I recently was asked to talk about the future of mining from a network perspective. Here is what I answered. Do you agree? Do you have other thoughts?
The future looks bright for mining. Many commodities are on the rise, and new creative finance instruments are emerging so as joint ventures and social development contracts like what O&G does with Local NOC’s (National oil companies) and indigenous communities. Mining is well-positioned against other industries in the quest for zero-emission.
The geopolitical environment is positively changing. The efforts to modernize the workforce and attract the youth to pursue mining careers are progressing as the mining jobs are becoming more high-tech. Due to the remoteness, real-time safety systems, IoT, Industry 4.0, and autonomous vehicles, technology will continue to play a significant role. The more technology, the more need for networks.
Today, the global mining focus is on deploying wireless mobility, as it has become mandatory to support the growing number of innovations and applications. For people and machines, the need for robust, real-time, full mobility networks, delivering better, faster, higher capacity, will continue to be the foundation of any innovations. The quantity and size of the at-risk zones are shrinking. Wearables are rapidly becoming popular, and there are efforts to develop comprehensive environmental suits to help maintain the worker’s environment versus the entire mine. Mining can benefit from the advance in space suits that are now much thinner and allow for much more movement. From a machinery perspective, we see more semi-autonomous machinery coming out of factories. Legacy machinery, thanks to innovators, can now be retrofitted and operated remotely from a short distance outside the at-risk zone, from the surface, or anywhere in on earth, for now!
The next five years – will see mining evolve from little automation to semi-autonomous vehicle and fully autonomous equipment deployment. As we are exhausting lower-risk mining areas, mining will turn to higher-risk operations. New technological advancement will enable cost-effective and safe exploitations of higher risk processes such as in-situ (already used in O&G, would allow extraction of minerals such as copper and uranium through boreholes drilled into a deposit), block-caving (using gravity to exploit ore bodies located at depth, bio-mining (using prokaryotes or fungi to extract ore from other materials, and offshore. Ground base and air-frame drones will be common sightings at almost every surface and underground mines sites. As mining innovators resolve operational costs and environmental challenges, offshore mining will have a chance to grow. Offshore mining will take a page from the O&G Industry, which has decades of technological, safety, and environmental experience and advancement in that area. More improvement in ultra-deep mining will continue to occur. The percentage of electrically power machinery will continue to grow as it produces less heat, has a better carbon footprint, and offers superior brake-horsepower and torque.
When looking ahead a decade or more – mining will be quite different. The at-risk zone will be drastically smaller if not eliminated. Even in less developed mining countries, we will only see autonomous machines or remote operations in such zones. On earth, ultradeep mining and offshore mining will be familiar, and we will have started to harvest our moon with initial trials expected to be by 2025. Mining on Mars may even be more than just an experiment.
Mars’ volcanos certainly offer the heat needed for the presence of significant ore deposits, and scientists expect it will be worth mining. Regardless if it is on earth’s surface, below ground, offshore, on our moon, or a different planet, mining will continue to rely on reliable and mission-critical network infrastructure.
Network performance, reliability assurance, and analytics will continue to be at the foundation of mining’s evolution. To meet today’s growing demand for wireless mobility network, mining companies have to implement LTE or 5G depending on the latency they are trying to meet. In addition, to meet critical network dependency, mining companies must also implement real-time network monitoring and analytics tools such as Canada’s Cheetah Networks to ensure safe, reliable, and sustainable Quality of Experience for people and machines.
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