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Swedish Iron Mines Get Buckets of Benefits From Passive Tags

LKAB's operations have become more efficient, thanks to the use of EPC Gen 2 RFID technology to identify the quantity and quality of ore and rock being removed by loaders.
By Rhea Wessel
Feb 23, 2012Two mines in Sweden are employing radio frequency identification technology to improve the quality and efficiency of its iron-ore extraction. The mines are currently in the process of switching from active tags to passive EPC Gen 2 ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) RFID tags.

The mines, located in Malmberget and Kiruna, are operated by Luossavaara Kiirunavaara AB (LKAB), a government-owned company. According to the project's systems integrator, Softcenter, a provider of IT solutions to the mining, manufacturing and logistics industries, LKAB has chosen to adopt EPC Gen 2 passive UHF RFID tags because they are cheaper to own and operate, and comply with international standards. The applications have been in operation since 2007.

The company is using passive EPC Gen 2 RFID tags mounted in the mines' walls to track where loader operators pick up or dump ore after a blast.

Iron mines typically comprise horizontal tunnels, known as drifts, bored through the earth. Within each mine, drill rigs tunnel upwards, and explosives are then inserted into the resultant holes. Following each blast, rock and ore must be sorted and moved to the proper locations, using heavy vehicles called loaders. LKAB's largest loaders weigh 80 tons each, with a bucket capacity of 25 tons. Both mines produce ore 24 hours a day over the course of three shifts, operating a combined total of 32 loaders.

With LKAB's RFID-based system—which it calls the Wireless Online Loading Information System (WOLIS)—passive EPC Gen 2 UHF RFID tags are mounted on drift walls in places where the loaders use their buckets to pick up rock and ore following a blast. The tags are also mounted at shafts, where loaders dump out the ore and rock. The tags' unique ID numbers correspond to different drifts or shafts.

Each loader is outfitted with an RFID antenna and reader that are used to interrogate the tags along the drifts and shafts, in order to provide information regarding the location at which work was performed. Readers are mounted within each loader's cabin, and antennas are situated outside, near the cabin. After receiving a work order on an onboard computer (when in range of a WLAN router), a driver moves his or her loader to the first loading place inside the maze of tunnels. When the driver comes within 7 meters (23 feet) of a passive RFID tag, the loader's reader interrogates the tag. Later, when the loader is back in range of a WLAN router, the information collected via RFID is transmitted to the system's back end, along with other information collected and stored on the onboard computer.

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