Detour Lake is the first mine in Canada to be fully connected by a private 5G network. Courtesy of Kirkland Lake Gold
Agnico Eagle’s Detour Lake mine in northern Ontario is becoming the home of a unique technology initiative: a 5G wireless private network (WPN) that the company says will transform it into the smart digital mine of the future.
A WPN is a 4G or 5G cellular network that is custom-built on a customer site. It contains multiple levels of security, including standard telecommunication and cellular encryption. And, since a WPN requires authenticated SIM cards to access connectivity, all data that passes through it must go through the corporate firewall and are subject to the company’s security controls. It offers high performance and is ideal for data-heavy applications, such as Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and robotics.
Agnico Eagle, which acquired the mine as part of its recent merger with Kirkland Lake Gold, partnered with Rogers Business to install the WPN, providing connectivity across its 80 square kilometre operation. It includes five cellular towers with a full range of spectrum frequency bands to support the various 5G use cases on-site, and full redundancy to ensure production isn’t interrupted.
The company is also installing eight new wireless cell towers to cover more than 180 kilometres along Highway 652 between Detour Lake and Cochrane, Ontario, closing connectivity gaps for communities along the route. This network is expected to be operational by summer 2022 and will be primarily powered by wind and solar energy.
Rogers worked with several technology partners to implement the solution, including Cradlepoint, Dell Technologies, Ericsson and Expeto.
The Detour Lake open-pit mine currently operates a fleet of more than 35 haul trucks, as well as electric cable shovels, hydraulic shovels, drills and other equipment. A new life-of-mine plan to be released in the first half of this year is expected to result in additions to the fleet to meet an increased production schedule.
“This was a unique project; reliability was key because the mine’s large ore-loading vehicles never stop moving, so all activities – including refuelling – need to take place while the loaders are in motion. The cost of downtime for a loader is extremely high,” observed Heather Read, executive director, carrier business development, Canada at Cradlepoint, who provide connectivity for the large ore-loading vehicles. “The solutions include modem and router redundancy to ensure connectivity is never lost. The R1900 hardened 5G mobile solution will provide LTE connectivity today and 5G in the future for applications critical to the operation of the loader. Additionally – and key to this project – Cradlepoint’s NetCloud Manager provides the ability to manage the loaders remotely, so the vehicles can continue to move at all times.”
Plans for the network include applications such as tele-remote operations, IIoT sensors to provide real-time insight into operations, drones that can deliver supplies to the bottom of the mine, future autonomous haulage vehicles and exploration work, all monitored and managed through a digital dashboard to improve efficiencies and productivity at the site.
“Bringing a 5G wireless private network to Detour Lake provides the stable and reliable service we need as we build the digital mine of the future. Not only does the new network provide an extra layer of connectivity for our employees, it also enables us to drive mining innovation and technology into the future by expanding tele-remote drill operations and research into potential autonomous haul trucks. Most importantly, having a 5G network available across Detour Lake mine’s remote operations will help create a safer work environment for our employees and contractors,” added Anthony Makuch, chief executive officer of Agnico Eagle (Editor’s note: Anthony Makuch has since stepped down from his position as Agnico’s CEO), noting that the new public 5G LTE network along Highway 652 will make travel safer for everyone using the highway and will also provide peace of mind for community members who have camps and enjoy the outdoors along the highway corridor.