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CVRD Inco Mines Turns to Ekahau to Track Assets, Productivity

Two of the company's mining sites are currently installing Ekahau's real-time location systems.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
May 10, 2007CVRD Inco, a mining and metals company based in Toronto, and a wholly owned subsidiary of Brazilian mining company CVRD, is rolling out a Wi-Fi-based RFID asset-tracking solution made by Finnish firm Ekahau. The company is deploying the solution at its Stobie and North mines, located in Sudbury, Ontario. Derek Buchanan, senior maintenance manager of communication and automation for CVRD Inco, says the RFID tracking system is part of a wider initiative to equip its underground mines with Wi-Fi access points for communication, asset tracking and automation applications. In parts of its underground mines, for example, the company is now using a voice-over-Internet protocol (VOIP) communication system.

The Stobie Mine recently tested Ekahau tags to track the movement of trucks entering the mine and later returning to an ore-deposition site. The pilot was conducted to test whether the mining company could rely on the Ekahau tags and software to track a truck driver's cycle times (how long it takes a driver to retrieve ore and transport it to its deposition site—a metric currently tracked with pen and paper. Buchanan says the test results were positive, and that CVRD Inco plans to use the Ekahau platform to track cycle times on a permanent basis. Ekahau's platform consists of 2.45 GHz RFID tags transmitting unique IDs using the IEEE 802.11 (Wi-Fi) standard to access points linked to a wireless LAN, along with tracking software that maps tag location in real time.


Inco will attach Ekahau T201 tags (shown here) to 180 vehicles at its Stobie Mine.

Initially, Stobie will begin its rollout by installing Wi-Fi access points throughout the parking areas within its nearly 20-kilometer-long mining site. These access points will be used to track the IDs of Ekahau T201 tags attached to 180 transportation vehicles, such as underground loaders, forklifts and jeeps used to transport miners. Miners running the Ekahau software on laptop computers linked to the mine's WLAN will then be able to quickly locate the transporters they need at the beginning of each shift. Buchanan says this should save workers a significant amount of time each day. "Sometimes," he explains, "miners spend more than an hour at the beginning of a shift trying to locate all the transportation vehicles they need."

Once the deployment in parking lot is complete, Stobie will begin installing more access points so it can begin tracking cycle times as truck drivers remove ore from the mine. The North Mine also plans to being installing access points, attaching Ekahau tags and using the Ekahau software for similar applications.

Inco's Coleman Mine, also located in Sudbury, has been using the AeroScout Wi-Fi RFID platform for two years for similar asset and productivity tracking applications (see AeroScout Takes Wi-Fi RFID Underground). According to Buchanan, while the AeroScout system is working well for the Coleman Mine, the Stobie and North sites chose the Ekahau platform for a number of reasons, including the performance of the Ekahau software and the greater flexibility Ekahau offers in terms of Wi-Fi access points. "AeroScout requires the use of Cisco access points," says Buchanan, "and we do not use Cisco access points exclusively."

GG Automation (GGA), an Ontario-based systems integrator, is presently working with Ekahau to install the Wi-Fi access points and RTLS software and tags in the Stobie and North mines. The project timeline requires that the first phase of the Stobie deployment—locating parked transporters—be completed by year's end.
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