Sustainable mining and the future of industrial safety technologies

May 4, 2018 10:14:00 AM

Technology used in an underground mine

Safety in mining and industrial operations has improved considerably over the past decade – and indeed, the last century. Mine and industrial legislation and standards have helped to pave the way for more structured workplace safety, ensuring working conditions are optimal and that operatives are well trained to mitigate problems.

Of course, while legislation has helped to improve safety across mining and industrial operations, it is technology that has played a key role in facilitating some of the more comprehensive mining and industrial safety practices. In many respects, legislation and industrial safety technologies have worked hand-in-hand to deliver all-encompassing security for the workforce.

However, while mining and industrial safety is drastically better than a century ago – there is always room for improvement. As mining and industrial operations evolve to become more efficient, employing new mining techniques and technology, new problems arise. Innovation in mining and industrial operations might drive productivity – but change always brings new challenges and as a result, operations must incorporate new industrial safety technologies to guarantee operator safety.

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How will industrial safety technologies change in the future?

Artificial Intelligence, IoT devices, real-time monitoring solutions and much more, are all set to change the face of mining and industrial safety, shifting safety from purely responsive to preventative and all-encompassing. As workers in mining and industrial operations are routinely exposed to some of the most dangerous, harsh and hazardous working environments on a daily basis – they not only need the right solutions to mitigate incidents but also to prevent them entirely. So, what does the future of industrial safety technologies hold?


Real-time control and monitoring

One element of technology which is already being used to monitor and improve workers’ safety are IoT devices.

Already in use across mining and industrial operations, IoT-connected devices such as wireless personnel tracking tools, sensors, environment monitoring tools, communication tools and wireless gas detection solutions, for example, allow operations managers to monitor the environment and communicate/track personnel in real-time.

Sensors located across an operation, for example, can assess environmental conditions such as oxygen and gas levels, alerting operatives on the ground of any potential problems who can then communicate with the main control centre in real-time. Similarly, wireless personnel tracking tools – along with a dedicated wired tracking network ensure that personnel can be tracked wherever and whenever if the main wired network fails.

These IoT solutions are typically linked up to a central command interface, such as a supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) to provide operation-wide monitoring. By connecting these devices across the operation and linking them to a central command interface, mining safety technology can be drastically improved and control obtained over the entire operation.


AI-controlled safety solutions

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is one field of technology that is quickly being adopted across a number of industries. Already used in manufacturing, data analytics, marketing, healthcare and a number of other industries, the possibilities AI presents for mining and industrial activity are tremendous. While AI technology is not yet sophisticated enough to support comprehensive operations (most AI applications are ‘weak’ AI and cannot operate independently without a function assigned), AI-based technologies will undoubtedly be at the forefront of mining and industrial technology in the future.

For example, machine learning could be applied to mining safety technology, such as environment monitoring solutions, ventilation, gas detection and sensors which would then be linked up to a SCADA interface. The result is an AI-powered SCADA interface that can automatically assess the environment, offer data-based predictions on environment integrity and degradation, and then optimise ventilation and gas detection to maximise employee safety and prevent incidents happening.

Also, with the historical and current data collected by personnel tracking and equipment monitoring solutions, machine learning algorithms can learn from that data to understand overall operational performance. The machine learning algorithms can then optimise activities across the operation to deliver maximum efficiency and output whilst ensuring operatives are not excessively strained. These processes can then be validated by human operatives at the SCADA interface and they can “train” and fine tune the algorithm to improve incident detection further.

With AI-based technologies controlling mining and industrial processes, operator safety becomes all-encompassing and potential incidents or threats arising from poor conditions or equipment degradation can be identified far in advance – or even before the possibility arises! AI-based technologies combined with IoT devices will, in the future, deliver all-encompassing security that is not only responsive in real-time but also preventative.

Connected technology and the future of safety in the industrial workforce


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Written by Trolex News