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How Is RFID Being Applied in the Mining Sector?
What types of radio frequency identification solutions have been deployed in that sector?
Various types of RFID, both active and passive, have been implemented in the mining industry. The most common applications are:
The Central Institute of Mining and Fuel Research (CIMFR) Dhanbad tested the system in the Bagdigi coal mine to monitor workers underground and in potentially dangerous environment conditions. CIMFR and PervCom developed the system together, with CIMFR providing the mining expertise and system requirements, while PervCom focuses on software and hardware. PervCom developed the PervTrack RTLS, which employs active RFID tags operating at 2.4 GHz, attached to miners' cap lamps. Six R-101 routers were then placed at strategic locations throughout the mine, forming a wireless mesh network compliant with the IEEE 802.15.4 standard, and two miners were issued tags to test the system.
The routers receive and forward data transmitted by WiTrak tags, and serve as nodes in the wireless mesh network formed by other routers, tags and gateways within their vicinity. The locations of the miner and tag are determined by the tag's position relative to the nearest router, which has a transmission range of up to 1.3 kilometers (0.8 miles). The tags also act as a communications device, with miners able to send pre-coded messages to a central station by pressing a button on the tag. In addition, they can receive alerts from remote monitoring stations.
The system also monitored environmental data, including the detection of potentially poisonous gases, such as carbon dioxide or methane. PervCom developed the RTSS, in which the company's WiSense WiS-101 sensor-actuator nodes were embedded into PervCom's existing WiTrak WiT-101 RFID tags. The wireless nodes contain temperature, humidity and air-contaminant sensors capable of detecting smoke and fire, and of monitoring the air quality in buildings (see Indian Mine Monitors Workers and Toxic Gases).
Tracking materials mined:
Along the way, strategically placed RFID interrogators read the plastic-encased RFID tags, which are designed to survive the crusher. The information from the tag reads is transferred to a database through a system of fiber-optic cables running through the mine. The RFID system, which replaced a manual, paper-based process, allows the company to more accurately forecast which type of ore it mines, and provides visibility into how long it will take to haul the ore to the surface. It also enables Vale Inco to provide the mills with better information regarding the ore blend they should expect, so they can prepare the proper chemicals to process the ore into metals, including copper and nickel. The company expected to save $30 million to $70 million annually thanks to the system (see Mining New Value From RFID).
And a number of South African gold mines are employing an RFID-based tracking system known as Oretrak, provided by RF Tags SA, to ensure that extracted material is not misrouted during the mining process. Goldfields, Harmony Gold Mining Co. and AngloGold Ashanti are all utilizing the system, while the Amplats Group is currently installing it (see RFID Helps Miners Strike Gold).
In 2010, Sesa Goa deployed an RFID solution that decreased the overall time required for trucks to complete delivery cycles. The solution is a direct contributor to sales volume, says Suresh Rathi, the firm's head of infrastructure and logistics, because if shipments reach customers faster, the company stands to save money and improve customer satisfaction (see Sesa Goa Automates Mining Logistics Operations)
And V.M. Salgaocar & Bro., an Indian mining firm that sells iron ore to some of the world's largest steel mills, has deployed a Near Field Communication (NFC) solution designed to simplify the tracking of trucks from the company's iron mines to various weigh stations, as well as through the firm's processing plant (see V. M. Salgaocar & Bro. Mines Automation From NFC-based Process).
For BMA, RFID's automatic data-capturing and tracking capabilities provide an accurate and efficient method of controlling costs and making sure miners and equipment are available as soon as they are needed. RFID was selected over other competing technologies, due to its ability to track people and equipment quickly and unobtrusively at a competitive cost. The business case for the deployment was compelling, according to the company (see Working at the Coal Mine—With RFID).
Tracking workers to make sure everyone is out of the mine in the event of a collapse:
At Anglo American's El Soldado mine in Chile, an RFID system gives mine managers aboveground real-time information on the whereabouts of 800 workers. And systems that track workers can also prevent people from trespassing and entering hazardous zones (see Chilean Copper Mine Tracks Vehicles and Workers).
International mining group Glencore Xstrata is utilizing a Wi-Fi-based active RFID system to track staff members, improve safety and raise productivity at its Beltana Coal Mine, located in New South Wales, Australia. The company's coal division has installed 200 active RFID tags into the battery packs of cap lamps worn by the miners. In addition to providing safety benefits, the system also improves productivity, since the technology reduces the amount of time that would otherwise be spent searching for personnel (see Xstrata Mines RFID's Benefits).
Tracking vehicles to avoid collisions:
Managing contract labor and rental equipment:
Verifying that contractors are doing the work they were hired to perform, and then billing for the correct number of hours, is a big challenge for mining companies. What's more, rental equipment sometimes gets misplaced in the mines while rental fees for that equipment continue to accrue. Currently, it's a pen-and-paper system, and many mines often wind up being overbilled for goods and services. Some mines are turning to RFID to manage rental equipment and contract labor.
In Chile, construction company Bechtel is using an RFID system designed by RFID Chile to mange contract workers as they construct a new copper mine for Anglo American at Los Bronces, in the Andes Mountains. The project, which started in 2008, will extend into next year. Each contract worker is issued an RFID-enabled ID badge—Bechtel has purchased 20,000 badges to date—that includes a name, photo, company name and Chilean tax identification number. The RFID system has reduced the amount of time required to clear a busload of contract workers through access points from 25 minutes down to 7 minutes. It also allows roving "timekeepers" armed with handheld RFID readers to scan the ID badges and then enter work codes. The information is transferred to the company's computerized payroll system via a USB port. The timekeepers do not have to stop and ask for workers' names—they can simply walk around with a PDA, point it at the person and receive information from the tag (see Mining New Value From RFID).
—Mark Roberti, Founder and Editor, RFID Journal
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