Developments in mine communications tend to be based on widespread computer communications in digital form and employ Wi-Fi
Mine communications have come a long way since the only ways of finding out what was going on in a mine were a hard-wire phone, shouting or runners.
Now, rather than wondering, mine management demand virtually instant answers to such questions as ‘Who?’, ‘Where?’, ‘When?’, ‘What?’ and ‘How much?’. Such information, as accurate as possible, can be sourced and transmitted by modern communications systems as a great aide to mining efficiency and safety, especially in emergency situations.
Efficient and reliable radio systems have been available to increase opencast mine efficiency for many years, but underground mine communications have, until relatively recently, been hampered by obstructions to ‘line of sight’, of which, there are of course many. Various approaches have now been adopted to facilitate communications with little interference from the surroundings.
The wider functions made possible by these technologies are numerous, including tracking of personnel, collision prevention devices, complex data collection and transmission direct to computers, remote-control and monitoring of mining equipment operations including complete automation, and, of course, traditional but more reliable voice communications. Even centralised blast control can be considered a communications function.
‘Leaky feeder’ systems
Just some examples of these systems are mentioned here. ‘Leaky feeder’ systems using local radio transmission to a cable system around the mine are well established but there are now improvements. Telegrid claims that its WZRDnet mesh network provides voice and text communications in mines without the cost of a ‘leaky’ coaxial cable system.
The most sophisticated recent developments tend to be based on now widespread computer communications in digital form and employ a facility for Wi-Fi communications. Mine Radio Systems (MRS) offers an advanced information communications technology (ICT) suite incorporating a range of technologies including fibre-optic networks, radiating cable networks, Ethernet, Wi-Fi networks, mesh networks and a WSN (wireless sensor network). These networks can be used to include an RFID and tagging system, plant fleet management, data transmission, environmental monitoring, video monitoring, VHF & UHF radio communications, Wi-Fi ‘hot spot’ and trapped mine location.
Personal tracking is much more of a safety precaution rather than a ‘Big Brother’ operation. Past mine disasters have shown that more lives might have been saved if rescuers could know where the victims were situated. Mine Site Technologies (http://minesite.net) ImPact overall digital technology meets requirements for real-time data transfer and clear, reliable communications. Within this suite the ImPact tracking system is a Wi-Fi-based system for underground applications. It also provides two-way communication via its VoIP MinePhone, can carry video transmission, and enables laptops and PC tablets to be used underground.
Raising alerts on maintenance
Instrumentation specialist Trolex is employing advanced communication techniques in the monitoring of mine equipment for care issues to raise alerts on maintenance and performance issues. The company is developing cost models to demonstrate savings by improving productivity in the operation of electrical as well as mechanical equipment.
For example, Trolex Commander products collect data from motor starter systems and gears to raise alerts of any recurring ‘trip out’ issues as well as indication of normal operation. The aim is to use real-time data to operate machines just under the trip-out ‘red line’ to reach top productivity without incurring time-wasting trip-out rectification and equipment damage
Video 1: Telegrid's WZRDnet mesh network is said to provide voice and text communications in mines without the cost of a ‘leaky’ coaxial cable system
Video 2: Mine Radio Systems offers an advanced information communications technology (ICT) suite incorporating a range of technologies including fibre-optic networks, radiating cable networks, Ethernet, Wi-Fi networks, mesh networks and a WSN (wireless sensor network)
Video 3: On Show: Mine Site Technologies
Video 4: Interview with Denis Kent, Business Development Manager at Mine Site Technologies Pty Limited, on reducing collisions in mines