Solution for underground mine comms

RFI Technology Solutions

Monday, 09 April, 2018

Solution for underground mine comms

The humble coaxial cable is providing power, data and full-speed communications for remote-controlled underground operations.

An underground nickel mining operation in Western Australia has deployed RFI Technology SolutionsDigital Drift system to remotely operate its underground loaders from the surface. The solution connected 11 mine levels to the surface at a fraction of the cost of the fibre alternative, and the system was straightforward enough to be installed by the mine’s own tradespeople.

The challenge

As with any underground operation, the nickel mine faced numerous challenges with its communication networks. In this case, the operation regularly has to move from one stope to another. In order to control the underground loaders, remote control cabins are fitted into the rear of 4WD personnel carriers, which are driven to the required level for each shift. This approach means there are a large number of levels with operational stopes at any one time, and previously it had not been economical to connect them all to the surface with fibre.

As a result, remote control operations could only be performed from the underground mobile cabins and had to be suspended across shift changes (twice per day) when all personnel left the mine for blasting and re-entry procedures. Across this window, several hours of potential loading time was being lost.

Operators looking at computer monitors inside a remote cabin controlling underground mining equipment

Using Digital Drift, operators can easily control underground mining equipment from a remote cabin on the surface.

The solution

To solve these problems, the mine deployed the Digital Drift system to connect 11 working levels to the surface, from where underground loaders can now be remotely operated. The loaders are fitted with RCT’s Control Master Guidance System and work across ore drives on multiple mine levels.

The company was able to install and commission the entire system in just seven days, including cables, network devices, UPSes and connectors. The cost was less than one-third of the fibre alternative and external contractors were not needed. And remote-controlled operations from the surface have been found to be just as responsive as they were underground.

Digital Drift equipment attached to a wall in an underground mine

Digital Drift equipment attached to a wall in an underground mine.

Digital Drift was chosen because there was no need to install additional fibre; the mine’s own tradespeople could install, commission and support it; and the native Ethernet capability enables Wi-Fi access points and IP cameras to be added to the system.

A single coaxial cable carries both power and data, providing full-speed communication that works with all industrial devices that support Ethernet. Installation requires only simple tools that can be used in wet, dirty or dusty conditions.

Other advantages of the system include the ability for an operator to use its preferred IP video surveillance and tracking technology, as well as its extant fibre network and switching technology.

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