On 3 February, in Cape Town, South Africa, the Mining Indaba, one of the most important events for the mining sector in Africa, began a meeting point for its main investors. The industry, which has always brought enormous profits for all countries, is equally infamous for its critical working conditions and the high mortality rate of its workers. But the phenomenon of the Internet of Things can represent a turning point and reverse the bitter trend in the industry.
We cannot but remember the deaths at work, especially children, in the mines of the People’s Republic of Congo, to extract cobalt, necessary for Tesla and other companies, such as Apple, Dell, Microsoft, and Google, to produce electric batteries, which make up 60% of the entire world production. The Mining Indaba Conference, however, aims to “Optimize growth and investment in the digital mining economy“, also trying to empower the industry to find technological solutions that can improve energy efficiency but also working conditions in the mine.
The mining world, which is mainly concentrated on the African continent, although it has recorded a significant drop in mortality since 2016, recording a sharp drop compared to countries with low mortality, such as Australia and Canada, considered the most advanced for mining systems, still has to strive to find solutions that can be considered satisfactory.
The Internet of Things is a system able to connect the physical world with the digital one, allowing an in-depth and proactive analysis, as well as predictive, of possible scenarios, which could be, even through digital twins systems, tested remotely, to safeguard the lives of operators in real contexts! When an incident occurs, it is essential to know the position and number of employees involved, especially in contexts where there is still a lot of illegal labor! A possible mechanical failure in a plant, which lives in areas deep in the ground, can cause real disasters, if not foreseen.
Although the mining industry is equipped with sensors, since long before they became fundamental for the 4.0 industry sector, systems are now obsolete, especially because of the continuous technological discoveries: a very common Wi-Fi network, which we represent everyday life, is difficult to install in underground environments, where the space for equipment is limited. Open-pit mines still represent environments that are hostile to IT equipment. Therefore, bringing innovation, through IoT and intelligent sensors, in this sector, can only start from machines, mechanical environments, and then spread to manpower.
According to an analysis conducted by Gartner, to date, IoT, applied to industrial processes, has led to a 30% improvement in critical production cycle times within the industrial sector alone, with a growth forecast of up to 65% by 2020.
Through the use of wearable technologies, such as heart rate monitors with GPS tracking capabilities, the mining industry can now detect if employees are fatigued, improving working conditions and productivity in the industry; sensors, designed for air monitoring, will enable more efficient shifts and work sessions.
In mine shafts, the use of sensors, to be dropped at regular intervals, 24 hours a day, could allow constant monitoring of the well, without the use of human personnel, which would be relieved of high-risk operations! We speak, in these cases, of IoT mesh network, i.e. a digital communication mesh network, for a safer and guaranteed working environment!
Security, at this point, precisely because it is inserted in critical infrastructure, becomes fundamental, precisely to create an adequate barrier from cyber attacks, minimizing attack surfaces, which live outside defense firewalls, prepared by the organization, and providing a continuous and constant collaboration with internal IT teams, dedicated to plant security.
The Internet of Things, although constantly evolving, represents an excellent competitive advantage for companies, as well as an indispensable resource management tool, which will minimize operational losses and significantly improve production efficiency.