Mining is incredibly dangerous, and there’s simply no way around that fact. What’s more, unlike most working environments, where dangerous or unexpected incidents are entirely out of the ordinary, dangerous or unpredictable emergencies can occur almost hourly in a mine.
Fortunately, the safety record of mines has been improving in recent years. And AI and IoT in mining have been substantially responsible for these recent improvements in mine safety. These technologies have made this impressive contribution because they enable immediate responses to dangerous situations or accidents, no matter how sudden they may be.
- State-of-mine monitoring. Internet of Things sensors retrofitted to mining equipment can gather data in real time and transfer it for cloud-based analysis. With these measures in place, the system can send alerts to staff both on-site and off-site when spillages, breakdowns, or other emergencies occur. This way, engineers can act to mitigate hazards, call emergency responders, or take other remedial action as appropriate.
- Obstacle detection and avoidance within mines. Mining companies can equip their trucks with radar video monitoring, lidar, infrared viewing equipment, GPS tags, and other sensors. These equipment retrofits enable the machines to “see” obstacles and barriers, avoid them if they can, and notify remote operators if they cannot. While the trucks rarely have effective pathfinding processing on board, cloud-based IoT AI systems can process transmitted data to determine a safe path around almost any obstacle. In this scenario, the machines work together to ensure safe and efficient traversal of the mine site without any engineer intervention whatsoever.
Of course, this is only a sample of how IoT software company and AI actively create value and safety in coal mines and other mining environments. You won’t be surprised to learn that there are many other ways for these technologies to enhance safety and efficiency in mining environments. Read on to examine some more.
Fighting Coal Dust Inhalation
For miners, a surprisingly common health concern is what’s called “miners’ black lung.” This ominous-sounding condition results from continuous inhalation of coal dust. It is worth noting, of course, that coal dust is so abrasive and caustic that it damages the gears of machinery in the mines. Unsurprising, therefore, that this condition can include symptoms like scarred lung tissue and intense shortness of breath.
Mining companies can use AI-controlled IoT mining dust management systems. Such preventive equipment includes sensors for real-time data monitoring analytics platforms and application program interfaces or APIs. Once these systems are deployed with an adequate number of sensors to have a good overview of conditions throughout the facility, they can monitor and analyze data on dust generation in real time. The system can feed this information to an analytic engine which yields new insights for service engineers and technicians on the level of dust generation in a given area. This new insight into the distribution of dust throughout the facility equips engineers and health technicians to make better decisions about mitigation. All of these conditions combine to make mining much safer with AI and IoT than without it.
Miners also face an ongoing risk from vapors and gases. Specifically, workers face an ever-present danger from carbon monoxide poisoning and poisonous and flammable methane gas. To reduce the danger from these sources, virtually every mining provider now uses some form of monitoring for airflow, ventilation, and gas detection. From the old-school canary in the coal mine to modern smart gas measurement and analysis systems, keeping an eye on the gas makeup in a mining environment has always been a good idea. Smart gas measurement and analysis systems keep a continuous tab on flammable or toxic gas levels. Once again, in the event of an explosion or a dangerous gas leak, these systems can alert staff on-site and off-site, ensuring that someone can immediately take appropriate action. These sensors also help to ensure that ventilation and fresh air flow stay within optimal parameters for human health and safety.
Managing Accidents in Mines
Anyone who has worked in one knows that mines are dangerous places. They face the risk of extreme temperatures, havens, and gas explosions. But, it’s worth noting that mining companies and personnel now have tools to mitigate these risks. In fact, AI and IoT for worker safety are the ideal solutions in these hazardous environments.
To protect worker health and safety, companies can deploy systems consisting of AI analysis and control algorithms alongside IoT hardware systems, including sensors and alarms. Both of these feed data to users through mobile and web applications. For example, Huawei has built an AI-powered solution called Mine Brain. The primary objective of this system is to prevent human beings from having to work in the most dangerous conditions mines have to offer.
Due to its well-trained AI algorithms, the Mine Brain can generally detect any dangerous scenario before it becomes an emergency. Computer vision and continuous sensor analysis predict or identify potentially unsafe scenarios, which Mine Brain sends to the central system. The central system analyzes and offers safety recommendations for efficiently replacing human beings with machines in locations where catastrophic events are probable. This Huawei system has already seen deployment in one Mongolian coal mine. There, it has significantly reduced the number of people needed within the mine shafts while maintaining positive safety records and boosting the company’s financial performance.
AI in the mining industry can also predict process failures through analytics and steady flows of real-time data. This enables responsible mining companies to make good decisions about deploying autonomous Machinery instead of human staff. In addition, because of the data-driven decision-making capacity of these systems, the technology can be a trusted partner in making challenging and potentially costly decisions about safety.
Monitoring Staff Wellbeing
IoT and AI in mining have also ushered in some very positive changes to Health Management at the micro or personal level for staff. Because of the extreme conditions we discussed previously, miners are at an unusually high risk of many dangers, including fatigue-related injuries, drowsiness, and system stress from high heat and humidity.
This is where wearables enter the equation. Various vendors offer smart wearables such as caps, helmets, vests, and watches to monitor the health and safety of workers while underground. Smart wearable devices continuously monitor vital life signs or biometrics in real time. In addition, they can notify the user and remote health personnel of any deviations in these vital statistics. These technologies can help save lives, considerably lower the number of work-related injuries in mining, and greatly reduce costs. In some cases, they can even uncover previously unnoticed health conditions unrelated to the workplace, saving lives.
Compliance with Safety Rules
Unfortunately, it is not unheard of for mine personnel to disregard or forget basic safety rules. This issue can arise from many causes, including ignorance or a simple lack of awareness. It may result from deliberate violation or neglect. Unsafe actions or disregard of safety rules can cost lives. Fortunately, AI and IoT in mining technologies can now step in to prevent this.
A US-based company called Guardhat uses IoT-enabled helmets to collect data on worker activity. These helmets collect their data using sensors, cameras, and microphones. The sensors monitor the workers to detect exactly where and how they fulfill their duties. These sensors also determine whether the miners are still safe to continue with their work. These helmets, for example, can detect whether the worker has employed appropriate safety kits for elevated working where there is a real danger of a fall. If the worker does not have the proper equipment, then the system has the power to stop them from doing their job until they obtain the necessary equipment. However, not everything is controllable or predictable. If an accident happens despite the worker’s full use of appropriate safety gear and protocols, the system can alert safety supervisors. This way, an unforeseen fall, collision with moving equipment, or exposure to toxic gas can be detected and addressed quickly, even if the event has incapacitated the worker.
Time to Benefit from AI in Mining and Boost Security
In the mining sector, it is critical to accurately predict and observe workers’ behavior to anticipate possible risks to human health, safety, and capital equipment. Unfortunately, this kind of monitoring and recording wasn’t always possible. But today, digital technologies like AI and IoT in mining are making this precautionary approach entirely realistic.
If you’re considering increasing safety within your mining organization, Softeq is your trusted partner. If you know that you can benefit from these technologies but are still uncertain about getting started, there’s no better time to arrange a consultation with one of our engineers to learn more about deploying AI and IoT for mining safety in your business