The mining industry, particularly in Australia, has a history of great competitive success developing proprietary processes, equipment and technology.
But times are changing. Our industry partners have voiced a number of concerns over the possible consequences of working with an increasing number of separate vendor networks on a mine site. When a mine has to manage multiple networks simultaneously, there is the potential to inhibit safety practices and reduce productivity. Miners need their businesses to be flexible and their technologies well integrated to uphold their safety protocols and remain competitive. As more and more sophisticated equipment, particularly autonomous equipment, is coming to the marketplace, this is becoming increasingly difficult to do. Mining companies are calling for comprehensive open communications platforms.
One reaction of the miners and manufacturers to this situation has been to come together in a number of groups to develop formal documentation, frameworks and protocols. The Global Mining Standards Group (GMSG) Underground Communication Infrastructure Working Group is developing practical guidelines for underground digital communications and the Earth Moving Equipment Safety Round Table is doing significant work, developing protocols for vehicle interactions, with a strong focus on interoperability.
How can a move to a comprehensive open communications system benefit manufacturers as well as miners? From the manufacturers’ perspective, the time and money it can take to develop, protect and patent technologies are not always realised in revenue. Particularly when the tech does not fall under the core business umbrella. Are the communications platforms on which the technology operates part of their core business, or would they benefit from allowing external expertise to develop and operate these? If manufacturers can focus on the development of their core, competitive products, and not on non-business critical projects, R&D costs and time can be dramatically reduced.
We are missing one group of people in this discussion – the entrepreneurs, startups and small businesses that are producing the competitive products and new tech that miners want to use, but may be finding difficult to implement. The benefit of open systems is obvious for entrepreneurs; they suddenly become very competitive in a market that they previously found difficult to access. Likewise, as we touched on above, miners need these technologies to remain competitive too.
The advantages of moving towards open and integrated systems on a single platform may seem obvious, but it is unlikely to be an easy road to get there, particularly for the manufacturers. Who’s going to move first? Can they move together? How will this change their businesses and its structure?
Unearthed is undertaking a new challenge and experiment with the industry to try and facilitate this change. This will bring miners and manufacturers together, on an issue they are not competitive in – safety. It is also a chance for entrepreneurs to help change the game for the industry, with their flexible structures allowing accelerated development of technology that the industry needs.
In this challenge, entrepreneurs are being asked to prototype a safety-stop device for autonomous equipment. Clearly, there are devices currently in the marketplace that perform a similar function, but what this challenge will show is the ability of a global talent network to come up with something different, usually something drastically different, to the current design. Is the existing option really the best it can be?
This safety-stop device must be able to operate and talk to any piece of equipment. For miners and manufacturers, it is this communications system that is the key to gaining universal approval and adoption of the technology. If one piece of equipment can speak to anything, then so can many others, and the next time a new piece of technology is required, it will be easier to implement.
The first part of the challenge is global idea generation and prototyping. Then we are seeking the support of miners, manufacturers and entrepreneurs to work together to accelerate the ideas, develop a product, and adopt it. Easy right? For the entrepreneurs, this is the opportunity to work closely with the industry’s biggest partners to develop a solution. With full investment from all parties, we hope to see this challenge succeed, and demonstrate how productive it can be working together towards a common goal.
Will the challenge work? There is no doubt that it is in the best interest of miners and manufacturers to work together, and there are many cases where they already do. During the recent challenging market conditions, we have seen the industry start to innovatively reshape strategies and structure; we hope this will allow them to succeed and have the capacity to adopt alternate and integrated solutions. We will keep you posted.
Unearthed and our partners BHP, Barrick and MRIWA invite you to be part of this international challenge. Head to https://unearthed.solutions/shield-x/