Enabling a Remote Controlled Mining

Enabling a Remote Controlled Mining

Marius Van Tonder is the IT Manager at Fraser Alexander. With more than two decades of experience in the IT industry, he has spent much of his career leading digital transformation across reputed organizations. His expertise in Cisco WAN equipment, architecture, networking, security, strategic development and people management has made him a proficient leader in the mining industry.

As the IT Manager at Fraser Alexander, what are some of the challenges plaguing the mining operations today?

Over the years of my career spanning 22 years, I’ve always found network connectivity challenging due to the remoteness of our mining operations. The lack of proper network infrastructure for mobile, satellite and microwave networks makes it difficult for latency-sensitive systems to work.

Today adherences to wireless coverage have become inevitable to operate mining units – to communicate back and forth from control rooms to the system/employees. Any latency in delivering the message will automatically cut off the connection to the system to maintain safety. However, working on a wireless platform with full coverage live cameras are much costlier compared to commonly used networks.

Please shed some light on the recent trends in the mining sector.

In the mining sector, the concept of network security has constantly been evolving for the past ten years. Unlike other firms that depend on third parties for systems, at Fraser Alexander, we use independent infrastructure for mining. We ensure IT networks are segregated through proper next-generation firewalls to implement AI systems like Darktrace with antigenic scanning to map network traffic and automatically block anything that looks suspicious. By doing so, we keep our network isolated and in control.

Multifactor authentication has also become crucial to keep everything isolated, especially in the operational technology (OT) and PLC systems.

How is Fraser Alexander addressing digital evolution to implement new technologies in mining effectively?

People who used to work in manual mining units are familiar in operating remotes as they used to have one where they stood. The only difference is that the remote, 5 to 10m away, is now at a 500m to 1km distance in control rooms. Our employees and clients welcomed this gradual transition, and we’ve been implementing remotely controlled mining projects since 2019.

“Today adherences to wireless coverage have become inevitable to operate mining units – to communicate back and forth from control rooms to the system/employees”

At Fraser Alexander, we deployed our unique tailing risk assessment system, TORAS, using STEM solutions for quality monitoring and risk management. It operates on an excel and macro-based system consisting of individual spreadsheets and incorporates business intelligence to provide real-time live information. After the successful trials of TORAS on iOS and Android platforms, we are now launching its mobile app.

Consolidating TORAS in remotely operating mining units enabled us to monitor and manage operational risks closely. As a result, employees could see the work and control the machine via a wireless network that connects control rooms and the unit itself.

In light of your experience, what will be your advice to fellow peers and leaders in the industry?

With digitalization and the post-industrial revolution, every activity in the mining industry became dependent on network infrastructure and security. Therefore, one needs to partner with the right network providers to maintain the quality of work. To gain better results, we need to invest our best.

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