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Iron Mine Uses RFID to Locate and Control Equipment

Precyse Technologies' Smart Agent active tags enable the mining company to know where its generators, welding equipment and mobile lighting are located, as well as switch the lighting on and off.
By Claire Swedberg

The mining company using the RFID system has asked not to be named, but Babak Aghevli, Precyse's global professional services VP, describes the deployment site as a 40-square-foot open area that spans the surface mining operation as well as some mining infrastructure, including maintenance buildings and conveyors, all of which must be moved as operations proceed. Equipment such as generators, cranes, forklifts and welding units may be large, but can still end up missing in a large mining area. That's because, in part, multiple shifts work in the mines, and staff members can move equipment, then end their shift, causing the next shift of personnel to find that the tools they need are no longer where they left them the day prior. Adding further complexity, a generator may sometimes require fueling or servicing, and mining operations could be delayed unless workers can resolve the problem by locating the generator, or by finding a functioning item to replace one that is out of service.

For the Australian mine, the challenge was in acquiring a real-time location system (RTLS) that could provide location data in a harsh and variable environment (in some cases highly metallic, for example) without the installation of numerous reading devices. There are no permanent structures onsite, and heavy motorized equipment moves around the property as mining takes place, making the installation of readers around the facility an obstacle to vehicles and a burden to move when temporary operations need to be installed elsewhere. Therefore, the company selected Precyse's proprietary technology, which offers a read range between tag and Bridge Port reader of 800 meters to 1.2 kilometers (2,625 feet to 3,940 feet), thereby requiring a small number of readers that could be temporarily installed in one area, and then be moved when necessary. Precyse manufactures three different versions of its Smart Agent tag, each operating at a different frequency: 433 MHz, 915 MHz or 2.4 GHz. The mine is using 433 MHz—which, Aghevli says, is the predominant frequency choice outside of North America.

CSC's Jarrod Bassan
CSC deployed the system, which included attaching hundreds of Precyse's Smart Agent tags, bolted or otherwise fastened to 100 high-value assets, in August of this year. Each tag transmits its GPS coordinates, along with its unique RFID number, at preconfigured intervals. CSC also installed 11 Bridge Ports around the 40-square-foot area.

Inside several maintenance buildings, Precyse has also installed battery-powered beacons (to help the system determine each tag's location), which transmit their own unique identifiers to the Smart Agent tags via 433 MHz RFID. The tags send that data, along with their own IDs (again via RFID), to the Bridge Ports. The Bridge Ports then forward the received tag data to Precyse's iLocate software, residing on a dedicated server on the mine's database, via wired connections. The software determines the item's location—based on GPS data (if available) and Precyse's patented location engine that employs mathematical equations to calculate locations—and forwards that information to CSC's OmniLocation software. The software provides its own GIS and mapping system to display the location data on a map of the mine property, as well as providing alerting when necessary, such as when an item is removed from the site unexpectedly.

The two technologies—GPS and the iLocate software—offer assurance that a tag's location can be determined, regardless of the environment. For instance, the GPS function is unreliable in covered areas, so the system must rely on the iLocate software to calculate the tag's location, based on the RFID data. In areas containing a lot of metal, however, the RFID transmissions may not function adequately for the purposes of determining a tag's location, though GPS data can be collected.

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