Boliden is a European mining and smelting company with sites in Sweden, Finland, Norway, and Ireland. For more than 90 years, Boliden has been exploring, extracting, and processing metals. They are an industry leader of sustainable metal production, from deposits to recycling used metals.
Boliden operates both underground mines and open pit mines. At several of Boliden’s mines, operators sit in an office above ground and control loaders and drilling rigs with the aid of CCTV. The autonomous loaders drive to shafts where they tip out the ore before travelling back to load their buckets with new ore.
Boliden also relies on mobile control rooms where operators have access to process data in real time via wireless technology. The operators control and supervise the processes via smart phones or tablets.
Fredrik Hases, IT department manager at Boliden’s Garpenberg mine, the world’s most productive underground zinc mine, says that the mine is focusing on a Cisco Campus Architecture for their network which means they have both core and scattered distribution points.
Boliden’s mines are highly automated. Hases says, “The same network controls drilling equipment, loading equipment, pumps, ventilation systems, everything.”
This poses a special challenge. They have server rooms that are underground and are very hard to get to. Being hundreds of meters beneath the surface, it can take several hours to reach devices when they need to. And every time the mine has had a scheduled blasting, they have to wait for several hours afterwards to physically access the underground server rooms.
Some of their mines are more than a kilometer deep. Hases says, “They’re extremely dusty and unhealthy unless you’ve got all the right equipment, such as breathing gear. And you can’t keep your server rooms in those kinds of environments super clean.”
Being in the mine makes as simple a problem such as needing to reboot a piece of equipment complex. Hases says you need special keys to access these rooms because they are shared with other active equipment like high-voltage electrical switch gear. The air quality is poor. The noise level is extremely high.
Before Opengear was deployed, it took considerable time to make even simple fixes. He adds, “When a problem happens, an IT person has to take an elevator more than a kilometer below the earth, and they have to be accompanied in case anything happens. That takes more time, and makes it more complicated.”
Just an hour of outage means a huge production and profit loss. Hases says, “For us, every second counts. Avoiding downtime is really important.”
Opengear mitigates downtime
“The Opengear units are inexpensive and work really well. We can remotely connect to both our console ports and distribution ports,” says Hases.
Boliden also uses Opengear devices for configuration of switches remotely from the office. Hases says, “This eliminated the long time it took to get from the office down to the actual device.”
The mine continues to grow and the challenge of having to physically visit sites will only increase. Hases says, “It gets deeper and deeper, and you don’t want to have to employ more people for that reason when there is a better solution. We want to do more with the people we have.”
Before switching to a Cisco Campus network architecture, Hases says that there was a tradition to have a ring-based network. The thinking was that a fiber outage would definitely be the worst-case scenario. But, today, when everything is connected, they need more performance. Hases says, “We have so much automation of autonomous vehicles that are controlled via a wireless network. The performance just wasn’t there, so, we had to redesign the whole network.”
The Cisco Campus is designed so every individual access point has a direct connection to a distribution point. Keeping these distribution points operational is critical.
The mine network is now designed with the Opengear devices on a separate fiber, giving them a separate management plane and adding to their network resilience, ensuring 99.8% uptime.
Hases notes that having a resilient network means you have both high security and high availability “Opengear is the insurance policy that you hope never to use, but when you need it, it’s great to have.”
Opengear: The Right Choice
He adds that they are continuing to explore the further capabilities of their Opengear devices, and they plan to investigate Lighthouse centralized management solution for their distributed networks across the region.
Hases is confident that Opengear was the right decision. “Opengear is more robust than other solutions we looked at, and it gives us more opportunities to increase efficiency and capabilities at our mines.”
Mining and Smelting company
For more than 90 years, Boliden has been exploring, extracting and processing base metals and precious metals. Our production is based on experience, innovation and modern technology, developed in collaboration with Nordic technology and engineering companies. Today, we are an industry leader in terms of sustainable metal production from deposits to recycling used metals.