Industrial robotics for mining, manufacturing and logistics
Todd Rigby, Rajant
In the third and final installment of a series of blogs by Todd Rigby, the director of business development for Rajant Corporation, he discusses the use of robotics in mining, manufacturing and logistics as well as the myth that autonomous vehicles and industrial robotics are eliminating human jobs.
The Internet of Things is fuelling the rise of the machines and an ironclad network infrastructure is needed to ensure the flawless operation of these machines as the Internet of Things expands. Operations leaders across multiple industries are increasingly implementing Kinetic Mesh wireless networks in the field to facilitate autonomous applications because the networks provide the real-time, continuous communications required to run autonomous vehicles and industrial robots.
As mentioned in my last blog, Kinetic Mesh has been successfully used in the Oil & Gas industry. However, it has been just as successful in mining, manufacturing and logistics.
For mining operations in remote locations where skilled drivers are a rare commodity, both autonomous and distant remote-controlled trucks are being deployed to mitigate labor shortages.
Huge driverless trucks are used to transport material around mining sites. They can run 24 hours a day and replace high-risk jobs in harsh working conditions and extreme temperatures. Safety is paramount for mining companies, and using these types of vehicles eliminates the possibility of a fatigued driver at the wheel of a massive truck.
Remotely controlled trucks and equipment are operated by employees thousands of miles away. Reliable communications between the operator and machines must be maintained to ensure the vehicle safely navigates the mine and safeguards are not tripped, causing equipment stoppage.
Many automobile manufacturers have deployed autonomous vehicles for durability testing. In the past, actual humans would drive cars to the point of destruction. This type of testing is performed to accelerate the wear and tear on the car in order to determine reliability and parts failure timeframes. An unintended consequence was the wear and tear on the vehicles’ drivers.
Now, autonomous kits are placed on the car, allowing it to drive itself. The autonomous system must keep the car moving despite the extreme conditions in which the car is operating, so many manufacturers use Kinetic Mesh wireless networks to maintain continuous connectivity between the car and the researchers conducting the testing.
Virtually all large manufacturing facilities and materials processing utilise some form of control and automation functions. Kinetic Mesh benefits industrial manufacturing by not only providing more reliable and consistent communications in the plant, but also by delivering many times the bandwidth available via legacy SCADA networks. This additional bandwidth is necessary to run applications such as video surveillance, access control and even basic Wi-Fi connectivity for workers.
Plant operators require systems that quickly and reliably deliver control inputs to the machines they are running. If equipment does not stop in time, it could create colossal expenses for the plant due to expensive material being processed incorrectly, or it could even cost an employee his or her life.
Autonomous applications have a place in large-scale supply chains, such as large shipping ports that receive cargo ships. These ports move tens of thousands of shipping containers each day and much of their equipment is autonomous, including the cranes that move and stack the containers. It is critical to maintain reliable communication systems for this equipment to run efficiently and reliably.
When autonomous cranes are moving shipping containers around massive yards, they send data to a central office with the exact location where a specific container is being placed. If a crane attempts to send data on a container’s location and communication is lost for even a second, the message won’t be received and there will be no record of the location. This effectively loses the containers within the yards – costing the freight company, the yard and the shipper time, effort and money.
Robots and autonomous applications are able to work in areas unsafe for humans, accomplish tasks that are impossible for humans and perform jobs that are not economically viable in a high-wage economy.
This notion has led many people to believe that robots are going to take jobs away from humans. However, there is data that actually shows the opposite may be true. The IFR found that one million industrial robots currently in operation have been directly responsible for the creation of about three million jobs in industries such as consumer electronics, food, solar and wind power, and advanced battery manufacturing. In fact, Horizon 2020 estimates that each industrial robot needs at least four people to run, maintain and service it. The report claimed that “growth and job creation goes along with innovative scientific developments”.
They allow greater precision, let companies to get the most out of their equipment, and ensure efficient business operations. The ultimate goal is straight out of science fiction: letting robots do all the hard and mundane jobs, freeing humans up for higher-level work and more leisure time.