Ivanhoe Mines faced significant communications issues at its flagship copper mining site in the DRC, which raised concerns relating to the safety and security of both people and assets. To address these and other challenges, the company turned to a global leader in mobile satellite solutions.

The flagship Kamoa-Kakula project is situated 25 km west of provincial capital Kolwezi, in the Lualaba province of the DRC. It has been independently ranked as the world’s largest undeveloped, high-grade copper discovery. The Kamoa copper deposit was discovered in 2008, followed by the high-grade Kakula deposit in 2015. During this exploratory phase, there has been significant movement of people and supplies across the sites and the regional base in Kolwezi.

The poor state of local roads and security issues in the area meant that it was critical for staff in Ivanhoe’s control centres to remain in contact with vehicle drivers and monitor the location and status of assets. However, poor cellular coverage made communication and data collection very challenging. To ensure the safety of staff and supplies as they move across the site, Ivanhoe worked with Inmarsat to deploy a comprehensive vehicle telemetry, asset tracking and communication solution, based on reliable, consistent satellite connectivity.

The challenge

The state of the DRC’s roads posed a significant risk to contractors, geologists and administrative staff as they travelled between sites during the exploration process. Potholes as big as 3 m in diameter, a lack of maintenance and the remote location of many of the roads were just some of the factors that meant journeys that would normally take a few hours, could take several days.

Dust clouds obscuring drivers’ vision meant that there was a greater likelihood of accidents occurring, and damage was often done to vehicles by gravel kicked up by passing vehicles. The unpaved roads were also very susceptible to flooding and thick mud during the rainy season, which could cause further issues for drivers, who often needed towing assistance.

Site access required using unmade roads through the villages of Kasekelesa and Musokantanda, which meant that ensuring the safety of the inhabitants, who were suddenly confronted with more traffic, became a priority. The fleet managers also had no idea where their 30 off-road vehicles, trucks and ambulances were at any given time, leading to concerns around security. To compound matters, terrestrial connectivity outside urban areas was patchy and unable to properly support any type of fleet management application in the region.

The solution

With the need to understand where vehicles are and how quickly they are moving, and to ensure safety and security, Ivanhoe Mines turned to Inmarsat, the leader in providing global mobile satellite solutions.

Inmarsat utilised the Skywave IDP-780, powered by its highly reliable L-band connectivity service, to enable a mission-critical telemetry solution for tracking assets. The solution allows the control centre to visualise the vehicles and includes a number of geofences set up to enforce policies introduced by Ivanhoe Mines to improve driver and public safety and security. Reports are automated at night so that managers can cross-check inventories to see that assets are where they should be.

Matthieu Bos, vice-president: Corporate Development at Ivanhoe Mines, explains some of the measures introduced by the company: “We wanted to reduce the speed at which our drivers travel on the roads, to reduce the damage done to vehicles if they hit potholes or other obstructions, and to reduce the risk of accidents. Inmarsat’s solution enables us to track the speed of every vehicle every minute; if this speed exceeds 80 km/h, or 30 km/h in certain zones, the office and driver are alerted and the vehicle is prompted to slow down. We can also monitor location with pinpoint accuracy, so that we can contact the driver of a vehicle that hasn’t moved for some time to establish whether they’ve had an accident or a breakdown.”

Inmarsat’s satellite connectivity has been critical to the success of Ivanhoe’s Kamoa-Kakula driver safety project. The fleet management solution required consistent connectivity across the entire field of operations, large areas of which are not covered by cellular networks. Inmarsat, therefore, provided a dual satellite-cellular tracking device and fleet management solution, which utilises GSM connectivity where available and then switches seamlessly to Inmarsat’s satellite connectivity when required. This provides a consistent and reliable communications network between the control centre and vehicles, delivering real-time updates to Ivanhoe Mines on vehicle status and location, enabling the company to act to ensure the safety and security of their staff and assets if necessary.

The benefits

Bos explains the benefits the company has seen since the deployment of Inmarsat’s solution: “Our top priority is making sure our staff and the public are safe. The Inmarsat solution enables us to track vehicles across the region and, as a result, we have seen a notable decrease in incidents. The speed at which we can also resolve any issues our drivers have on the roads has also improved immensely. We now have complete confidence that we will be instantly aware of any issue with a driver or vehicle and can respond immediately to provide assistance. Additionally, we have improved relations with people from our local communities by reducing disruption as our vehicles pass through their villages.

“Inmarsat’s solution has been instrumental in moving people, equipment and supplies to where we need them to be. Overall, the solution is helping to improve our bottom line, and has been integral to the successful development of this world-leading mine project.”