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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
The RFID system, integrated with the Intellilamp application, allows for complete safety checks at turnstile access points. A miner is permitted access through the turnstile to and from the mineshaft only if he has an allocated lamp, self-contained self-rescue pack and portable gas detection instrument. Information gathered through the use of the RFID system has helped prevent the fraudulent use of identification cards. It has also kept unauthorized people from entering mines since only authorized miners have bar-coded ID tags, Waterston says. The miner’s bar code number and his equipment RFID tag numbers all must match the allocation set up in the Willard Intellilamp database before he can enter.

"Keeping track of the labor force of the mines, many of whom are migrant workers employed by contracting companies, provides a major challenge to the [mining companies'] human resource departments," he says. "The lamp room is the one area through which all underground workers must pass, and the allocation of uniquely identified equipment with an RFID tag to an individual has allowed the capture of all necessary personnel information."

Waterston says the RFID data gathered from the interrogators is translated into reports tailored to the specific requirements of each mining site, "essentially directed at people movement, loss of items of equipment and tracking of items of equipment taken out of service for repair or replacement."

Before this system was implemented, loss of lamps had been as high as 25 percent at a particular site per month, Waterston notes. Because there had been no mechanism to identify units and link them to specific individuals, it was impossible to say who was responsible for the loss or damage of any given unit. Now, that is no longer the case.

"A concept of 'lamp for life' has been adopted to engender an element of responsibility into the user so that he takes ownership of his lamp," Waterston says. The linking of the miner's ID number with the lamp tag's ID number allows the unit to be assigned a specific individual who can be held liable for loss or damage.

As with any significant technology initiative, training of personnel has been critical to the success of the RFID deployment. "The key challenge in the task of lamp room management, once the correct technology was identified, was and is the education of the work force into acceptance and [use] of the system," Waterston says.

Although some miners view the new system with suspicion and see it as a mechanism to check up on them, Waterston claims, the benefits of RFID seem clear to the mine owners: improved safety procedures for mining personnel, better and more cost-effective management of equipment maintenance cycles, significant savings from the control of equipment losses and more accurate billing for equipment use.

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