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Accelerating the Development of the Industrial Internet and Promoting the Construction of Unified Standards and Architecture in the Coal Mining Industry

A head shot of Zou Zhilei, Senior Vice President of Huawei and Chairman of the Coal Mine Team.

Zou Zhilei

2022-01-18 100
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For a long time, coal has played a pivotal role in the economy, serving as the cornerstone for energy security and acting as a key stabilizer for the evolution and transformation of overall energy structure. In recent years, the transformation of the coal industry has been progressing rapidly, with the elimination of outdated production capacity and the ongoing optimization of the production structure.

Today, as a new generation of Information Technology (IT) emerges and the coal industry becomes ever more integrated, accelerating the intelligent construction of the coal industry is now the only way forward to realize high-quality development. As such, in February 2021, China's National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), along with eight ministries and commissions, jointly issued Guidance Opinions on Accelerating the Intelligent Development of Coal Mines, marking the beginning of the acceleration stage for the intelligent construction of the coal industry in the country. However, according to Wang Guofa, an academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering (CAE), integrating intelligence into China's coal mines is still at the stage of cultivation and demonstration, meaning that development is still insufficient and unbalanced, and that the overall level is not high, with a long way to go to achieving comprehensive intelligence.

To further accelerate the construction of intelligent coal mines, the Guide to Intelligent Construction of Coal Mines (2021 Edition), jointly released by the National Energy Administration and the State Bureau of Mine Safety Supervision of China, clearly states that a series of technical specifications and standards systems for the design, construction, evaluation, and acceptance of intelligent coal mines should be formed. It also stipulates the building of intelligent coal mines of various types and modes to improve safety levels . To meet the requirements of intelligent innovation and development, the Huawei Coal Mine Team is committed to reconstructing intelligent mining and jointly creating new value for coal, as well as sharing industry data, capabilities, knowledge, talent, and platforms through unified standards and architecture. Regarding safety, the team will focus on efficient, intensive, intelligent development for coal mines.

Five Challenges to Achieving Carbon Emissions Peak and Carbon Neutrality Goals

China's 14th Five-Year Plan announced twin goals to reach carbon emissions peak by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2060. These two ambitious goals are bringing about a broad and profound economic and social systemic change. Although this does not change the role of coal as the main energy source, it will catalyze the coal industry to pursue green and low-carbon transformation, accelerating high-quality development. It also puts pressure on the industry to build intelligently and accelerate scientific and technological innovation and industrial transformation.

Moreover, the sustained promotion of mechanization, informationization, automation, and intelligentization of coal mines has improved safety levels and helped to safeguard production . Improving safety is the biggest challenge facing the industry, so safety architecture, management regulations, and operations specifications must be prioritized first, and they can't be separated from the application of platform and digital technology.

However, in the new phase of the intelligentization of coal mines, five challenges must be addressed first in order to achieve better safety, reduce workforce demands, and achieve higher efficiency in coal production. This will lead the way to realizing green and low-carbon transformation, laying a foundation for achieving carbon emissions peak and carbon neutrality goals in the future.

To begin with the first challenge, it's clear that industry standards are lacking. Without a standard system to guide informationization and intelligent construction, the IT systems of enterprises aren't interconnected and data sharing and circulation isn't seamless. This not only reduces any IT system's true value, but also makes system upgrades and evolution difficult.

The next challenge focuses on traditional coal mine production and operations. Here, IT applications and Operational Technology (OT) systems are diversified, sourced from multiple vendors. Lacking unified interfaces as a result, cross-system integration and the integration of IT and OT becomes a major headache. Compounding the problem, production data is also not in a unified format and can't be quickly uploaded. Massive OT data can't be analyzed and modeled using IT, which seriously diminishes the value of data.

Data silos are also impeding development. Traditionally, coal mines have built IT systems based on the requirements of different business departments, without consideration for overall planning and design, leading to a variety of scattered and siloed systems. The independent deployment of each of these systems has not only resulted in high maintenance costs, but also severely restricts the circulation and collaborative application of data.

The safety of the coal mine network system and production equipment now also urgently needs to be improved. While the network system and production equipment improve the production process, the network is now facing threats from hardware equipment, software systems, and data circulating through the network all of the time. Indeed, the security, reliability, and continuity of network services are imperative to ensuring the safety of coal mine operations.

Finally, the industrial security of equipment Operating Systems (OSs) needs to be strengthened.

In short, the development of intelligent coal mines is hindered by the adoption of disparate systems from different vendors that have their own data systems and service logics, which makes system linkage and collaboration difficult. Moreover, without an industry-wide unified standard and specification system, innovation and development is stifled, jeopardizing the coal industry's ability to meet its carbon goals.

Build Unified Standards and Architecture to Lay a Solid Foundation for Intelligent Coal Mines

The past decade has been a golden era for the rapid development of the mobile Internet industry. In turn, mobile Internet applications have revolutionized work and life. How was such rapid growth possible? The key lies in the unified international standards, rules, and operation modes of the global communications network, as well as the concerted efforts of the entire industry ecosystem in mobilizing capital, technology, and the market.

Standards organizations like The 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) have proved vital, promoting unified standards and architecture for the communications industry. They have actively collaborated with carriers and vendors to create a mutually beneficial environment in the mobile Internet field, bringing a rich mobile Internet experience to people all around the world. It has, of course, led to the emergence of a host of technology pioneers, ranging from Apple to TikTok .

Today, the vigorous development of the digital economy is further accelerating the convergence of digital technologies and traditional industries. The industrial Internet is taking over from the mobile Internet and becoming a new engine for high-quality economic and social development. What lessons can be drawn from the successful experience of the mobile Internet in building unified standards and architecture to promote the rapid development of the industry?

In 2021, the Guide to the Development of the Industrial Internet Comprehensive Standardization System (2021 Edition) (Draft for Comments), released by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology and the National Standardization Administration Committee in China, states that, by 2023, an industrial Internet standard system will be formed. Its aims are to promote breakthroughs and take the lead in applying standards in key industries and domains, guiding enterprises to meet standards in Research and Development (R&D), production, and management.

The industrial Internet involves many industries and fields with a wide variety of resources, such as devices and data, at play. In addition, industrial knowledge is trivial and industrial applications are complex, so unifying standards and architecture for the entire industrial Internet field is a major challenge. Nonetheless, making a breakthrough in the coal mining industry is not only in line with national policy requirements, it is also precisely in line with the needs to develop intelligent coal mines.

To unify standards, industry management departments, manufacturers, coal mine equipment manufacturers, and intelligent application providers should work together to promote innovation and cooperation, all through the establishment of standards, architecture, and protocol alliances or organizations. This will increase efficiency and boost development. A unified standard should define the terminal access layer, network layer, the cloud, data platform, and application layer, then unify interface formats, data specifications, and protocols of data at each layer.

For unified architecture, the coal mining industry is focused on building an open and cooperative development ecosystem, collaboratively promoting intelligent development in multiple areas, from technical equipment, standards, and talent to management and industrial Internet platforms. Huawei hopes to work with coal producers, universities, and partners to create an open and cooperative ecosystem. Together, we can overcome key technical bottlenecks — especially disruptive technological innovation — and integrate advanced technologies such as coal development production technology, equipment, and information based on unified architecture.

Accelerating the Implementation of Unified Standards and Architecture Is the Key to Establishing Four Common Understandings

To promote industry development, China is speeding up the construction of intelligent demonstrations of coal mines of various types and modes. It has initiated a technical system of information transmission, with automatic operations in the main links of coal mine development design, geological guarantee, production, and safety . The construction of these intelligent demonstrations will reveal new requirements for building unified standards and architecture covering the whole industry, and is a source of rich practical experience.

Huawei believes four aspects are essential to implementing unified standards and architecture.

First and quite simply, the backbone of intelligent mines is the industrial Internet. The goal of building an intelligent mine is to improve inherent safety, with a unified platform and architecture. Therefore, with industrial Internet architecture, the industry should closely connect equipment, production lines, factories, suppliers, products, and customers, to streamline information flows and realize unmanned operations and intelligentization.

Next, the core of intelligent mining lies in the establishment of unified architecture for a coal industrial Internet platform. This coal industrial Internet platform is the result of the in-depth integration of new Information and Communications Technology (ICT) and actual coal industry services. Based on a digital and Internet of Things (IoT) platform, the integration needs to work with industrial application and device partners, in order to streamline cross-system service data flows and production data, to build a digital twin. To streamline data, we need to rely on the open intelligent ecosystem of coal mines, promote data interworking among different systems, and design and develop intelligent systems based on data sharing. For this to happen, unified data interfaces and data formats need to be defined for different coal mine devices, to build a universal functional platform and develop industrial Internet apps to systematically optimize digital resource allocation and improve efficiency.

Third, establishing a unified coal mine IoT OS for the industrial Internet is also critical. This OS will provide unified access standards and specifications for various coal mine equipment and sensors. More importantly, it will replace the wild mix of OSs from different vendors and implement super — and simplified — interconnection of equipment through unified interfaces and data formats.

By adopting soft bus technology, coal enterprises can collect data online in real time and synchronize data with equipment and systems in any network scenario. Therefore, the establishment of an IoT OS propels the industry into the era of the Internet of Everything (IoE), building a solid foundation for the intelligent construction of coal mines.

In this way, coal enterprises can further form a set of standards for IoT and data through a standard protocol framework, and aggregate all data into a unified data lake, unlocking the value of data mining. Meanwhile, equipment makers can use the IoT OS to carry out intelligent upgrades, enable synchronization and collaboration between devices, and support application partners to implement data interworking, intelligent development, and application release.

Finally, the coal industry needs more digital talent. As demand for intelligent mines grows, the industry urgently needs to cultivate more digital talent through training and practice, gradually improving the digital literacy of coal mine personnel. This is the only way to make full use of what an intelligent system has to offer.

By introducing cutting-edge technologies such as cloud computing, big data, Artificial Intelligence (AI) , and digital twins, the coal mining industry is digitalizing existing safety production procedures and practices, and gradually replicating them to the wider coal industry . The construction of unified standards and architecture will further bridge the digital divide in the industry. To advance this mission, the Huawei Coal Mine team will continue to deepen the integration of new ICT and the entire coal mine industry chain, to build an intelligent platform for industrial upgrade. Huawei has built open and digital architecture that spans all industries and scenarios and will provide more intelligent services for the construction of the coal mine industrial Internet, supporting the intelligent construction of coal mines.

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