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Mining Companies Dig Deeper Into RFID

Leveraging an RFID infrastructure can improve productivity and enhance worker safety.
By Jennifer Zaino
Feb 19, 2014

Mining companies worldwide have begun employing radio frequency identification technologies to automate manual processes, streamlining production and reducing costs. Most of the RFID solutions have been standalone applications. Sesa Goa, India's largest producer of iron ore, for example, is using RFID to speed up customers' deliveries (see Sesa Goa Automates Mining Logistics Operations). The Telfer gold mine in Western Australia deployed an RFID solution to track trucks underground (see Australian Mining Contractor Prevents Vehicular Collisions). And as we reported in the Nov./Dec. issue, many mining companies are adopting RFID personnel safety solutions to locate workers in emergencies (see Protecting Employees).

But to understand RFID's future in the mining industry, consider the new Totten nickel mine in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada, which will begin production early this year. The Totten mine is operated by global mining company Vale, which has been using RFID since 2005 to track containers, rail cars and other assets. In 2008, for example, the company deployed an RFID solution at its Stobie mine in Ontario to monitor the grade or mineral concentration of ore as it is mined in real time (see Mining New Value From RFID). So as Vale planned its new nickel mine, the company decided to install a Wi-Fi network underground that would provide as much coverage as possible, and then build its RFID installation up from that base.

Photo: Agência Vale
"Once wireless was there, RFID was one of the main systems to take advantage of it," says Robert Dutchman, Vale's IT project manager. "We had an opportunity to put in as much of the available technology as we could without having to retrofit the mine."

The company adopted AeroScout's real-time location system (RTLS) to track underground equipment and personnel. Approximately 100 pieces of equipment and 250 cap lamps worn by miners will be monitored with active Wi-Fi RFID tags, which will continuously transmit their location, based on zone definitions within the system. Voltage sensors built into some tags will provide additional information. A voltage sensor on a tag connected to a vehicle's diesel engine ignition circuit, for instance, can determine whether the engine is running.

AeroScout's MobileView software will provide a real-time visual representation of the location of assets and people on a map based on the mine plan's CAD drawings. Thanks to the Wi-Fi network, supervisors equipped with rugged tablets underground—not just control-room operators aboveground—will have access to this data in the Web application.

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