Dundee’s real-time data innovations are as good as gold – by Eric Reguly (Globe and Mail – December 2, 2013)

The Globe and Mail is Canada’s national newspaper with the second largest broadsheet circulation in the country. It has enormous influence on Canada’s political and business elite.

CHELOPECH, BULGARIA – You would think an iPhone would be an utterly useless gadget in Dundee Precious Metals Inc.’s Bulgarian gold mine for the simple reason that the mine lies nearly a half kilometre below impenetrable rock.

But the underground reception is working well and that makes Mark Gelsomini, information technology director for the Toronto-listed company, smile like he has just tripped over a gold nugget the size of a golf ball.About 400 metres underground, his e-mails arrive without a glitch. Phones are static free.

“You’re coming in clear,” Mr. Gelsomini tells Dundee CEO Rick Howes, who is also deep underground in a dark tunnel that connects the mine’s various operations.

The free-flowing communication at Dundee’s Chelopech mine is thanks to a fully enabled underground WiFi network – a technological leap is attracting international attention.

One of the mine’s visitors this week was Mark Cutifani, CEO of Anglo American PLC, one of the world’s biggest mining companies. He was there to learn whether Anglo could adopt some of Dundee’s communications and data systems for its own operations, perhaps in partnership with the little Canadian gold player.

He says he was impressed by what he saw: “This is where the innovations are, in the smaller mines.”

Installing a data network in the mine puts Dundee at the forefront of the industry’s next phase – treating mines as if they were just-in-time manufacturing sites. That means every activity, from the number of scoops of ore delivered to the crushing machine to the number of metres drilled into the rock face, is recorded and displayed in real time.

In most mines, this data is now written on paper and collected at the end of the work shift, and the numbers are often inaccurate. “We want to turn an extremely low-tech industry into a high-tech industry,” Mr. Howes says. “If this industry wants to advance, it’s going to take a lot of software development.”

Any mishap or slowdown, from a truck that has made an unscheduled stop to a miner who is behind schedule, is immediately transmitted to the surface and action is taken. The surface crew even knows the whereabouts of its workers because an RFID – radio frequency identification device – is embedded in the battery that powers the helmet-mounted lamps.

While the real-time monitoring sounds suspiciously like Big Brother, the company insists it’s all about meeting production targets with the greatest efficiency, and ensuring the safety of its employees, not checking on whether their lunch or toilet breaks are overly leisurely.

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