Bridging the distance 

How augmented reality is driving enhanced mining productivity and safety.

By Anthony Fensom

Augmented reality (AR) is helping to bridge vast distances in the mining industry, connecting remote experts directly to mine sites, and delivering enhanced productivity and safety.

Leading mining companies, including Anglo American, BHP and Rio Tinto, have applied AR for employee training, enhanced productivity and safety, with its benefits coming to the fore during Australia’s recent COVID-19-related border controls and shutdowns.

This case study examines how a Brisbane-based geological auditing specialist applied TeamViewer’s AR solution to digitise operations for the benefit of clients.

Australia: The challenge of vast distances

With an area of around 7.7 million square kilometres, Australia is the largest country in Oceania and the sixth-largest in the world. Densely populated with only around 25 million inhabitants who mainly live in the big cities on the coast, the largest portion of the massive land is made up by desert or semi-arid landscapes, known as the outback.

But despite its often unwelcoming appearance, the outback hosts one of Australia’s biggest treasures: natural resources. Natural resources are of major economic importance for Australia’s economy, and the mining industry – with its huge, internationally recognised companies – has been a backbone of Australia’s economic growth for many decades.

A dedicated branch of service and supply business has grown around those corporations, supporting the companies and their employees in the outback with various highly specialised services and goods.

In mining, geology is everything, so one key service is the creation of geological audits and mine site monitoring. Specialist firms audit the mine site before operations start, and keep monitoring it using specialised high-tech radar and sensor equipment during daily operations to help manage risk, maintain operations and production, and keep people and communities safe.

A Brisbane-based company (name withheld for confidentiality) has been a leader in this field for more than 20 years, providing auditing and monitoring services not only in Australia, but also worldwide. With cutting-edge technological equipment on site, as well as proprietary software solutions and highly qualified experts, the company has been a reliable partner to mining companies and communities worldwide.

But sometimes, technical issues with the equipment arise, and quick troubleshooting is necessary.

The mining business includes very large machines, and extensive conveyor and logistics operations. An interruption in the system that slows or even stops this complex intertwining of machinery and logistics processes can quickly translate into a massive hit to the bottom line.

‘Due to the often remote locations of mining sites, getting on site to troubleshoot the equipment often meant one of our experts flying for several hours and then travelling by car for even more hours,’ a company spokesperson says.

‘Yet, continuity in the mining business is key. That’s why we began to search for a digital solution that allowed us to bridge those distances faster while maintaining our high service level, and to do our part in making mining operations safer and more trouble-free.’

AR solution

Before evaluating the market, the company predefined several requirements for the solution. It needed to be flexible enough to cover multiple use cases – from remote expert support to step-by-step workflows to maintain and repair equipment on site.

Furthermore, it needed to be highly reliable and comply with safety regulations.

The company spokesperson says: ‘It quickly became clear for us that an AR-based solution would fit our requirements best. With TeamViewer Frontline, we found the perfect fit for us.

‘On the one hand, it allows us to digitise parts of our existing operations and make these processes much more efficient.

‘On the other hand, the flexible platform offers us sort of a sand box, allowing us to experiment and play around with the AR technology, try out new things, and identify further processes that we can make more efficient through its solutions.’

As the first step, the company used Frontline’s AR capabilities to digitise two processes that help to avoid the usual long and expensive travel of an expert to the mine site.

If the company’s high-tech equipment detects an incident, a worker on site can now use the smart glasses that the company delivers to the mine sites along with the high-tech monitoring equipment.

The solution shows AR-based step-by-step instructions tailored to the respective equipment. After choosing the correct predefined workflow, the worker is guided through the steps to quickly identify and fix the issue.

While going through the instructions, the worker has both hands completely free thanks to the smart glasses, meaning that they can see the instructions while working on the equipment with both hands.

The company is also leveraging TeamViewer Frontline’s capabilities for remote support calls, connecting onsite workers with an expert located at the company’s headquarters in Brisbane.

The worker can share the camera stream of the smart glasses, enabling the expert to see what they see. The expert can also put virtual markers into the worker’s field of view, indicating the next steps and guiding them through the troubleshooting process.

Both use cases support the company’s mission to continually improve its 24/7 customer service, making it faster and more reliable. And due to reduced travel time, the availability of the company’s technical experts has increased, again improving overall customer service.

The company’s spokesperson says: ‘The digital transformation is a global megatrend that reached the mining business a while ago. Being able to bridge long distances in no time is such a crucial success factor in our business, we cannot miss it anymore.

‘We have been a customer of TeamViewer’s highly reliable remote connectivity solution for our internal IT support for many years. It’s great to take the next step now and also start digitising our physical operations with its AR platform – in Australia first, and going forward also globally.’

For Australian mining companies, the AR technology can help make operations safer and more reliable than ever before, while reducing the need for outside experts to travel to the site, thereby enhancing efficiency and productivity.

This is particularly important given the growing pressure for increased productivity, an aging workforce, and growing focus on the industry’s environmental, social and governance impacts.

As TeamViewer’s Emad Afghani, Vice President of Sales in Australia and New Zealand, commented: ‘TeamViewer solutions not only help advance business goals, such as productivity and employee satisfaction, but also help the environment. Our solutions reduce travel, curbing the equivalent emissions of 11 million cars per year.

‘These factors make our solutions highly beneficial as Australia’s mining sector takes the next steps towards a digitised future.’ 

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