Asesoramiento empresarial, Tecnología minera

Interview – IOT Automation

We had the opportunity this week to speak with Edgar Carrillo, Operations Manager for IOT Automation, an Australian company that specialise in wireless sensor networks and smart lighting featuring real-time situational awareness (RTSA).

AxLegal: Can you tell us about IOT Automation and the solutions?

Edgar: IOT Automation is an Australian company that designs and manufactures technological solutions for underground mining based on the IoT (Internet of Things). There are two offices in the Americas.

  • North America office based in Denver, CO. USA.
  • Latin America Office based in Santiago,Chile.

The flagship product of IOT Automation is called FireFly, with this we enable an intelligent lighting system. Basically, we deploy lighting modules with the ability to read sensors and read tags of people and equipment and with this data we can establish rules allowing people inside the mine to know the conditions of the environment. For example, if a tunnel (equipped with FireFly) has seismic movement, the lights that capture these readings are activated in intense red and blinking.

In short, visual language is something globally understood; Red means danger and green means safety, even in nature certain species adopt the color red to ward off predators.

AxLegal: What is currently used in the mines now?

Edgar: Currently there are mining operations that still do not have access to SCADA systems and many of the ones we see today investing in technology are only a couple of years old using SCADA systems as a visualization and remote management system for ventilation and drainage systems.

I say this because in the world of industrial automation, SCADA systems have been overcrowded for at least 30 years.

The foregoing tells us that the mining industry is a couple of years behind the forefront in industrial automation technology. However, this does not mean that mining does not like the technological avant-garde, as I see it; the mining industry has had to adapt solutions to its operation, which have been developed for other areas. This is changing.

Today, the great technology developers have taken on the task of opening divisions oriented to mining and in this way adapt their solutions to an increasingly demanding field.

Control systems: On the other hand, we have control elements such as PLC, Gas Sensor-Controllers, Frequency Variators, Actuators and other types of conventional dedicated control. These collect data that is displayed by the SCADA systems in the main control rooms, and it is the responsibility of the operators to take action accordingly.

Internet of Things: Finally, today, the largest mining operations in the world are turning towards the use of IOT-based systems that offer a very wide range of options since data is available in open systems and you are not relegated to licensing fees and can develop and adapt them to your need. Of course, on the one hand, you stop paying high amounts in licensing and on the other hand you must invest in training the development and maintenance team, however, there is still profit since you will maintain a team capable of dealing with failures, which increases reliability and use of the systems.

In the case of IOT Automation, it was born as a company that supplies the need to monitor conditions and take actions accordingly using sensors of different brands, types, and models.

AxLegal: What is the main advantage that the solution has over other types of solution?

Edgar: The FireFly solution is a proprietary concept and technically it does not have a direct competitor, however FireFly is a solution geared towards human safety.

There are many ways to segregate dangerous areas in sectors of a mine, until now all have been moderately effective since, if an operation has a network of seismic sensors deployed and in case of detecting an area with dangerous readings, the operators at Central Mina Alertan via radio to the workers that said area is restricted and after several calls a team is dedicated to deploying the respective signage to segregate the area.

However, while the alert message was broadcast via radio until the area was segregated, there is a large population of workers who may have entered the area, since a radio message expires immediately.

On the contrary, FireFly detects dangerous conditions and segregates that zone automatically, today there are mines in the world in which its evacuation and zone segregation protocol has been designed based on the FireFly system.

Ax Legal: What are the future plans for IOT automation in Latin America?

Edgar: Before we answer that, we need to ask another question: What does underground mining need? IOT Automation sets its roadmap to the needs of the industry. Every day the underground mining sector seeks efficiency in its operation, for this it uses as a basis the information collected by various systems. Many of these systems collect data from various sensors; for this, dedicated control cabinets with a high associated TCO are occupied.

IOT Automation solved this by enabling an agnostic data collection system that allows a mining operation to enable a bluetooth sensor (ex: gas, temperature, humidity, seismic, dust, state, other) and use this data to alert the workers indicating a safe route to a refuge chamber or the exit of the mine and at the same time changing the access routes to the productive zones, stopping only the really affected zones.

The new version of FireFly will come equipped with an Ultra High precision tracking system for underground mining, maintaining its current capabilities, we are talking about centimeters of precision.We will also add many other applications and sensor gamma.

AxLegal: What are the challenges companies face when introducing new technologies and how do they overcome them?

Edgar: There are historical challenges when it comes to the adoption of a new technology, I will highlight two:

1. Resistance to change.

If the people entrusted with the use of certain technology do not do their part, the adoption of any technology, however novel and useful it may be; will fail.

Many Project Managers get so immersed in the administrative and technical component to deliver a project within their bands (scope, cost and time) that they forget about the consumers of the technology they are trying to implement.

For this, a parallel project must be developed aimed at the cultural transformation of the key stakeholders or the people directly or indirectly impacted by said technological implementation.

2. The convergence of technologies:

There are still technology manufacturers that have learned their lesson and they drag full operations to adopt their technology and over the years it is more viable to continue paying high sums in licensing and proprietary equipment than to jump to a more open and agnostic alternative.

Ultimately, people looking for options and new technologies for their operations should be clear about this component before embarking on the adoption of a new technology solution.

AxLegal: Throughout your career introducing new technologies, what are some tips for other foreign companies that you think are important to their success in Latin America?

Edgar: In this sense, I will again highlight two keys:

1. Consumer training, as well as their awareness and how the adoption of said technology or service benefits their career development.

2. Avoid hardware duality. Technologists in Latin America look favorably on multifunction in hardware. Basically, it means that the same team can provide more than one solution.

For more information on IOT Automation, check out their website. 

Ax Legal helps foreign companies to enter and operate in the Latin America. Our team of legal and commercial advisors have a distinguished track record of helping foreign technology and services companies at each stage of their growth. Over the years, we have worked with starts up, mid-size businesses, and publicly listed companies. The one common factor that connects are clients is that they are leaders in their field, providing innovative technologies and services to the industrial sectors.

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