Case study: Integrating mining transport comms

EXELIS C4i Pty Ltd

Sunday, 21 June, 2015

Case study: Integrating mining transport comms

Integrating four TETRA systems via Exelis SwitchplusIP consoles has solved one mining company’s comms problems.

A major mining company in northwest Western Australia has a rail network that comprises more than 600 km of track. With a 40-tonne axle load capacity, it has the fastest and heaviest haul lines in the world. Up to 14 trains per day, each carrying more than 32,000 tonnes of iron ore, make a nearly 300-km trip from remote mines to a shipping port.

The rail network services four primary mines, two of which are located at the end of a main rail line about 260 km from the port, with the other two on a 120-km spur line.

Once at the port, inload circuits unload the ore from the trains and stack it onto blended stockpiles where it is reclaimed and verified for quality, via two robotic sample plants, and then loaded onto ships via the outload circuits.

The team controlling this activity is located at a control centre 1200 km away in Perth, where an integrated system tracks the trains via GPS and operating instructions are delivered direct to the train via digital communications, providing greater utilisation efficiency and improved safety controls.

Communications infrastructure

From a communications standpoint the system utilises a latest-generation, distributed TETRA system that is split into four separate networks - one each for the mine operations, one for the main rail line and a separate system for the port - all managed remotely from the operations centre in Perth.

Yet even with all of the latest-generation technology, a challenge would arise when the trains entered the port area. The rail operators in Perth could not communicate simultaneously with the trains and the port operations, even though they utilise the same TETRA technology from the same vendor. The problem was not with the vendors’ underlying TETRA technology, however - it stemmed from a system ownership and management issue, which restricted the systems from being connected and operated as a single large system. This situation resulted in rail operators having to log off their rail system and onto the port operations system to communicate with port operations, losing contact with the rail system temporarily and presenting a potential safety issue.

Integrated solution

A project to solve this problem involved the roll-out of a number of the latest-generation Exelis SwitchplusIP consoles into the Perth control room to provide the capability for the integration of discrete systems, as well as enabling simultaneous communications across the mine, rail and port environments from a single headset.

The first stage of the project addressed the integration of the rail and the port systems. Train control operators can now facilitate subscribers on both networks and communicate directly with operational staff on those networks. Individual subscribers and talk groups from the two different networks can be patched together, giving greater coordination and flexibility to the control room operator.

SwitchplusIP is currently one of the few products in the world that can span multiple separate digital radio systems from the same or different vendors, providing a seamless view to operators. This enables operators to focus on the task at hand rather than worrying about which person is connected to which system.

The SwitchplusIP system consists of touch screen operator positions connected to communications server equipment in the Perth equipment room via dual IP networks. The system is then connected separately into the different sets of remote TETRA infrastructure via the mining company’s wide-area IP network.

The system accesses the infrastructure via direct IP interface, which gives the operators access to a number of advanced features, including:

  • the ability to make group calls to multiple talk groups and patch talk groups together;
  • the ability to make and receive individual calls (both duplex and half-duplex);
  • receiving and initiating emergency calls;
  • the ability to make announcement calls;
  • support for SDS messaging; and
  • GPS tracking of talk groups and individual radios while displaying locations on an integrated mapping page which includes a pan and lock in the event of a man-down situation.

SwitchplusIP is a fourth-generation, true end-to-end, IP-based voice and data communication system designed to provide fault-tolerant, integrated communications through a wide variety of interfaces using an intuitive touch screen interface. Exelis says it was developed specifically to address the requirements of mission-critical applications and uses a combination of commercial off-the-shelf components, purpose-built and -designed hardware and software elements, open standards-based interfaces and an open-architecture design to provide this advanced capability.

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