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Imagine a large mining site with a processing and water plant, plus a power station, office buildings, dormitories, dining areas, gymnasium and swimming pool, as well as a seaport and airport. Such a facility is actually a small town — fully equipped with everything the working staff might require.
Governments and leading enterprises around the world are exploring Smart Cities, and the mining site example may be suitable. However, what if the mining area also has requirements to adapt to the era’s development for conducting digital transformation?
In Australia, CITIC Pacific Mining (CPM) and Huawei are exploring how to capitalize on digital platforms to affect their digital transformation strategy.
Headquartered in Perth, the capital of western Australia, CPM is a wholly-owned subsidiary of CITIC Limited, a Hong Kong-based conglomerate holding company.
CPM is responsible for the management, construction, and operation of the Sino Iron project at Cape Preston, located 100 kilometers southwest of Karratha in the Pilbara region of western Australia. Sino Iron includes mining, processing, and port operations that provide high-quality magnetite concentrate for CITIC Pacific Special Steel and other Chinese steel plants. It is already the largest seaborne supplier of magnetite concentrate to China. Underwritten by investments that exceed US$12 billion ($A16 billion), and with six stable processing lines, Sino Iron is one of the largest magnetite mining and operation projects in the world.
Sino Iron employs many advanced technologies and facilities, including large excavation equipment, a 480-megawatt combined-cycle gas power station, a 51 billion-liter seawater desalination plant, and a port at Cape Preston, approximately 40 kilometers from the mine and processing facilities.
Through its investment in downstream processes, the project provides numerous job opportunities and cross-border technology transfers, adding significant economic value to western Australia. Deloitte Access Economics estimates more than $A100 billion will be generated in export earnings for Australia over the life of the project, and expenditure of more than $A51 billion on goods and services within western Australia alone.
By mid 2016, processing lines 3 to 6 were up and running — six months ahead of schedule and well under budget. That year about 11 million tons of high-grade (65 percent Fe) was shipped to China. In 2017, this figure jumped to 17 million tons; and in 2018, production rates are expected to be even higher. The focus now turns to lowering operation costs and establishing the project on a long-term sustainable footing.
A core goal for CPM is to reduce labor costs and improve operational efficiency to lead to higher revenues.
There is no doubt that digital technologies, such as advanced ICT, will invigorate the company’s operations. This includes increasing efficiency through the deployment of new data centers, as well as office and production networks.
Production networks are closely related to production efficiency. CPM focused on end-to-end process control and expected to solve communication connection issues, such as those in its truck dispatching system and remote port communications. In addition, the company’s focus included implementing LTE connections for service modules in other production phases, further implementing the Internet of Things (IoT), and resolving production security issues.
The construction of campus networks in office and living areas will also be an important step toward improving efficiency. The original network devices — most deployed in 2008 and 2009 — required updating because they were advanced in age, with no original production service.
CPM planned to gradually upgrade its data centers and network devices to simplify its network management, improve Information Technology (IT) operational efficiency, enhance network security, and improve network experiences for offices and living entertainment.
Sino Iron practices traditional open-pit mining techniques for magnetite mining that uses drilling, blasting, and some of the world’s largest excavators and transportation vehicles. Unified dispatching for production vehicles in the mining area, such as dump trucks and excavators, is required to ensure efficient mineral exploration, loading, and transportation.
The traditional wireless network had coverage limitations. Access Point (AP) locations required frequent adjustments based on changing topographical levels in open-pit mining areas. This activity resulted in high Operations and Maintenance (O&M) costs. Data transmission was vulnerable to interference and instability, affecting the efficiency of mineral exploration, loading, and transportation.
Production scheduling required effective collaboration among on-site workers and production units. Legacy narrowband voice resources had insufficient bandwidth and provided only voice-based production scheduling rather than unified voice-video. The network could not communicate with other production networks, such as truck dispatching. Multiple networks coexisted in the mining area, resulting in unacceptable construction and maintenance costs.
Port Preston was the location that CPM’s magnetite concentrate was transshipped to by ocean-going vessels from offshore moorings. The requirements of ports were similar to those of mining areas, and include real-time performance, reliability, converged data transmission, and easy maintenance.
A primary use of the communications network is for port remote data transmission and truck dispatching systems. Additionally, the network plans to carry Closed-Circuit Television (CCTV), the IoT, and Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) data backhaul in the future.
Huawei offered a family of powerful digital platforms for CPM’s production and campus networks, such as the eLTE industry wireless private network, Cloud Data Center, and Smart Campus. Huawei implemented direct connections to core mining services, and IT and Operational Technology (OT) integration, building efficient communications among offices, living quarters, and production sites.
CPM chose Huawei, and the two signed a Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU) for strategic cooperation in November 2016 to address major projects such as truck dispatching and port communication LTEs, as well as urban and mining-area data center upgrades.
Huawei’s eLTE Solution for Efficient Scheduling
Huawei’s eLTE solution can be used flexibly on licensed and unlicensed spectrum. The wide coverage of the eLTE platform reduces the footprints and investment costs for base station, and improves anti-interference capabilities against co-channel interference.
Handover delay is low, with zero packet loss, to ensure an always-online signal for truck dispatch. The benefits of high system throughput and low delay are realized in CPM’s dense-terminal scenarios. Differentiated scheduling based on service priority safeguards the availability of key services like truck dispatching, production scheduling, and video services. Bi-directional authentication prevents network attacks and protects core data security.
Huawei’s eLTE solution implements seamless Wireless coverage for truck dispatching, and eliminates the need to routinely relocate base-stations. The unified delivery of stable and reliable dispatching information improves loading efficiency of dump trucks and excavators.
For production scheduling, video, data, and voice services are also carried in a unified manner that includes rich and visualized on-site information — a combination that improves unit-collaboration efficiency.
One network carries multiple services such as video surveillance, truck dispatching, and production scheduling. When combined, they are expected to save 30 percent in operation costs. With further major changes expected in the mining environment, Huawei can help improve the eLTE signal strength and the coverage range to ensure operational continuity.
Data Center with Open Architectures
CPM will gradually upgrade its data centers and Wi-Fi network.
Based on innovative chips, hardware, and software, Huawei provides the most complete cloud data center solutions in the industry to meet CPM’s requirements and specifications for mining areas and urban data centers. Multiple products can be provided, such as next-generation high-performance CloudEngine switches for data centers and the OceanStor S5500T for unified storage with a converged architecture.
At the network equipment aspect, Huawei provides CloudEngine and other devices that feature open architectures, standard network control protocols, and standard interfaces. At the controller aspect, Huawei deploys its Software Defined Network (SDN) controller and Agile Controller based on the open-source architectures, such as Open Network Operating System (ONOS) and OpenDaylight (ODL). Huawei also developed the data center network that supports linkage with virtual platforms and evolution towards cloud-network collaboration.
These solutions help CPM simplify its data center infrastructure and support its expansion over 10 years. The solutions’ advanced architecture, high performance, and rich functions ensure data center reliability and increase the efficiency of problem solving. In addition, Huawei’s one-stop solution reduces project risks and increases Return On Investment (ROI).
Huawei’s Wi-Fi solution will enable seamless roaming throughout mining, residential, and office areas with network access anytime and anywhere. In addition to improving office efficiency, the system lets employees contact the outside world during their leisure time.
From an industry development perspective, the digitalization of intensive mechanized operations like mining is still in its early stages, but is already showing the potential to raise profits through greater efficiency.
In response to critical demand, CPM provides a springboard for cooperation with Huawei, and Huawei provides a large digital platform suitable to CPM’s ICT explorations. Both parties will continue to collaboratively explore smart mining area development, and act as a reference for the digitalization and intelligentization of Australia’s mining industry.