Modern mining is high-tech, efficient and safer than ever, even though there are still many places around the world where mines operate more or less as they did last century. However, in developed economies, where worker safety is heavily regulated and efficiency is valued, things are changing rapidly and the mine of the future is not far from becoming the norm.
Through the latest in sensor and cloud technology, connected mines are modernizing the extraction process, improving workers’ safety and increasing productivity.
Modern mining companies that embrace the digital age can rely on a wide array of recent technological advances for their operations. Here are a few examples:
Automation: autonomous vehicles and automated technologies can be used in ultra-deep and remote mines.
Ventilation on demand: the airflow system is only turned on to direct fresh air where and when required, thus reducing ventilation costs.
Sensors: smart mining can track and optimize mining operations, capture a multitude of data that can be analyzed in real-time and provide vital information. The data collected allows engineers to create simulations to plan and schedule operations and prevent failure and downtime.
GPS: high-accuracy GPS technology can assist in precision drilling and in directing autonomous haul trucks.
Drones: can provide real-time aerial footage of mining sites for maintenance, monitoring and mapping.
EVs: Electrical and hydrogen-powered vehicles reduce carbon emissions and provide better air quality for workers in underground mine shafts.
Wearables: portable communication and monitoring devices provide real-time access to critical information on air quality, equipment maintenance operations in general.
3D printing: the technology can help increase productivity and efficiency, including the on-demand production of repair and replacement parts.
3D imaging: the 3D imaging can help understand the geology of ore deposit, thus reducing waste.
In the connected mine, all operations are optimized: productivity, efficiency and safety increase dramatically. Supervisors and engineers on site can receive alerts via text messages, email or in-app notifications and can, in turn, react to critical issues in real time and maximize productivity. In addition, advanced data analytics can be applied to the raw data to create insights, visualizations, and recommendations. This information is delivered to mine managers and employees in real time on their mobile devices.
As is the case with larger pieces of equipment used in explosive (Ex) atmospheres, any device – such as sensors – has to be designed and built in compliance with the very strict requirements set out in standards and specifications, most notably in IEC International Standards developed by IEC Technical Committee 31: Equipment for explosive atmospheres.
Designing and building equipment and devices in compliance with IEC International Standards is not enough on its own. To ensure that any piece of equipment meets the required criteria, it has also to be tested and certified. Products associated with a certificate of conformity satisfy the criteria for safe usage in hazardous environments.
IECEx, the IEC System for Certification to Standards Relating to Equipment for Use in Explosive Atmospheres, is the only truly international conformity assessment system that provides testing and certification for all items of Ex equipment – electrical and non-electrical – and installations as well as certifying the skills and competence of individuals working in hazardous areas.
The System addresses the inspection (location and other), installation, maintenance and repair of equipment and systems and assesses the competence of personnel working in this highly specialized area.
IECEx has been endorsed by the United Nations (UN) through the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) as the certification system for the assessment of conformity in Ex areas.
IECEx operates the following schemes:
It also runs the IECEx conformity mark licensing system which provides on-the-spot evidence that products bearing the conformity mark are covered by an IECEx certificate of conformity.
All master certificates are available on the IECEx website, allowing for instant checking on computers or mobile devices. Most importantly, the IECEx certificate database has been recently revamped for easier, more user-friendly access to any certificate. Certificates can be searched by date range, certification body, applicant (manufacturer, service facility, person), status (current, cancelled, suspended), scope, country or keywords.