Underground mines are challenging environments for safe operation of autonomous machines, but next generation digital solutions could change that. A joint R&D project coordinated by VTT shows the potential of industrial 5G and edge intelligence in this field and creates new solutions for safe underground mining.
VTT, Nokia and Sandvik, together with other Finnish companies, have taken steps towards deploying state-of-the-art 5G private wireless networks and edge intelligence to support autonomous mining. The mission of the Next Generation Mining project was to research, demonstrate and evaluate the feasibility and potential of industrial 5G, digital twin, and edge computing enabling safe digitalization of underground mines. The aim is to provide highly automated and remotely controlled mining operations.
“In this project, VTT has applied and further strengthened research competences related to 5G performance, situational awareness, sensor technologies, edge computing and artificial intelligence on new mining applications assessed in not only local laboratory environments but also in the real operational test mine environment”, says Sauli Eloranta, Vice President, Safe and connected society, VTT.
Improving safety, productivity and sustainability in mining industry
The key results of the project include various novel solutions based on 5G and edge intelligence. These technologies enable virtual and dynamic safety zone algorithms and concepts, situational awareness and adaptive autonomous control solutions for autonomous moving mining machines, 360° real-time video streaming for underground vehicles, and digital twin of underground mining sites connecting the site systems, devices and vehicles for near real-time communications. Also, radio signal measurements were made to improve the wireless networks design capabilities and performance in underground environments. These solutions can improve safety, productivity and environmental sustainability in underground mining.
“This is a great joint-initiative among multiple ecosystem partners, creating new and unique capabilities to revolutionize the mining industry by enabling real-time video streaming and safe remote operations. These capabilities will play a crucial role in unlocking the full potential of industrial 5G for the future mining industry and developing further the Nokia Connected Digital Mine capabilities with Nokia Private Wireless and MX Industrial edge as platforms for edge applications,” says Jarkko Pellikka, Ecosystem and Innovation Manager at Nokia.
A new, collaborative R&D process including underground testing
This project developed and applied a new R&D process, where the common long-term goals, experimental system architectures, iterative development of the prototype systems, and evaluation trials were done in collaboration among the consortia. The R&D process included multiple prototyping and evaluation trial rounds enabling evaluation and improvement of the technology from laboratory all the way to integrated prototype systems in the Sandvik underground test mine. In addition, a workshop series was held on Mine Information Modeling, engaging relevant actors outside the consortia in Finland and abroad.
“Underground mining environment is unique and complex. To deeper understand what affects safety, reliability and performance of the prototype systems developed in the project, Sandvik offered its state-of-the-art Test Mine facilities in Tampere to be used as test bed for NGMining technology trials and demonstrations. We provided real-life mining use cases where the prototype could be deployed and tested. On top of solving technical aspect set forth in NG Mining, it was also great to develop and learn new ways of working with project partners!” says Miika Kaski, Commercialization and Networks Lead at Sandvik.
“It has been extremely useful for Satel, as a specialist supplier of mission-critical connectivity for demanding industrial applications, to contribute and collect the learnings enabled by the great co-operation between the ecosystem partners. The NGMining project effectively addressed intricate connectivity requirements in underground mining environments by deploying secure and robust 5G technology, enhancing it with smartly integrated WiFi Mesh connectivity for added reliability. Satel has leveraged these findings to develop innovative multiband vehicle router solutions that effectively address connectivity challenges in underground mining and other Off-Highway Vehicle applications”, says Johan Korin, Business Development Director at Satel.
Learn more about the project from the NGMining video.
The Next Generation Mining (NGMining) project started in May 2021 and ended in September 2023. It also included University of Oulu as a research partner, as well as Epec, SATEL, Huld, Terrasolid, Etteplan, Noptel, Unikie, Iiwari, Millisecond, Wizense and Indagon as company partners. The project advisory board included representatives from Outokumpu and Agnico Eagle Finland, Telia 5G Business, Kalmar and Ponsse. The project was funded by Business Finland in connection with Nokia and Sandvik Veturi programs.