JV Article: Enhancing mining operations through innovative technology — Gahcho Kué case study

Technicians work to position one of five 5G cellular network towers at the Gahcho Kué mine in the Northwest Territories. This tower overlooks the 5034/Tuzo pits. Credit: Galaxy Broadband

Over the last two years, Galaxy Broadband Communications has established key partnerships with London-based OneWeb and Nokia Canada that promise remarkable communications advancements in the mining industry. Galaxy can now offer clients access to services and their own Private 5G networks to connect headquarters with open-pit or underground mines, remote personnel, and devices.

Galaxy’s collaboration with OneWeb, announced in February, aims to provide ample satellite capacity with low-latency network bandwidth, catering to diverse communication needs for enterprise traffic. This encompasses data traffic flowing to and from headquarters, vendors, and streaming services, significantly enhancing the morale networks that let workers stay in touch with their lives offsite. In the past, achieving such network connectivity relied on costly terrestrial solutions like microwave or fiber. The OneWeb solution offers a more cost-effective and accessible alternative, easily deployable even in remote sites.

The second major innovation in these remote locations, Galaxy can design and implement a Private 5G solution in collaboration with Nokia that covers the entire mine site. This integration empowers seamless and efficient communication, greatly enhancing operations and connectivity.

Well-managed mine sites need real-time operating data from their digital fleet management systems to optimize preventative maintenance, reduce operating costs, and address issues outside of maintenance windows. This data is also instrumental for data sensors on excavators, haul trucks, and tonnage destined for the mill, enabling effective management of both waste and mineral-rich rocks. Employees and contractors benefit from these implementations through devices that aid in tracking worker locations during emergencies and maintaining constant communication during normal operations.

Doug Harvey, VP Sales, Business Development & Marketing at Galaxy, underscores that the realization of a connected mine is now feasible due to recent advancements in network technology, such as those being implemented by Galaxy.

“By having high-speed internet remotely with low latency, it’s akin to having a fiber connection anywhere in the world,” Harvey says. “Executives and managers can now access real-time information about their company’s operations.”

Access to real-time data allows remote sites to optimize inventory management by reducing spare part numbers and gaining a deeper understanding of current inventory levels and consumption rates. In the past, remote sites mitigated the risk of failure by stockpiling critical parts. With detailed digital fleet information, parts can now be ordered and made available on-site for regular maintenance, significantly reducing downtime caused by unexpected breakages.

Many existing systems in mines currently operate independently, without seamless integration, notes Andrew Mackenzie, Galaxy’s VP of Solutions & Sales Engineering, who emphasizes the transformative potential of satellite supported 5G in centralizing and streamlining communication systems for mining operations.

Galaxy tech

The new technology introduced by Galaxy offers a dedicated packet core at the site, delivering rapid connectivity and efficient service to all devices connected to the network. Essentially, a dedicated packet core functions similarly to a cell tower, but it’s uniquely designed to connect directly to the Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite system, distinguishing it from traditional cell towers.

The advantage of a mine having its own dedicated packet core extends beyond mere provision of service where it was previously unavailable, Mackenzie says. The technology can handle a substantial number of sessions concurrently, reaching an ultra-high data throughput. Additionally, its capability to provide total site coverage allows seamless integration of various solutions and products into the data network, revolutionizing the way mining operations are managed and coordinated.

Gahcho Kué case study

The remote Gahcho Kué diamond mine, located in the Northwest Territories and operated by De Beers Group, is at the forefront of adopting cutting-edge technologies, including Nokia Private 5G and LEO satellite connections. These innovations are part of a comprehensive technological solution being implemented at the mine.

Investments in digital solutions at Gahcho Kué include a digital fleet management system, data collectors on mining shovels to track mining productivity, remote water quality sensors providing real-time data, hand-held devices enabling maintenance technicians to access work orders in the field, and wireless sensors for potential predictive maintenance programs for critical equipment.

These systems are integrated into an Intelligent Edge computing system on-site, allowing for comprehensive data collation. This data is then leveraged by the mine-based team to generate tailored reports, which facilitates rapid decision-making.

Alex Mackay, IT Manager, North America, for De Beers Group, says the investments are expected to yield returns in long-term cost reduction, as well as creating other benefits.

“Installation of the 5G network at Gahcho Kué mine is an important step toward our goal of creating a connected workforce. This will enable us to connect equipment and mobile devices and bring real-time access to information and data wherever our team members are at the mine, from the bottom of the pit to the logistics laydown yard.”

According to Mackay, “Technology innovation and experimentation are key drivers to our success in unlocking cost, productivity, and safety improvements at Gahcho Kué mine. We are working to create a connected workforce by employing mobile devices, wireless sensors and data collectors tied together with the new Private 5G network on site. In 2022, we began to use  data and voice connections using low earth orbiting satellites at the mine and, as a result, in late August 2023 we were able to turn off the microwave link that had been used since the mine opened in 2016.”

In addition to immediate benefits, this innovative technology at Gahcho Kué is being closely observed by the De Beers Diamond FutureSmart team. (FutureSmart is the mining innovation program developed by De Beers’ parent company Anglo American to improve efficiency and sustainability in mining.) The team is actively developing technology and systems that could eventually be deployed at the Chidliak diamond project on Baffin Island, Nunavut.

Chidliak, leveraging Diamond FutureSmart principles, is being advanced as a high-tech mine with remote and autonomous operation, mobile and modular infrastructure, a modern employee operating model, and low carbon emissions, with Galaxy’s technology seen as a key enabler of this vision in the remote Arctic.

As mining technology continues to evolve, Galaxy’s partnerships with Nokia, OneWeb, and the Gahcho Kué Mine show the benefits of having a Private 5G network onsite.

The preceding Joint Venture Article is PROMOTED CONTENT sponsored by Galaxy Broadband Communications and produced in co-operation with The Northern Miner. Visit: www.galaxybroadband.ca for more information.


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