Cisco: The Ultra-Reliable Network Behind Autonomous and Remote Mining

“American mines are open for business. Not necessarily for coal, but certainly for critical minerals considered by the Biden administration to be essential for economic and national security, such as lithium to power batteries or aluminum for wind turbines. But there is a catch. Companies find it difficult to hire minors. “-NPR, August 18, 2021

As miners retire, miners are struggling to replace them. One of the reasons for the staff shortage can be attributed to the fact that mining puts people and heavy mining equipment in one place, and this is a formula for accidents. The good news is that today ultra-reliable wireless networks make the use of autonomous and remote controlled vehicles practical, thus improving safety, work attractiveness and overall equipment efficiency (OEE). Autonomous vehicles, typically used for transportation, are controlled over the network by an automated dispatch system that tells them where to pick up and drop off loads. Remote controlled vehicles, like bulldozers, are controlled by an operator who views real-time video from a seat in a nice air-conditioned operations center, greatly reducing the risk of injury, loss or accident.

Here are three reasons to switch to autonomous and remote mining – and how Cisco Ultra-Reliable Wireless Backhaul makes them practical.

1 – Improvement of worker safety

Imagine a multi-story open pit mining vehicle carrying 400 tonnes of ore. A driver who does not see a smaller vehicle may not even notice the collision. With remote controlled vehicles, operators can work safely from a temperature-controlled office in an operations center anywhere in the world. A collision or earth fault inside a high wall can still destroy a vehicle, but the operator will not be injured.

2 – Improved recruitment and retention

Potential employees worry about their safety, and many don’t want to work in extremely remote locations with little to do outside of work. Many fly-in fly-out camps have nothing but accommodation and food services. With remote-controlled vehicles and an ultra-reliable wireless network, you can recruit drivers to work in operations centers located in or near cities. Another plus: you don’t have to pay to transport miners to the mine during their four-week shift.

3 – Better overall performance of equipment (OEE)

In traditional mining operations, drivers take a bus to the site, another bus to the pit, and then get ready to start their shift. It may take several hours while the equipment is idle. Remote controlled and autonomous vehicles reduce or eliminate idle time, thereby increasing OEE.

The Crucial Ingredient Cordless Fiber

We talked about automated mining for years, but only recently has it become main stream. Why now? Vehicle sensors are better. Smarter AI algorithms help avoid collisions. And Cisco Ultra-Reliable Wireless Backhaul provides the fiber-type performance necessary for connect moving assets to critical applications. It leaves traditional wireless networks in the dust with 99.999% reliability, dedicated bandwidth up to 500 Mbps, negligible latency, security and no packet loss during transfers between access points.

In stand-alone mining, this reliability is crucial to support production goals. A vehicle that loses its connection to the network must be stopped for safety reasons. Operations cannot resume until connectivity is restored and security requirements are met. Some organizations also require a drive-through to see which direction the stopped vehicle is pointing. Production could be interrupted for an hour, at the expense of OEE and production revenues. Our ultra-reliable Cisco wireless link avoids these interruptions.

Success plan

We will shortly present a Cisco validated design to take the guesswork out of deploying an ultra-reliable wireless link in surface mines. In the meantime, check out our existing Cisco validated designs for mining:

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