Mining Opportunity: Tracking Miners With RFID
Posted by Laurie Wiegler on 19th Dec 2014
While it’s highly doubtful that RFID could have saved the lives of the 301 miners who, sadly, perished after an underground explosion in Turkey, the technology is being used to better ensure safety of workers worldwide.
And though some companies may be less savvy or willing to adopt RFID solutions, that is changing, particularly as the technology grows increasingly sophisticated — and safety concerns rise.
Tracking assets with RFID
With RFID, mining supervisors are able to accurately determine the location of their asset, whether human or vehicular, leading to increased efficiency and safety.
Kevin Cohen, CEO of Ramp in Australia, knows a thing or two about what goes on underground in a coal or gold mine. His company provides RFID solutions – to buttress Wi-Fi and GPS devices – to its clients.
Cohen says that where movement of containers, or other products that are moved by particularly heavy vehicles, is tracked, “we put an infrastructure on a vehicle that includes GPS transceivers…We then collect the GPS data along with the RFID data that allows us to say this asset, this ore, was collected from here and moved there because it was [say], carried from the forklift. We know the exact movements of items.”
Lots of items are tagged at long range in an open yard, he says. This is a common use for their RFID tags, which he says are “the size of an A battery.”
The tags are also placed on people, of course, sometimes on their helmets but often on their uniforms.
As vehicles move around the yard, the tagged items are scanned periodically with a long-range RFID reader, at a 100-to-300-meter range (or approximately 110-to-328 yards).
Resilient, sophisticated technologies
The advantage to using RFID is that mining supervisors can track their assets and employees from greater distances, and also underground. As for inclement temperatures and conditions underground, Cohen scoffs.
RFID works fine around metal, for example, because Ramp uses the appropriate tags, he says. “Obviously, we have to provide tags and readers that are fit for the environment – whether that involves dust, heat [or what have you.] That’s no problem.”
Needing a rugged solution is standard in this industry, where vendors like Mine Site Technologies tout a Wi-Fi tracking system that was “developed specifically for use in underground mines and tunneling applications” and which tracks active tags, “carried by personnel or tags attached to vehicles and other equipment,” according to its website, just like Ramp’s solutions.
Mine Site also uses its Wi-Fi network as the backbone of the RFID solution, providing a single infrastructure to not only support tracking, but also provide two-way communications via its Voice Over IP (VoIP) “MinePhone”, for streaming video via IP video cameras, etc.
Such sophistication is now standard in this industry.
Ramp provides “total visibility” to remote or underground locations using its RFID mining solution, built on its proprietary “Mining IQ” technology, an amalgam of solutions tapped from partners including Omni ID, Identec Solutions and RF Code.
Mining the solution
While the tragedy in Turkey resonates throughout the mining industry, RFID at least is showing the way forward. It could not have prevented the collapse of a mine, of course, but at least in the aftermath workers and assets could be tracked.
Even more, as mining companies realize that the investment makes not only good sense from a safety perspective, but financial sense, RFID’s ROI will be obvious.
Cohen says, “Primarily in our business, we have a solution that helps [make mining safer], but the vast majority of our mining apps are … around process improvement.”
He says that the industry is burgeoning, particularly in Australia, North America and Europe. He hopes that areas such as Asia come on board soon, and can overcome the perception that because “a lot of mines have an end of life,” RFID is not a “capital investment”.
The big picture, after all, shows that with Wi-Fi throughout a mine and employing sensors along with RFID can “measure a condition within the mine and perhaps, the presence of carbon dioxide and whatever it might be, and determine if it is a danger. If it is, it can be dealt with quite easily,” Cohen says.
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