With dwindling mineral resources, a scarce workforce, volatile commodity prices and stringent regulations, mining companies are forced to push new frontiers of efficiency, safety and sustainability. While IoT data promises to significantly transform mining operations, the lack of viable and cost-effective field connectivity has been a persistent barrier.
Aiming to fill this technological gap in the mine, a MYTHINGS by BehrTech pilot test was conducted at the Northern Centre for Advanced Technology (NORCAT). Located in Sudbury, Canada, NORCAT is the only innovation center in the world with an operating mine dedicated to technology testing and underground training.
Characterized by confined spaces, narrow passages, non-symmetric topology and extreme depths, underground mines represent the most challenging environment for data communications. Besides CASE STUDY: MINING Breaking Down Data Silos in the Connected Mine the limited range, wired networks are expensive, cumbersome to install and highly prone to damage caused by mining activities like blasting or ore excavation and removal.
Conventional wireless solutions are also not feasible in extremely poor line-of-sight conditions. Cellular and satellite connections are non-existent at underground mines, while industrial mesh networks using short range technologies like Wi-Fi, fail to function reliably given their limited penetration capability. These solutions are also expensive and too power-hungry for battery-operated sensor networks.
“The NORCAT Underground Centre provides our global mining technology clients with a state-of-the-art operating mine that serves as an ‘active laboratory’ to develop, de-risk, and ultimately showcase emerging technologies that are poised to transform the global mining industry. We are very excited that BehrTech has opted to test their MYTHINGS technology platform at our facility.” – Don Duval, CEO Norcat
In a quest for a robust and cost-effective wireless solution, a MYTHINGS pilot test was conducted. The aim was to evaluate the range and technical viability of MYTHINGS in a real-world mining environment with multiple sources of interference. Besides physical obstructions like non-uniform walls, steel doors, severe bends and corners, there was also significant radio interference from existing mesh networks, electrical equipment, heavy machinery and other devices.
A MYTHINGS base station was installed close to a refuge point near the entrance and adjacent to a steel door. To improve signal propagation through the steel door, an external antenna was used at the base station. The MYTHINGS nodes were then transported to remote parts of the mine while data reception was constantly recorded.
Despite over 3km of challenging topography, after the first installation of only one MYTHINGS base station, 85% mine coverage was achieved.
With a second base station and simple antenna optimization 100 percent coverage was achieved, even at the circular drift that had been completely inaccessible. The system was also deployed at a fraction of the cost of alternative Wi-Fi networks.
MYTHINGS’s superior performance during this test, unlocks numerous new possibilities in mining. Device communication that used to be technically or economically impractical, can now become a reality and harness a multitude of powerful applications such as:
- Condition-monitoring and predictive maintenance of equipment to enhance production uptime and efficiency
- Measuring underground air quality to prompt Ventilation-on-Demand
- Tracking structural health of rock bolts to monitor potential shaft collapses
- Tracking workers’ vital signs and exposure to potential hazards to improve safety
- Monitoring environmental conditions for a quicker turnaround after blasts
- Monitoring groundwater level and quality to ensure sustainable operations