Communication is key in underground mines, and wireless local area networks (WLAN) are connecting miners and their tools to the Internet to allow them to share and retrieve data efficiently, without interference.
In 1999 Hard-Line – a Sudbury-based heavy equipment remote control supplier – tested wireless technology in Falconbridge’s Craig mine. Hard-Line was using Aironet technology, now part of Cisco Systems, to develop new communications solutions for the mining industry.
Its key focus was to discover how wireless technology, relatively new at the time, could improve the safety and security of workers. In the end, the project also revealed wireless technology to be cost-effective, efficient and reliable.
“In the early 2000s we approached one of the larger companies and we showed them this technology; it blew their minds,” said Hard-Line president Walter Siggelkow. “It was everything they had asked for in a communications system.”
Hard-Line has since converted its original network system, the Mine Area Net, to act as the backbone of the company’s Teleop Tele-Remote Control Systems. This ruggedized technology uses a wireless infrastructure to enable the remote operation of heavy machinery, such as dozers, drills, excavators and rock breakers, thus preventing workers from having to enter hazardous working environments. Hard-Line has won several awards for its innovative designs, and a number of large companies use the Teleop system including Barrick, Glencore, BHP Billiton, De Beers and Agnico Eagle.
Hard-Line’s Teleop system illustrates one of the possibilities enabled by wireless connection underground, but it is just the tip of the iceberg. WLANs, such as the ones offered by Hard-Line and Cisco, have set the bar high for companies that provide communications technology. Wireless technology is changing the way miners and machines communicate, allowing for the creation and exchange of large amounts of data that can reveal new ways of optimizing operations.
Miners have traditionally achieved person-to-person communication using a leaky feeder system. It works by running a coaxial cable through an underground tunnel, sending and receiving radio waves like an antenna. Radio waves “leak out” along the length of the cable through slots in the outer conductor to enable communication.
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