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RFID Is Golden to Nevada Mine

Newmont's Leeville gold mine is using an AeroScout Wi-Fi-based system to track workers and equipment at its underground operation.
By Claire Swedberg
Sep 28, 2009Newmont's Leeville gold mine, one of Nevada's largest gold-mining operations, is using a Wi-Fi based system to track the movement of personnel and equipment passing through its 21 levels of underground tunnels. The system provides the mining operation with safety, by helping it locate and contact the appropriate individuals based on that location, as well as gain efficiency by knowing who and what is underground.

Like most mines, Newmont's Leeville mining operation has an environment that is very complex, says Amir Ben-Assa, the industry solutions marketing director of AeroScout, which partnered on this application with Mine Site Technologies. Hundreds of people and vehicles serving a variety of functions are present underground at any given time—extracting 3,200 tons of soil and minerals daily—and when the mine needs to locate a specific type of worker, or move personnel out of an area, tracking down those individuals can be difficult.

An AeroScout RFID tag (right) is built into the battery pack that powers a miner's cap lamp.

"Mines are under tremendous pressure to improve efficiency," Ben-Assa says—due, in part, to the high cost of equipment employed in the tunnels. Staff members and equipment need to be moved quickly when necessary, such as when machinery fails and requires repair or replacement, or to carry out a controlled explosion. Movement within the mine can be slow, however—often taking a person 30 to 60 minutes to travel from one location underground to another. In addition, safety regulations, such as those of the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), require a mine's management to assure the safety of its underground personnel by knowing their specific locations.

The RFID system deployed by the Leeville mine is intended to address both concerns. Installed this spring, the system includes 500 AeroScout T2 Intrinsically Safe Wi-Fi Tags, to track 450 employees and 50 pieces of equipment, as well as the company's MobileView software. A tag is built into the battery pack that powers a miner's cap lamp, in order to ensure that workers do not enter the tunnels without the tags.

Within the tunnels, Ben-Assa says, MST installed 85 of its ImPact Wi-Fi access points connected to the back-end system via Ethernet cables or optic fiber, thus giving the mine the least expensive and most effective coverage in its tunnels. All 85 access points receive data from RFID tags, as well as from IP phones, and send that information to the mine's back-end system via a cabled connection.

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