Case Study: Enhancing Mining Operations at Gahcho Kué Diamond Mine

5G towers providing high-speed connectivity at Gahcho Kué Mine.

The Gahcho Kué Mine, a joint venture between De Beers Group and Mountain Province Diamonds, is situated in Canada’s Northwest Territories. This case study focuses on the mine’s recent technological leap: implementing a Private 5G and Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite network. This dual connectivity solution was specifically designed to support various applications, from autonomous hauling to real-time equipment monitoring.

The primary aim was to replace outdated communication systems with a robust, low-latency network capable of handling high-capacity data in a secure environment. This was particularly challenging given the mine’s remote location. The new network is the backbone for other technological solutions at the mine, including Intelligent Edge computing systems and various sensor technologies.

Gahcho Kué Mine has set a new standard for mining operations by focusing on connectivity, offering insights into real-time decision-making, worker safety, and operational efficiency.

Challenges

1. Outdated Communication Systems

The initial hurdle was the mine’s reliance on outdated communication systems. These legacy networks lacked the essential features needed for modern, automated mining tasks. They fell short in capacity, dependability, security, and flexibility, making them unsuitable for the mine’s evolving needs.

2. Remote Location

The mine’s remote location in the Northwest Territories presented its challenges. Traditional communication solutions, such as microwave links, were less efficient and limited in their capabilities. This geographical isolation made it difficult to implement a network that could support a wide array of modern mining applications.

3. Integration with Existing Technologies

Gahcho Kué Mine had already invested in several technological solutions, including an Intelligent Edge computing system, data collectors on mining shovels, and various sensor technologies. The new network needed to replace the outdated systems and integrate seamlessly with these existing technologies.

4. Need for Real-Time Decision-Making

The mine required a robust network capable of collating and analyzing data in real-time. This was crucial for rapid decision-making in various operational aspects, from fuel handling to predictive maintenance for equipment.

Solution and Implementation

Adoption of Private 5G Network

Gahcho Kué Mine rolled out a Private 5G network to tackle the outdated communication systems. 

Alex Mackay, IM Manager – North America at De Beers Group, stated, “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.”

Integration of LEO Satellite Connectivity

OneWeb antennas installed at a remote camp in Gahcho Kue Mine for satellite communication.

The mine employed Galaxy Broadband‘s OneWeb LEO satellite network to complement the 5G network and extend its reach. This provided a robust, low-latency solution particularly beneficial in the mine’s remote setting.

Riyaaz Dawood, Digital Transformation Superintendent at De Beers Canada, highlighted, “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.”

Intelligent Edge Computing and Sensor Technologies

Beyond connectivity, the mine also focused on data analytics and predictive maintenance through Intelligent Edge Computing. 

This system is deeply integrated with the new Private 5G and LEO satellite networks, serving as a prime example of how enhanced connectivity can empower advanced data analytics. 

The Intelligent Edge system collates and processes data from various sources like mining shovels, water quality sensors, and handheld devices for maintenance technicians. This data is processed on-site in real-time thanks to the robust, low-latency connectivity. 

The combination enables tailored reporting and significantly enhances the mine’s ability to make rapid, informed decisions on various operational aspects, from fleet management to fuel handling and predictive maintenance.

Real-Time Monitoring and Decision-Making

The combination of 5G and LEO satellite connectivity and the Intelligent Edge computing system enabled real-time monitoring and data analysis. This has significantly improved the mine’s ability to make rapid, informed decisions on various operational aspects.

Impact

Arial view of Gahcho Kué mine.

Enhanced Real-Time Decision-Making

Implementing the Private 5G network and Galaxy Broadband’s OneWeb LEO satellite connectivity has transformed the mine’s operational efficiency. 

The new network infrastructure has enabled real-time data analysis and monitoring, significantly enhancing the mine’s decision-making capabilities. Whether it’s fleet management or predictive maintenance, decisions are now made swiftly and more accurately.

Worker Safety and Operational Efficiency

The low-latency and high-capacity features of the new network have also contributed to safer working conditions. Real-time data from various sensors and monitoring systems can be accessed instantly, allowing for immediate response to any safety concerns. This has not only improved worker safety but also increased operational efficiency.

Cost Savings

The mine has realized tangible cost savings by retiring the older microwave link and adopting more efficient connectivity solutions. The new network requires less maintenance and offers greater reliability, reducing operational costs and downtime.

Technologies Enabled By Enhanced Connectivity

Implementing a Private 5G network and Galaxy Broadband’s OneWeb LEO satellite connectivity at Gahcho Kué mine has been a catalyst for adopting several advanced technologies:

  • Autonomous Operations: Real-time data transmission enables autonomous vehicles and hauling systems, reducing human error and increasing efficiency.
  • Centralized Drilling Control: The new network allows for remote control of drilling equipment, minimizing the need for workers to be in hazardous locations.
  • Drone-Based Site Inspection: High-capacity data transfer supports drones that provide real-time, high-definition video for immediate site assessment.
  • Instant Water Quality Checks: Remote water quality sensors integrated into the network offer real-time data, enabling immediate action in case of anomalies.
  • Proactive Equipment Maintenance: The network supports wireless sensors that monitor the condition of critical machinery, paving the way for predictive maintenance programs.
  • Data-Driven Decision-Making: An Intelligent Edge computing system on-site collates and analyzes diverse data sets, aiding in rapid and informed decision-making.
  • Field Operations: Maintenance technicians are equipped with hand-held devices that provide real-time access to work orders, streamlining field operations.
  • Asset and Personnel Tracking: Geolocation features in the network enable precise tracking of equipment and personnel, enhancing safety and operational efficiency.

Future Outlook and Industry Observations

As the Gahcho Kué Mine continues to set new standards in mining through its technological advancements, the industry is taking note. The mine’s innovations are a blueprint for future mining projects.

Observations by De Beers Diamond FutureSmart Team

The De Beers Diamond FutureSmart team closely monitors the technology implemented at the Gahcho Kué Mine . They focus on developing technology and systems that could be deployed in other ambitious projects, such as the Chidliak Diamond Project on Baffin Island. The FutureSmart team is working on creating high-technology mines that will include remote and autonomous operation, mobile, modular infrastructure, and low-carbon energy solutions.

Next Steps at Gahcho Kué Mine

The mine is already planning its next technological leaps. These include deploying semi-autonomous equipment and further advancements in real-time monitoring systems. The continued focus on connectivity ensures that Gahcho Kué remains at the forefront of mining technology.

Broader Industry Impact

The success at the Gahcho Kué Mine has broader implications for the mining industry and beyond. As private 5G networks become increasingly important across various sectors, the lessons learned here could be applied to solve deep-rooted challenges in safety and reliability in other industries as well.

Contact a Galaxy Broadband expert today to discuss how we can tailor our Private 5G and LEO satellite networks to meet your project’s unique needs.

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