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Pyhäsalmi Mine Will Expand RFID System to Boost Safety

The Finnish mine is already using RFID to identify which trucks are onsite and which personnel are in the mines, and it plans to track detonators as well.
By Claire Swedberg and Mark Roberti
Apr 08, 2015

For the past five years, the Pyhäsalmi mine in central Finland has been using passive high-frequency (HF) RFID tags to record when workers enter or leave a mine shaft, and thereby ensure their safety during controlled explosions and evacuations. Since that time, says Kimmo Luukkonen, the mine's managing director, the technology has improved management's visibility into who is underground and when, and hence has increased its safety program's efficiency and accuracy. The company plans to expand that HF RFID solution to monitor who carries explosive detonators into the mine.

All of the RFID technology, including Idesco HF and ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID readers, was provided by Identoi Oy, a software and mobile solutions firm based in the city of Oulu.

When entering the mineshaft, a worker taps his RFID tag against an Idesco Access 7CE reader installed at the entrance, causing a large screen to display his name. (Photo provided by Pyhäsalmi Mine)
One of Europe's deepest and oldest underground mines, Pyhäsalmi is owned by a Canadian corporation called First Quantum Minerals, and extracts underground copper and zinc 1,400 meters (4,600 feet) below the surface. The mine has two shafts: one for the elevator that transports miners down and brings ore up, the other extending down to that level via an approximately eight-mile-long spiral that vehicles can drive down and up.

In 2009, the mine's managers began working with Identoi to implement a work-safety system that would automatically identify who is in the mineshaft at any given time. Knowing this information is important for two reasons: In the event of an emergency evacuation, the company needs to ensure that everyone has reported to an emergency shelter, and also needs to be able to identify any individuals who have not. In addition, the mine extracts metal by blasting rock in certain sections, and these controlled blasts require that the mine be entirely vacated.

Identoi's Sakari Vaara (Photo provided by Pyhäsalmi Mine)
Prior to installing the RFID-based solution, the company manually tracked who was in the mine. Each worker had a nameplate stored on the wall at the mine entrance. Upon entering, an employee took the plate and carried it around with him as he worked. Once he ended his shift, he replaced the plate as he left. As such, if the mine's management needed to see who was inside, they could simply look at the entrance wall to determine which plates were missing. This system was error-prone, however, since workers might forget their plates, and it didn't account for visitors, who were not issued nameplates.

The RFID solution consists of passive 13.56 MHz RFID tags compliant with the ISO 15693 standard, explains Sakari Vaara, Identoi's CEO. Each tag, made in the form factor of a key fob, can be attached to a worker's keys. All employees must carry their tags at all times while onsite. There are a total of 220 workers, 70 of whom are typically underground during their shift.

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