Modern mining operations are complicated by the prosperity of multiple millennia of successful predecessors. Resources and ores are finite, and the unclaimed, unreplenished supply is dwindling amid demand from a booming population. Newer technology is needed to better locate available resources and redefine limits of accessibility.
Industry 4.0 is reforming the ancient labor of mining. Industrial IoT technology is unearthing new capabilities and efficiencies at every stage of mining. Compute processing and connectivity increase in power and speeds. Ruggedized hardware architecture can conduct advanced applications in more volatile, treacherous settings.
Below are five stages of modern mining. They have been refined and expanded over the centuries in harmony with the introduction of new technologies. The advent of Industry 4.0 fortifies these time-tested practices with enhanced safety, efficiency and prosperity.
Prospecting / Exploration
Mining engineers leverage centuries of historical data and modern factors to conduct geologic investigations. Investigations gather statistical and survey information to intelligently predict suitable mining locations. Sites of interest are then either sampled at the surface or investigated beneath through indirect methods relying on seismic, gravitational, electromagnetic and other variables. Data may be gathered across satellites, aircraft, surface collection techniques and probing. The data collection phase relies on countless sensors and localized compute power to process and store the information.
The data collected is thoroughly tested according to the materials sought. It can be subjected to quantitative analysis of rock, soil and water, and further studied for geochemical and geobotanical traits. If the findings indicate the site deserves further examination, more in-depth exploration is undertaken. Richer samples are taken at the location to generate a clearer picture of the magnitude and grade of the deposit. These more representative samples are measured across many other disciplines including chemistry, metallurgy, radiology, spectography and myriad others. A combination of CPU and GPU computing aggregates and processes the volume of complex data, leveraging superior AI and inference analysis to make swift, highly-accurate determinations regarding the suitability, feasibility and profitability of mining the explored location.
Mine-Site Design / Planning
Advanced compute power is once again employed as the minesite is designed and developed. Minesite planning factors in every subsequent phase of the operation. It's at this point mining engineers determine the optimal access to the materials, equipment and personnel needed, social and environmental responsibility concerns, and infrastructure required. Site conditions, collected data and predictive analytics help determine the safest and most efficient designs for mining operations. It is during this stage that engineers ultimately decide on the minesite’s economic viability and ability to drive the expected ROI for stakeholders.
With a solid plan in place, mining operators begin the necessary construction phase. Minesites are generally isolated, self-contained, sustainable locations with crew lodging, access roads, transport systems, facility buildings and material processing facilities not far from the points of extraction. Machinery and vehicles outfitted with rugged embedded computers become integral components of the IoT network controlling the minesite construction. Hardened computers built to perform in severe conditions handle a series of monitoring and task applications at the vehicle.
Crews can employ in-vehicle embedded computers and industrial panel PCs to monitor equipment state, fuel consumption and environmental conditions. Connected systems wirelessly communicate data between other vehicles and command facilities. Vehicle telematics collected and processed help site operators optimize fleet management practices efficiently and safely.
Upon becoming operational, the main site objectives can be pursued. Mine operators deploy an array of drilling, bolting, excavating and hauling equipment to access, extract and transport sought-after materials. Embedded computers integrated into equipment bring them online with the site’s distributed control system (DCS). The DCS manages all processes of the independent systems on the site through a vast enterprise platform. The DCS network extends to the equipment used inside the mine, material haulers, communication systems, processing plants and refineries.
The DCS enables mining automation with industrial PCs embedded at key locations demanding realtime processing and independent control. For instance, automated drillers leverage strong compute power to process visual and locational data in the mine, positioning the bit and boring into surfaces with little to no human interaction. The drill can reposition and repeat this activity according to a pre-programmed application or in response to fresh situational data. This level of mining automation with industrial PCs enables remote or autonomous operation that keeps workers away from treacherous areas. Automation develops new efficiencies across virtually every operating sector of the mine as it intelligently manages equipment maintenance, resource consumption and materials movement processes without fatigue or error.
Beyond the extraction site, processing plants and refineries also better coordinate operations through mining automation with industrial PCs. Industrial GPU computers and machine vision systems accurately classify and sort materials for desired minerals and ores, reducing production bottlenecks human counterparts can inflict. By shifting away from basic, single-purpose PLCs at facilities, embedded industrial PCs dispatched to equipment systems can accommodate data from myriad sensors and control numerous devices to consolidate operational workloads, ultimately reducing the hardware footprint.
Embedded industrial panel PCs serve as the rugged human machine interface (HMI) giving operators versatile control windows to systems on the DCS. HMIs are integrated into equipment and at system access points where operator interaction is required. Hardened industrial panel PCs can tolerate the environmental conditions, bumps and shocks of the physical mining environment. Their wireless capabilities enable communications to and from vehicle-borne devices and remote operating system (ROS) locations. The HMI’s deployment flexibility permits integration at locations where operators using them can remain outside dangerous spaces.
Closure / Reclamation
Mine closure was formulated during the early planning stage based on the aggregated data and overall economic viability projection. Throughout operations, these plans are continually revised using the abundance of lifetime site data. Even at this fifth stage, mining automation with industrial PCs helps ensure operators can withdraw from the site through a smooth, environmentally sound closure.
Mining operators have two options for closure. If they intend to recommence operations at a later date, they close the minesite and institute a planned care and maintenance process. Care and maintenance help ensure the minesite remains safe and stable, and idle facilities and equipment remain serviceable for reactivation. As onsite manpower is greatly reduced or eliminated altogether, machine automation with industrial PCs carryout the bulk of minesite and machinery maintenance. Surveillance and alarm systems can continue to push video and data back to an offsite management facility, while equipment monitoring systems can initialize maintenance processes on an as-needed or predetermined basis.
If the minesite is depleted or deemed no longer economically viable, operators can begin the land reclamation process. Smart agriculture technologies may be deployed in an effort to reforest mined lands. Automated planters and watering equipment aggregate soil data, topography and weather information to ensure planting and irrigation methods allow the greatest chance for successful land values restoration. Heavy construction equipment can be deployed to grade land and shift topography, restabilizing the soil and setting up keylines to direct available water where it is needed. The equipment used for reclamation depends on much of the same automation versatility used when initially constructing the site.
Premio: At the Core of Mining Autonomy with Industrial PCs
Premio’s industrial rugged compute solutions provide the building blocks for mining autonomy. Powerful processing, I/O flexibility and reliable connectivity are encased in durable, purpose-built hardware.
Rugged edge computers carry rich IoT versatility into challenging or treacherous settings. Strong processing supports advanced mining applications closer to the data sources and subordinate equipment systems. Fanless, cable-free designs remove chief failure points for hardware dispatched to punishing areas. Rich I/O options smoothly integrate legacy mining technology as well as leading-edge cyber-physical systems.
Premio’s solutions augmented to support intense GPU processing carry out intricate machine vision applications and advanced inference analysis of voluminous and varied data to make realtime decisions informing autonomous systems and vehicles.
Waterproof touchscreen computers provide intuitive HMI interaction between mine operators and autonomous systems. The WIO series are reinforced with high-utility stainless steel for lightweight durability and resilience against corrosive and caustic substances. IP66-rated enclosures prevent aggressive water and dust penetration, while 7H hardness glass resists scratches from sharp objects and grit.
Premio’s rugged edge and embedded compute solutions form the hardware backbone of an autonomous mining system. From prospecting to ground-breaking to site closure, every process improved by AI decisions and independent responses demands stable, versatile delivery devices.