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Mining for RFID's Benefits

At Anglo American Platinum's Paardekraal mine in South Africa, RFID is saving dollars—and lives.
By Bob Violino
A propriety management application—designed in-house by Willard in conjunction with a South African software developer—connected the RFID reader network with the mine's enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. The management application receives time and attendance data from the human resources module of the mine's ERP system. The time and attendance data is consolidated with the lamp room's asset-issuing information, collected from the RFID readers. This consolidated data is used to generate billing for Willard's services and management information about the lamp room and equipment use. Billing is done on a per-unit basis, and the ability to record the number of units electronically avoids the need to perform a physical count. Using the Intellilamp system, Willard can produce full listings of units to support the level of billing.

Since installing the first system in the pilot program, Willard has reportedly achieved a 100 percent rate of successful tag reads, enabling the system to track movements of equipment and miners on a continuous basis. Within the first two weeks after commissioning the RFID installation at the Paardekraal mine, the information Willard received on personnel movement in the mine proved invaluable when the system alerted managers that an employee had not entered the lamp room on time.

Exception reports generated by the Intellilamp system, based on information collected from the movement of tagged units, indicated that a lamp had not returned past the predetermined point. This, together with physically checking for the unit in the lamp room, confirmed that the miner had not returned. A team was sent down the mine, where they found the employee shortly before a blasting session was scheduled to begin.

According to Waterston, the major benefit from the use of RFID and the integration of the system into the Willard Intellilamp application is the ability to track the movement of miners through the turnstiles, signifying the passage of workers from the surface to their underground stations.

"The mines in South Africa deploy a shift-clearance system to ensure that the working areas are clear prior to blasting," Waterston says. "The implementation of the RFID tracking [system] affords the mine a second-stage clearance mechanism." The information generated by the system "allows rapid identification of any miner who has not returned to the lamp room after [his] shift, eliminating precious time in trying to establish his whereabouts," he explains.

The RFID system helps Willard and its mine customers comply with the South African government's regulations regarding mines and worker safety, by tracking and keeping records of such things as the number of shifts worked per day, the number of employees underground per shift and the maintenance of safety equipment. Full maintenance history is required on all equipment, a process that has, in the past, been undertaken manually. Equipment taken out of service for repair and maintenance is logged into the repair bay via the RFID system. "A lamp, with its unique identity number, is then worked on," says Waterston. "All repairs and replacement of parts are then captured against this particular lamp number, building a full service history. Through the Intellilamp system, which holds a full listing of spares and components and their respective prices, it is possible to track costs and spares and component usage," he says. "Production of the required reports electronically reduces the labor required to produce these reports. In addition, the possibility of human error is reduced."

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