The Internet of Things (IoT) has the potential to dramatically reduce the impact of mining operations on the environment, and environmental monitoring is now the number one driver of IoT in the sector, according to new research from mobile satellite company Inmarsat. Julian Turner reports.
The Internet of Things (IoT), which connects everything from domestic appliances to heavy machinery to the internet, has in less than 40 years gone from being an abstract concept to a reality across virtually every industry, including, belatedly, mining.
Having initially adopted a ‘fast follower’ approach to IoT technology, the notoriously risk-averse sector is finally waking up to the fact that data is now, arguably, its most precious commodity, with 40% of mining businesses now expecting to leverage the technology within the next 18 months.
IoT has the potential to improve safety, automate machinery operation, facilitate predictive rather than preventative maintenance, improve traceability and harness real-time data and analytics.
Multinationals Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton, for example, have set-up integrated remote operations centres in Perth, Australia, for monitoring iron ore operations 1,500km away in remote Pilbara.
Experts in Rio Tinto’s processing excellence centre in Brisbane monitor and analyse real-time data, providing solutions to optimise mineral processing at seven sites in Australia, the US and Mongolia.
However, a report by global mobile satellite company Inmarsat reveals that the IoT is increasingly being employed in the field of environmental monitoring to help resource-heavy mining operators satisfy increasingly stringent environmental regulations and corporate social responsibility policies.
“Improving environmental monitoring is an area where mining operators clearly see real value in IoT,” confirms Joe Carr, director of mining at Inmarsat Enterprise.
“The increasing pressure from strict government regulations focused on mining’s environmental impact is placing a heavy burden on businesses in the sector, so operators must embrace innovative technologies if they are to comply and continue to operate efficiently and sustainably.”
The info-rich future: IoT and environmental monitoring
Inmarsat’s report, ‘The Future of IoT in Enterprise – 2017’ involved 100 global mining companies. Almost half (47%) identified monitoring environmental changes as their number one priority for IoT deployments; a further 57% cited environmental monitoring as the most exciting IoT innovation.
The report concludes that IoT technologies have the potential to dramatically reduce the impact of mining operations on the environment, enabling mining businesses to monitor their assets more accurately and react more quickly to any potential issues, thus minimising environmental damage.
Such damage is both real and multifarious. Mining processes, particularly the controversial practice of strip mining − which now accounts for around 40% of the world’s coal mines – can result in erosion, sinkholes, loss of biodiversity and, perhaps most commonly, the contamination of soil, groundwater and surface water by chemicals.
Mining operators have a duty of care over a project’s lifetime to ensure the environmental impact is minimised and the land rehabilitated to its natural state. However, relying on manually operated processes that use sub-optimal data collection and analysis can be expensive and prone to error.