How satellite enabled IoT technology supports efficient and sustainable mining
The expectations on mining firms to operate sustainably are increasing globally. The Canadian government’s recent call to halt deep sea mining, because of its environmental impact, is a key example of the increasing pressure on mining firms to conduct business in a sustainable way.
With environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) now a top area of concern for the mining industry, firms must look to adopt technologies that not only facilitate safer and more sustainable operations, but also enable transparency of reporting to meet regulations.
As mining sites are usually located in remote areas, the access to a reliable internet connection is often limited because installation of terrestrial connectivity can be both difficult and costly. However, satellite enabled internet of things (IoT) solutions are already helping to facilitate this move. Whether by improving process visibility to ensure operational efficiency or supporting employee welfare, these solutions are proving instrumental in the future of mining and will only increase in importance moving forward.
Increasing operational visibility and efficiencies
By tracking machinery and day-to-day operations via satellite enabled IoT solutions, mining firms can extract a significant amount of granular data to enable better decision making and improve efficiencies.
Water management is a core element of improving sustainability and with the help of connected sensors, key operations in this area – like tailings dam monitoring and water pump control – can be conducted more accurately and remotely. This can help operators to monitor for leaks, polluted water, or water wastage more easily and enable them to act quickly in case of an emergency.
Solution providers such as Insight Terra help mining operators manage geotechnical, hydrological, and other environmental risks through their satellite enabled IoT solutions powered by Viasat’s ultra-reliable L-band satellite network. As the solution is managed through Insight Terra’s “Insight Platform,” mining firms can receive real-time data that is automatically analyzed and presented in an easily digestible way via customisable dashboards, enabling them to make more informed, rapid decisions as needed.
Another example of the use of satellite enabled IoT solutions to improve operational efficiencies can be seen in the maintenance of closed mines where pumps can be controlled remotely using such technologies. One of the costliest operations for firms managing these sites is the pumping of water out of closed mines – both in terms of energy use and the requirement of staff to oversee the process. With mining firms legally obligated to closely monitor closed locations, despite them no longer active, automation of these operations can be a great investment.
Improving employee well-being and safety
Satellite enabled IoT solutions can also play a vital role in improving employee safety. For example, through remote IoT weather monitoring capabilities, mining firms can improve their understanding of climate patterns that may impact the well-being of their employees on site.
Through data capture of past weather events, companies can leverage predictive analytics to anticipate upcoming changes ahead of time, for example when sudden heavy rainfall or other extreme weather conditions take place and require evacuation of the site. In doing so, firms can mitigate against any health and safety risks by protecting their workforce well in advance.
Moreover, a recent report by McKinsey found 71% of mining leaders believe talent shortage is hindering them from reaching their objectives. With satellite enabled IoT solutions giving mining firms a reduced need for staff on site, firms can prioritize investment in other areas. This means more training or skillset development programmes to help elevate the capabilities and expertise of their workforce in line with their objectives.
Satellite enabled IoT solutions can also facilitate centralized vehicle and machinery monitoring to improve staff safety. For example, supported by Viasat’s satellite connectivity, Ivanhoe Mines has gained greater understanding of their everyday operations through the adoption of satellite enabled IoT technology for remote monitoring over recent years. Their central office can monitor the speed of their vehicles more closely, enabling operators to contact drivers to request they slow down where needed and reduce the risk of accidents.
Leveraging satellite connectivity to meet current and future ESG demands
Given mining sites are typically located in remote, rural areas, access to reliable connectivity to power IoT solutions can be limited or even unavailable. Terrestrial connectivity infrastructure is both expensive and difficult to install, particularly when considering the typical life span of mines is often just a few years. This is where satellite connectivity can have a major advantage, as it can be activated and used in remote locations without relying on physical infrastructure.
Viasat’s L-band network provides end-to-end security and high network availability – making it a great option for mining firms looking to adopt satellite enabled IoT solutions within their sites. By adopting satellite enabled IoT solutions, mining firms can futureproof their operations in a myriad of ways at the same time as keeping their staff and environment safe.
With pressure only expected to increase for mining firms to improve their ESG credentials and reporting of their performance, those that have already begun to leverage satellite powered IoT solutions are set to benefit from a crucial competitive advantage.
Nicholas Prevost is APAC market development manager and director of mining at Viasat, which is a global communications company that believes everyone and everything in the world can be connected. Viasat has offices in 24 countries around the world. On May 31, 2023, Viasat completed its acquisition of Inmarsat, combining the teams, technologies, and resources of the two companies to create a new global communications partner.