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Chilean Copper Mine Tracks Vehicles and Workers

Anglo American's El Soldado mine uses RFID tags on front loaders, trucks and miners to ascertain who is in the mine, and to reduce the likelihood of vehicular collisions.
By Claire Swedberg
Mar 06, 2008Mine conglomerate Anglo American is using an RFID system to track miners and prevent vehicle collisions at El Soldado, its underground copper mine in Chile. Integrated by RFID Chile, the system employs active 433 MHz RFID tags and RFID interrogators from Vuance.

Of Anglo American's four Chilean mining sites, the smallest is El Soldado, about 80 miles north of Santiago. Safety concerns focus on knowing who is in the mine at any given time, in the event the mine needs to be cleared out for an explosion, or if there is an accident in the tunnels. Many miners in the two underground tunnels are private contractors, while others are Anglo American employees. To track the various individuals, El Soldado had been using proximity RFID cards.

Javier Ignacio Torres
When workers arrived at the mine entrance, they stepped out of their vehicle, scanned their proximity card at the interrogator, then got back in the vehicle and drove inside. If there were multiple people in one vehicle, all of their cards had to be manually scanned. In this way, Anglo American and the mine's contractors knew at any particular time exactly who was in the mine. When miners left, they again scanned their cards, indicating they were no longer inside.

This system had its shortcomings, however, according to Max von Dessauer, RFID Chile's technology director, because at the beginning of the day, a queue of vehicles and miners would often form at the mine's entrance. What's more, stepping out of the vehicle to scan the cards was time-consuming.

Anglo American also sought to remedy the risk of vehicle collisions underground. Eight 40-foot-long front loaders bring copper material out of the mine and into the mills for processing. Such vehicles have little visibility directly ahead of them, and the driver faces sideways while driving forward and backwards. In addition, the tunnels are dark, noisy and dusty, making conditions hazardous in the event that two vehicles are in the same area, or if a person happens into the front loader's route.

"They brought to our attention that this was a problem they were interested in correcting," says Javier Ignacio Torres, RFID Chile's commercial manager. RFID Chile determined that the mine could use RFID long-range active tags for two purposes—to identify personnel and vehicles entering and leaving the mine (by means of tags affixed to vehicles, as well as badges worn by employees) and to alert vehicle operators of any obstacles within 300 feet ahead (by attaching readers to front loaders to detect any nearby tag-bearing workers and vehicles).

"From the mining-safety point of view, it is extremely important for us to be able to control who is inside the mine at all times," says Daniel Castro, the project manager for Anglo American's El Soldado division, "as well as preventing accidents and collisions inside the mine." In seeking a new solution, Castro says, there was no question that the mine would employ RFID technology.

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