Supporting Autonomy with a Mission-Critical Network

While mining applications initially required only basic telemetry to transmit data, the rise of more complex applications, including fleet management, resulted in a requirement for better-performing networks.

The recent introduction of remote control and autonomous applications just increased the difficulty of the challenge.

Guaranteeing a mission-critical wireless network

When considering the deployment of an Autonomous Haulage System (AHS) at your site, a mission-critical wireless network is key. There are certain elements to the process that are dictated by the choice of the AHS application. The big OEMs have a rigid set of requirements that must be followed in order for the network supporting AHS to be certified. This assists with the management of the risk around the performance of the network and given its criticality.

Alternatively, the choice to use a third party vendor (such as SafeAI) enables more choice in technology and product selection. Whether the technology choice comes from OEM specifications, or via a more open design process with third-party applications, the performance of the network is mandated by these technology and product decisions. But it is only one part of the story.

Outside of specified performance, the design and integration into existing systems and infrastructure must be predominantly focused on reliability and the redundancy of the parts that make up the network. As a simple example, a customer has the foundational fibre network that promotes a particular path in the design of the network. Another customer has little in terms of existing connectivity across their site and, as a result, the network design is driven down a different path. The mechanisms around reliability and redundancy, used in each design, are different because of the different environmental contexts that both exist within.

This is where a proper site-specific design with appropriate levels of redundancy and resiliency, distinctive to the site and its environs, will ensure you get the mission-critical wireless network you need.

Optimizing performance of your third-party AHS applications

Technology options are ever increasing in terms of third party AHS applications. The choice to use a third party AHS can open up more options in terms of the design and management of the supporting network.

As an example, deployment of a hybrid network that will support your AHS application on one network technology, while connecting the rest of your applications on another is an exciting opportunity to ensure throughput and connectivity of all your mining applications. In some cases, LTE could be used for the autonomous application benefiting from its high throughput and licensed spectrum, while Wi-Fi could be used for the other applications freeing up all available bandwidth on the LTE network for autonomy.

For our forward-looking customers, these choices are important as it gives them the ability to future proof their current technology choices (let’s say Wi-Fi with FMS), with their proposed technology (LTE and AHS), and set a clear path for the transition between the two over a period of several years.

The deployment of a hybrid network can sound daunting because it sounds like it entails a bunch of network side integration activities and the ongoing management of the two networks. Fortunately, with the installation of a hybrid client that can manage the connection to both networks and segregate the data generated from the mobile equipment based on the application type, the solution is quite simple.

Taking it one step further, this hybrid client can include edge computing power. Then the management of Quality of Service, bandwidth limiting and other functions can be applied at the edge and allow prioritization of your critical data while storing and forwarding the rest of the data at a specific time and/or location ensuring bandwidth is always available for your critical applications. At 3D-P, this is the power of the 3D-P Intelligent Endpoint®.

Ongoing support of your AHS

There is a longer-term component involving the deployment and support of highly critical applications like AHS. Standard 24/7 desktop style support no longer cuts it when the reliability of your wireless network becomes that critical. The solution to this issue depends however on the skillset of the resources at the site.

While the introduction of AHS allows some efficiency gains, a need to up-skill and up-size the team that supports the new critical network appears. As it was recently mentioned in Monthly Mining Magazine “there is a shortage of skilled autonomous operators, developers and consultants, some of whom are moving to the autonomous auto market.”

Finding skilled in-house operators is proving a challenge to the wider implementation of these critical applications and an alternative more commonly adopted by miners resides in the development of partnerships between technology vendors and sites.

As a site progresses through their autonomy journey, from Proof of Concept to network transition to fully autonomous deployment, the right technology partner will develop a transition plan that will reduce downtime while ensuring the right level of support is provided. Managed services that include both proactive network monitoring and embedded network specialists at the site appear to be a solution preferred by many.

At 3D-P we understand the unique challenges deployment of an AHS pose and have worked for hand in hand with a number of our customers to ensure their network performs optimally while having the right resource always available.

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