5G to offer potential safety, productivity benefits for mining sector

5G will help enable ‘digitalised mines,’ Ericsson believes

Ericsson is pushing the potential benefits that 5G could deliver to the Australian resources sector, with one of the company’s experts in Australia recently to promote the benefits to the mining industry of the still emerging wireless standard.

In Sweden, Ericsson has backed a project dubbed PIMM — Pilot for Industrial Mobile communication in Mining — which has involved examining future 5G use cases in underground mining and evaluating mobile communications infrastructure in an industrial context.

PIMM was launched May 2015 and along with Ericsson has been supported by ABB, Boliden, SICS Swedish ICT and Volvo CE. The pilot has been staged as part of the 5G for Sweden initiative launched by Ericsson in March 2015.

5G for Sweden has involved pilot projects with a number of Swedish industries, innovation projects and efforts to boost the research community, said Ericsson’s Peter de Bruin.

De Bruin was in Australia earlier this month to present at an invitation-only conference organised by the Swedish Embassy and Gavin Yates (former BHP Billiton vice-president of mine optimisation) that brought together representatives of the Australian mining industry and Swedish mining, transport and technology companies.

The first phase of PIMM has involved installing a radio network in the Boliden-operated Kankberg mine, with the goal of remotely controlling an ore-transportation truck.

The aim of PIMM is to explore potential productivity and safety benefits from rolling out 5G technologies in the mining sector, as well as the requirements for industrial use of 5G. There is as yet no formal 5G standard, and the work will contribute to its definition.

In September, Ericsson and Telstra staged the first public demonstration of 5G technology in Australia.

De Bruin says that there are specific aspects of 5G that will be particularly valuable from the perspective of the mining sector.

“The 5G characteristics of very low latency and very high speeds will enable remotely controlled vehicles and machines in mining, and also enable higher degrees of automation (a larger number of machines being remotely controlled or autonomous) due to the higher capacity of 5G,” De Bruin said.

“The flexibility of 5G will also support different services with very different requirements, so that critical and high priority services with strict requirements are protected, at the same time as less critical services with less strict requirements are not ‘starved’ and still supported, in parallel.We refer to this as network slicing – each service has its specific slice, supporting its specific requirements.”

De Bruin said that before 5G is standardised in 2018 ahead of commercial availability (which is expected to be around 2020) “it is essential that as an intermediate step, we continue to explore tomorrow’s use cases using today’s technologies”.

“By doing this our ecosystem partners will be better able to implement solutions when 5G technologies are commercially available,” he added.

5G will help enable “digitalised mines,” Ericsson believes.

“Communication [and] cloud technologies are enablers for automation and digital transformation,” De Bruin said. “With automation, you could go deeper in the mines, avoid having people in the most dangerous parts of the mines and extend production hours (start working earlier after a blast, shorten interruption times for shift changes, etc.) At the same time, you would improve safety – partially by not having people in the most challenging areas, but also by providing functionality as positioning, alarms, surveillance, etc.

“We are seeing that the match between mining needs and requirements and the ability for technology to support those needs is getting closer. Robustness and reliability are important — local survivability is a necessity, so solutions with local functionality, computing and data storage are needed. Contiguous services, going from inside the mine and out is expected – for voice services, but also for autonomous trucks.”

Although it can take time to establish, cross-industry collaboration is the key to developing effective solutions, he added. Along with Ericsson, PIMM has been supported by ABB, Boliden, SICS Swedish ICT and Volvo CE. Other 5G for Sweden participants include Telia, SKF and Scania.

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