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IoT is saving lives in steel and mining

Working in a technology company (and being an engineer) I always enjoy the opportunity to visit a “real” manufacturing plant. I still vividly remember my first visit to an integrated steel mill in the 90s.
The plastic sole of my shoe suddenly went wobbly as it melted while I was watching the tapping at a blast furnace from too close. Steel mills, mines or quarries are a dangerous place for unwary visitors.

Smart'n'Save with Wearables in Mining

Vandrico Solutions, in collaboration with the SAP Co-Innovation Lab and Illumiti, announced the launch of the MineSafe Smartwatch already in 2015. (Find more information on the co-innovation approach in this interview with Vandrico's CEO Gonzalo Tudela and Illumiti's Lorraine Howell, vice president of research and development, linked here)

According to Vandrico, the MineSafe Smartwatch is a tool to help miners identify and respond to potentially dangerous issues. The watch enables real-time communication between miners underground and personnel on the surface, and include features like:

  • Worker location tracking

  • Real-time incident reporting

  • Proactive real-time communications

  • Automatic alerts

Mine workers can use a one-touch distress signal to send an urgent notice to the surface for immediate, coordinated response.

Safety Process Automation at OMK

OMK (Объединенная металлургическая компания) is a leading international producers of steel products including large diameter pipes, railway wheels and automotive springs based in Moscow. OMK simplified and automated the process of identifying, documenting and reducing labor safety rule violations using SAP's Environment, Health and Safety solution.

Employees are able to quickly capture risks, and OMK's health & safety department can identify risk hot spots much faster, and take needed preventive measures.

In the first 6 months approximately 300 000 violations were logged, investigated and eliminated. OMK reduced their injuries already by 10% since the project runs, and expects by 2021 to achieve a 30% reduction.

From a change management perspective alone, I consider this is a significant achievement, and is only sustainable when capturing incidents is simple and straightforward for the worker, and counter-measures are taken timely.

Besides the health & safety benefits, OMK expects to save 1.5m RUB in staff time & cost in the next 5 years through more accurate and automated reports.

Find more information on this project here.

NLMK pilots 3D employee positioning system & wearable live-monitoring system

NLMK has developed a pilot for a 3D-positioning system for shop-floor employees in their continuous hot dip galvanizing mill at NLMK's Lipetsk site. From a risk point of view, the galvanizing line is their mot difficult equipment - including hazardous chemicals, hot metals, height and galleries.

The positioning system tracks in real-time the employee's location, and the asset and machine condition. The workers carry a wearable sensor tag that tracks locations, unusual behaviour, immobility, falls, aprupt changes in body position.

The sensor tag also allows a bidirectional communication: the worker can call for help via a button on the tag. The sensor can vibrate to alert all workers in a dangerous zone.

Each worker has dedicated save zones where it is save to move. If he moves outside the allowed zone, an alert is triggered as well.

The tracking information is collected in a database and  later analyzed to enhance Operational Health and Safety (OHS), Human Resource and contractor management practices. The system will notify about OHS risks and eliminate them in advance. At the moment, the system is being prepared for full-scale industrial operations.


The NLMK-solution is built on the SAP Cloud Platform, utilizes RTLS-UWB for positioning, incorporates 3D-imaging and LoRaWan wireless communication technology.

A common problem for IoT in the steel industry are the harsh conditions including high temperatures and strong vibrations - making it often near impossible to work with normal sensor solutions. Some companies decided to instead analyse photos and videos e.g. close to the furnace (but even those may need to be watercooled to survive). Machine learning and specifically image classification can be used to identify normal vs. hazardous situations, like people in the wrong place, or machines no longer working properly.

Co-Innovation approach

Russian steel giant NLMK and SAP have set-up a co-innovation lab to seek out new ideas using the most advanced digital technologies, and develop innovative IT solutions based on SAP's platform.

NLMK's strategic motivation behind this is clear: They want to be "a trendsetter, not a follower", says Kirill Sukowykh, NLMK's head of the SAP-Co-Innovation Lab. They expect to jointly develop breakthrough solutions  to bring steel production technology and business processes to a qualitatively new level.

They do this through combining newest digital technology, design thinking and agile methodology, and NLMK deep functional domain expertise. The employee tracking pilot was developed in just 2 months.

The tracking solution is one of the first projects of the NLMK-SAP innovation lab, and was built jointly with the National Centre of Internet of Things (NCIT).

Digital EH&S in Mining and Quarry Operations

Vimal Gaba has written a very concise blog on how the IoT will drive the digitalization of the mine, with a specific section on EH&S and sustainability.

He highlights a number of innovation areas where digital technology has proven to be effective:

  • Tracking and tracing of mine workers location using RFID, mine worker location intelligence

  • Mine working environment condition monitoring

  • Access control and monitoring at mine site, geo fencing

  • Monitoring Gas concentration/ventilation in underground mines & improving disaster predictions

  • Collision detection of mining equipment and people safety

  • Integrated wearable devices to monitor hazardous exposure and fatigue

  • Fully real time and connected emission and Sustainability reporting

  • Energy tracking and optimization at mining and processing plants

The Digital Guardian Angel

Be it for driver safety, collision detection in warehouses or on construction sites, or the above mentioned use cases: there is a huge potential in IoT beyond optimized machine maintenance.

While wearables and worker tracking may have a negative connotation with some worker unions and raise data protection concerns, they can significantly improve health and safety for the employees.

I would prefer not to tracked (and listened to) at home and privately. Where IoT acts as my trusted digital guardian angel, I will always embrace it.
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