Mining equipment manufacturers find success with IoT
The IoT is transforming many industries as it nears 30 billion installed units by 2020. Most IoT-related use cases that I have talked about are in Healthcare, Manufacturing, Transportation, Aviation and Oil & Gas industries to name a few. Additionally, in working with customers I’ve recently had a chance to learn about how the IoT is also transforming the mining industry.
Mining operations are very complex. First is the sheer size of it. For example, Bingham Canyon mine in Utah is about 1.2 kilometers deep and 4 kilometers wide. To put this in perspective, a cross sectional area of this mine can fit almost 900 football fields. Coordinating various activities and moving material efficiently is very important. Second is the huge cost of operations. Mines employ expensive equipment such as excavators, wheel loaders, dozers, graders, drills and trucks. Just one state of the art mining truck could cost anywhere between $1 million to $1.5 million. With this high level of operational costs, unplanned downtime is not an option. Moreover, large mines have over 1500 employees working in many different roles such as operators, pit controllers, geologists, supervisors and mine-planners. Their safety is important for smooth mine operations.
Amidst the complexity, some major mining equipment manufacturers are using the IoT to differentiate their products with features like fleet management capabilities, remote diagnostics, remote controls and autonomous operations:
- Fleet management is about monitoring equipment assignment and scheduling, monitoring machine cycle time and other operational parameters and monitoring equipment location. Making sure that trucks are not queuing up and idling at the gas station, continuously monitoring the amount of material hauled, ensuring that the right machine is at the right location are all examples of fleet management.
- Remote health monitoring and diagnostics helps in preventive maintenance. By repairing the equipment before it fails, mine operators can avoid costly downtimes. Real-time alerts when a critical condition arises for a part or when the tire pressure goes too low are all example of remote monitoring. This allows mine operations to plan accordingly and maintain the desired productivity levels. Furthermore, manufacturers can use the power of big data analytics to analyze the data and come up with more sophisticated predictive maintenance mechanisms. Some manufacturers have already started to develop these capabilities in house or have partnered with or acquired other data analytics companies.
- Autonomous or semi-autonomous equipment that is controlled from a remote location is another focus area. This feature enhances safety and optimizes production when employed in situations such as underground mining, where a minor operator error could lead to fatal outcomes.
Mining equipment manufacturers are leveraging IoT to improve customer’s fleet utilization, boost productivity and to enhance safety in unprecedented ways and the $453 billion dollar mining industry is in for a major business transformation.