider the future of their networks, simplification and a lower cost of operations are key to doing more with less, without compromising safety.

Evolution vs. Revolution: A difficult decision for miners

An evolutionary upgrade maintains the same style of solution, while changing network assets and sweating the network strategy. It involves modernising to the latest standards and upgrading for greater capacity and resiliency alongside investment decisions to enhance production sustainability.  This includes putting supply chain agreements in place that preserve operational integrity and cross-checking new application and business needs across the original solution design.

Revolution, on the other hand, pursues new technologies such as LTE to meet increased production and system requirements, as well as simplifying and consolidating networks. But it can also be a step function in capital investment, skills, expertise and organisational change.

This approach implements a long-term platform sooner, but also requires careful management of the risk of converging and consolidating multiple disparate systems into one IT/ OT platform.

Regardless of which path miners choose, simplification and consolidation will be the hallmarks of effective modernisers, although those that are going to be best positioned to modernise, digitatise and transform their operations around technology will lean on the high throughput, low latency, broad geographical coverage and traffic control which LTE offers. Effective providers will embrace technological adaptability and flexibility, such as the heterogeneous network, which embraces a mix of radio technologies on top of an LTE base.

Across both paths, the key design consideration is the growing need for cyber security across the backdrop of an increasing number of connected devices managing telemetry, control and safety. Understanding the technology, applications and business use will be the critical factor in determining the success of any modernisation effort.

To express your interest in a complimentary mine-site communications assessment to understand how your network will stand up to the pressure of modernisation, visit our website: