The Sky is the Limit? When Mainstream Digital Technology Meets the Mining Industry
Fabio Mielli, U.S. Mining, Minerals, and Metals Segment Manager, Schneider Electric
As a technology enthusiast I love to try new things, whatever the latest new gadgets happens to be, and play around with them.
And one of the amazing things about the current digital transformation is that things have become so inexpensive that they are accessible to almost anyone with the curiosity to check them out. In fact, just last week I found a special deal on the web – a BOGO deal (Buy One Get One free) – for some remote web security cameras and they were really fun and easy to play with.
But the really interesting thing to me is taking them and seeing what other ways they can be used, together or in combination with other existing technology, and trying to make them work together in new ways that haven’t been thought of before. Of course, I’ve purchased a lot of useless things too. They aren’t all a success! But that’s a story for another blog.
I’ve had some things running through my mind lately about this marriage of cool, new technology with many of the applications we see in the mining industry, and wondered how they might be applied to make things better. I’m not saying these are all brilliant ideas, I just wanted to put them down on paper (or in a blog) as a way to exchange ideas and get feedback. Perhaps some of them are already being applied and won’t shed any new light for some readers, while other technologies maybe don’t make sense yet but might some day. Time will tell.
Also, I don’t want to go into any real detail. The purpose here is simply to get some ideas out there and see what you think.
1. Companion drone or Buddy drone
The companion drone would follow field personal or earth moving equipment (like haul trucks and shovels). They would be another extra layer for safety or productivity monitoring – small cost ones would literally be a companion for each individual or asset. This technology is already being used by runners and extreme sports enthusiasts to make videos of their skiing or whitewater rafting, where the drone automatically follows you.
2. Industrial grade smart watch
The industrial grade smart watch could help to locate people, monitor their vital signs, and allow sensing of hazardous gases or other conditions.
3. Voice assistant for control systems
Voice assistance could provide alerts, support troubleshooting, deliver production summaries, and if proven safe enough, allow voice commands. Think of Siri or Alexa wearing a hardhat and pocket protector. Of course, safety is critical since control systems are responsible for ensuring safe operating and working conditions. “Hey PLC! Did any events happen before my shift?”
4. “Prometheus” 3D mapping drones
Well, for this one you would need to know Ridley Scott’s movie to get the gist, but in a nutshell, special drones are used to map out a complex system of underground tunnels to help the movie’s heroes. They were completely autonomous, searching every inch of space and sending back detailed information about the structure. Actually, sci-fi met reality just last May when a similar drone was used to match caverns in Sicily, Italy, but the use of this technology can still be used in many more ways.
5. IoT + industrial field instruments hybrid architecture
This is somehow intuitive, the idea to add cheaper or even mainstream IoT sensors to the same controls managing critical systems. IoT sensors, for example, could manage less critical activities as well but add extra information and functionalities to the control systems. This idea will allow users to play with creative and cost-effective applications using all kinds of IoT sensors.
That’s it! My small list of ideas. What do you think? I’d really appreciate your feedback, and while you’re at it, why not add some of your own ideas to the list?