How ICT Tech Innovation Brings Digital Transformation To The Mining Industry

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 How Innovative Technologies Accelerated the Digital Journey of the Mining Industry. (Image: Supplied)
How Innovative Technologies Accelerated the Digital Journey of the Mining Industry. (Image: Supplied)

This July, those in the mining industry had the opportunity to be treated to a specialised summit by tech-giant Huawei. This summit, “How ICT Tech Innovation Brings Digital Transformation To The Mining Industry”, sought to shed some light on the current state of the sector’s ICT infrastructure and how technology is driving digital innovation to completely transform the mining industry.

Hosted by the charming Leandra Chinniah, Marketing Director of Huawei Enterprise South Africa, the event started with a warm welcome and an inspirational video that served to whet the appetite of those already interested in what Intelligence and Industry 4.0 in 2030 would look like.

The event immediately set itself apart when the friendly hostess invited the audience to become active participants, giving them to option to interact and question the speakers once they had completed their presentations.

Moving onto the first speaker, Leandra introduced Senior Engineer of Industry 4.0 and Industrial IoT within the Huawei German Research Center in Munich, Ulrich Graf. With an impressive background including 17 years in the telecommunication industry and extensive business and professional competence in the areas of engineering and product/program-management, it was clear that Ulrich was uniquely qualified to provide insights into this interesting topic of digital transformation in the mining industry. 

Starting by providing a more concise explanation of what is meant by the fourth industrial revolution (or Industry 4.0), Ulrich explained that the three core concepts that defined it are all-connected, all-sensing and all-intelligent. Thus, the application of these core concepts would lead to networked production, new business models, changing work environments, smart factories, and new legal issues which themselves will require technologies like cloud and edge computing, smart services, artificial intelligence and big data analytics.

fter explaining the stages of Industry 4.0, namely, visibility, transparency, predictive capacity and adaptability, Ulrich outlined industrial internet consortium framework and the ways in which the various technologies fit into the two industrial internet connectivity frameworks (IICF and IINF). This led into a description of the various local area networks and their differences. Ulrich then described the evolution of Wi-fi 6e and how it boasts a maximum speed of 9.6 Gbps, low latency of less than 10ms and 1024 users per access point.

Ulrich went on to explain that Wi-fi 6 played a large role in the Huawei Underground Wi-fi Network Solution, developed specifically with mines in mind. This solution uses the Wi-fi 6 technology along with smart antennas, RJ45 ethernet cables, power over ethernet, Bluetooth and IoT extendable tech such as Zigbee and RFID to provide seamless roaming connectivity for underground moving devices, 3D simulation which resolves coverage hole problems, flexible deployment, and wireless coverage for the underground with over 20% improvements in overall coverage.

Moving onto 5G, Ulrich outlined the impressive benefits and use cases in addition to providing some photographs of how 5G is used in mining vehicles.

Finally moving onto the topic of Artificial Intelligence, Ulrich explained how it tied into machine learning, deep learning and neural networks which encompass technologies such as robotics and image recognition. There are a range of use cases for AI in mining, including autonomous mining machines, tracking and positioning of assets or people, real-time resource scheduling, dynamic visualisation and mapping of the underground layout to name a few.

In line with this, Ulrich introduced Huawei’s MineBrain AI which is an edge intelligent system that realizes intelligent monitoring through analysing video data by using a machine learning algorithm. This allows reliable identification for all mining abnormal processes and realizes automated, high performance, and precision analytics. This reduces unexpected downtime of the belting systems and improves productivity. It also serves to optimise the belting transportation flow, increased load rate and saves electricity consumption.

He concluded by summarising the ICT required to build an intelligent mine, which included energy and power (sensors, communication network and cloud platform), information analysis for decision making, a converged network and comprehensive supervision. This would apply to exploration and development, open pit mining, underground mining, mine transport and mine process (factory campus).   

The next speaker was Jean-Jacques Verhaeghe, Programme Manager of the Real-Time Information Systems programme (RTIMS) at the Mandela Mining Precinct, with an impressive 30 years in ICT, financial services, air travel and transport, mining, renewable energy, telecoms, retail and management/technical consulting.

Jean-Jacques introduced the Mandela Mining Precinct and its strategic objectives, namely, to develop technological solutions that will increase the safety and productivity, reduce the costs and extend the life of mines for the betterment of local communities associated with mining and the country. They also aim to revitalise the Mining Research, Development and Innovation capability in the country.

He then went onto explain the RTIMS system, which was based on IRA and aimed for the capability to leverage digitsation technology, business models, resources, and data engineering/management in an emerging “super-hyped” environment for distributed systems control with non-conventional approaches.

 He spoke at length on the journey to implementing this system which a 5-pronged, holistic, and integrated approach. He also spoke on the benefit of partnering with Huawei to establish this system, particularly with their expertise in networking/communications technology and their role in the Industrial Internet Consortium (IIP).

The last speaker, Barry Dwolatzky, Emeritus Professor in the School of Electrical and Information Engineering at Wits University and Director of Joburg Centre for Software Engineering (JCSE) was warmly introduced. Particularly distinguished in his career, in recognition of his contribution to the South African IT industry, Barry was named the “South African IT Personality of the Year” and received an award for “Distinguished Service to IT” from the Institute of IT Professionals of South Africa (IITPSA).

Barry’s topic for the summit was digital transformation in the mining industry and what makes the South African mining industry different from many other mining sectors in the world.

Speaking briefly on the fourth industrial revolution, he described the four building-blocks of Industry 4.0, namely, inter-connection, decentralised decisions, information transparency and digital assistant.

Barry went on to explain that in the case of the fourth block, people often become hesitant about any kind of digital assistant because they are concerned about being replaced. However, this technology is meant to support people and protect them from the dangerous and messy parts of jobs that they would rather not do in any case.

In terms of the term “revolution”, Barry stated that he sees it more as an evolution where skills in the sector need to be built on legacy skills.

Speaking on what makes the South African mining industry very different from many other mining sectors, Barry listed the fact mining is often done on a very deep level, that the mining industry has become accustomed to it being a very labour-intensive activity, the lack of information in the workplace, the after-effects of mining and the environmental impact of some technologies. All these items make adopting digital technologies more challenging.

Lastly, Barry commented on the skills required in the digital transformation of the mining sector, saying that it should be a collaboration of upskilling the miners and also to changing the technology to fit the skill of the miners.

There were many questions and comments that sparked spirited discussions between the audience and the panellists which continued until the end of the summit.

Wrapping up the virtual event, it was clear that all the participants found the summit and discussion to be both engaging and insightful and those from the mining sector certainly looked to be leaving with a firm advantage.

This post and content is sponsored, written and provided by Huawei.

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