Situational Awareness and the Digital Mine
‘Situational awareness’ is a term many of you will have heard as the industry accelerates towards digital transformation.
But what exactly is it? Why has this become a buzzword, particularly in recent years, and how is it important to future-proofing your operations, improving safety, and efficiencies.
Let’s begin by defining situational awareness and where this idea originated.
According to Mica R Endsley’s 1995 article ‘Toward a Theory of Situation Awareness in Dynamic Systems’, which was one of the early adopters of this term, situational awareness has an important role in dynamic human decision-making in various industries, from aviation to the military and, of course, mining.
“Situational awareness is the perception of the elements in the environment within a volume of time and space, the comprehension of their meaning and a projection of their status in the near future,” Endsley stated.
In this paper, Endsley introduces a three-pronged approach to situational awareness:
- Perception of the elements in the environment
- Comprehension of the current situation
- Prediction of future status
The term, however, is not new with origins dating back to war time when Oswald Boelke identified the importance of gaining an awareness of the enemy and their location, and predicting their movements during World War 1.
In mining’s application, situational awareness is achieved via tracking and sensor technologies to provide information from the physical environment and predictions for what’s going to happen next. Our MST Global, General Manager, Product Management & Marketing Mark Palmer said situational awareness, fundamentally, was being able to see the state of people, assets and processes in real time and using this data for greater good.
“There is an understanding that for an efficient and safe operation people need to be able to make decisions quickly and effectively based on the most accurate and up to date information available to them,” Mr Palmer said.
“The digitisation of the mine and the advances in tracking and visualisation means that this information can be made available to decision makers facilitating them to make consistent and informed decisions.”
Situational awareness and mining
In Deloitte’s Tracking the Trends 2021 report it explores this idea as many companies make the shift towards upgrading technology infrastructure and integrating data across the value chain.
Deloitte said situational awareness was exploring the idea of generating value through targeted interventions that optimise outcomes.
“This generally starts by improving perception by providing up-to-the-minute awareness of personnel movement, fixed and mobile equipment operation, and system health to help operators understand the impact of the current situation on the larger value chain,” it stated.
“From there, companies can enhance their understanding by enabling personnel to deep dive into problem areas to solve deviations from the plan.
“At the highest level of maturity, situational awareness also permits projection, where advanced analytics allows data to be extrapolated forward to determine how future states of the operational environment will be affected.”
Exciting times for an industry with so much data to make sense of!
The technologies needed onsite
To establish an advanced level of situational awareness, Our General Manager – Product Management & Marketing Mark Palmer said this all starts with the infrastructure you have on site – i.e your wireless coverage (i.e our AXON family for hard rock mines and IMPACT for hazardous environments).
“The next thing a mine should be looking at is connectivity: your people and equipment should be able to connect to the infrastructure in a meaningful way,” Mr Palmer said.
This includes the introduction of transponders (or tags) that can connect to the infrastructure, providing information on who or what they are and where they are located.
“The final piece is the human and machine interface: people being able to see the information and breaking down silos through API’s,” he said.
“This is realised through software such as our HELIX platform – information is presented in a ‘humanly digestible’ way.”
Situational awareness: the benefits
If you’re still thinking why your mine strategy should be focused on situational awareness, we’ve outlined the three core reasons below:
The most important benefit of situational awareness on site is the ability to make operators of machinery aware of the people around them so all hazardous collisions scenarios are avoided.
“By making this information available when operators need to be aware of it through sensor alerts and warnings – personnel can free up their time to concentrate on the task but be made immediately aware of the presence of people before safety is compromised,” Mr Palmer said.
It’s also vital having a platform that can alert any staff in the wrong place at the wrong time, or provide alerts in the event of an accident.
This then feeds into efficiency and productivity benefits across the entire value chain.
“Efficiencies can be realised through information on areas such as trip cycles, when considering optimising production processes, or as simple as finding the nearest electrician for a breakdown underground,” Mr Palmer said.
“Both rely on knowing where people or things are in real time. The downtime for a machine can cost $10,000’s per hour and getting someone there as quickly as possible gets the operation running again as quickly as possible.”
Then there was its ability to help all levels of the mining management team make informed decisions in their day-to-day operations.
“It’s about providing people with the information they need to make the right decision and not overwhelming them with information they don’t,” Mr Palmer said.
“Visualisation solutions such as MST’s HELIX allows users to tailor the information they need to see, so it can be accessed quickly – or be constantly in view.
“Data views can be configured so that decision makers are alerted when things go beyond acceptable levels. Knowing that a decision has to be made is the first step.”
Mr Palmer said data ultimately needed to be converted to information in order for humans to digest it.
“Data conversion to information generally falls into two types, the ‘real time’ information and the ‘historical trend’ type,” he said.
“People who need to make decisions in real time will often use dashboards which give an instantaneous indication of status – often with preset limits of the ‘normal’ conditions.
“These dashboards will be optimised to help them to make the right decision fast, so will often convert the data being collected from the network and connected devices into collated information they need to help them decide the best action.
“By providing this information where and when it is needed, using tablets or monitors, means decisions can be made to optimise the operation rather than reacting to events after they have occurred.”
For longer term, more macro level decision making, the provision of data as historical trends or records of events over time was also a powerful tool.
Mr Palmer said this is a very different approach to the fast decision making required in day-to-day operational activities.
“In this instance ‘seeing’ the mining operation overall, having access to data generated over longer time periods and being able to assess the impacts between stakeholders in the value chain is the key to sound decision making.
“In terms of interpreting the data it can be done within a data gathering system if all the data required is available, or exported to other platforms if data from several systems needs to be aggregated to ensure that decision making is as effective as possible.
“In terms of the ‘testing’ of this data the technology can deliver benefits through accelerated testing of change using simulators and incorporation into digital twins.”
Future Proofing the Mine
While many mines were already at an advanced level of situational awareness, there still is work to be done.
Mr Palmer said as technology evolved, mining companies should be focused on assessing:
- Greater network capability – not just backbone speed but also upload/download speeds and greater numbers of users of the network
- More monitoring and data gathering using emerging wireless protocols being developed to support the IoT concept
- Moving of process control to the Edge so that control and data gathering happens on the network without major impacts on network traffic
- Higher accuracy tracking of people and equipment, where it adds value to analysis and safety with efficiency
- Software that humanises data into information, information that is presented within the context of the mine, can be configured to the decision makers needs and is completely integrated to the mine as a whole, using common identification such as visualising events in a way that all departments can understand the context – «where in the mine does this happen….»?.
Want to learn more about how your mine can be using data to make informed decisions?
Get in touch with our expert team and we can take a look at your current technology stack, no matter where you’re at in your journey.