To miners, data is gold

Article content

For companies in the mining industry, extraction of metals and minerals is their core business. But competence in safely and effectively carrying out the above-and below-ground operations that characterize this fundamental activity are only part of the story. From the perspective of management, mining itself is but one part of a bigger matrix of planning, activity and investment, often with global reach.

To operate efficiently, to service customers and indeed to know where to dig or drill in the first place, a mining business might be better described as a data extraction process – from the earth and from equipment on site, and from suppliers, customers and employees. Then, the aim of the business is to turn that data into information that multiplies the value of the metals and minerals retrieved.

Thus African mining companies today exist at the coalface of two closely related technological movements that are shaping the 21st Century industry. One is IoT, or the internet of things; the other is data analytics, often dubbed Big Data. Both share a critical enabling factor: high-grade connectivity.

At Telstra, we’ve partnered with satellite communications leader SES Networks to build connectivity packages geared to the needs of data-rich companies operating in remote, geographically challenging locations. The mining industry exactly meets that definition, and we’re excited by the possibilities for an industry so deeply exposed to the opportunities and challenges of turning data into business-boosting insights.

If data can be transmitted quickly and efficiently processing centre with sufficient computing power, it can be turned into the management information that mining companies need to improve performance, safety and profitability.

Real time, real value

This is possible with SES’s latest generation of satellite technology. Our comprehensive range of services combine the global reach of SES’s established, proven and reliable geostationary (GEO) satellites with the low-latency and high capacity of its O3b MEO and O3b mPOWER middle earth orbit (MEO) constellations and dedicated ground infrastructure.

SES services from Telstra deliver the low latency advantage of MEO communications – that’s latency of less than 150ms – combined with uncontended throughput reaching multiple gigabits per second per link. Because bandwidth is uncontended, throughput is never slowed down by other users’ demands. That combination of low latency and scalable, uncontended capacity means real-time decisions can be made safely and reliably at a remote data centre, with high levels of processing power that can’t be delivered on-site.

Data-powered benefits

Mining companies around the world are beginning to enjoy the benefits of advanced data management. Exploiting on-site data in near-real-time is helping to automate some  tasks, for example by operating self-driving vehicles in dangerous locations. Automated drilling equipment can save time and manpower, while predictive maintenance can help avoid damage or stoppages. Other sensors can alert personnel to health hazards or raise a warning if a collapse is imminent.

And, the speed and throughput of our MEO services also deliver real benefits in workforce well-being. Just like at head office, workers on-site have come to expect high-performance 24-hour connectivity. Whether it’s a video call to loved ones back home or a work meeting with far-flung colleagues, miners will take comfort in having their communication needs covered by Telstra and SES.

Leap to the future

Some of the most exciting applications of this confluence of data and communication technologies may be put to the test in the mining industry in Africa. There, a labour-intensive industry has the opportunity to leap straight to the most modern techniques in connectivity and mine management.

Some initial costs may be high, especially in sensors and front-end equipment, but the return on investment potential is immense, with attractive prospects for employment and profitability.