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Italian Quartz Mine Ensures Worker Safety via BLE

The solution, from BluEpyc, tracks the movements of beacon-carrying workers onto and off of the quarry site, to ensure they never enter the vicinity of scheduled explosions or remain at the site after hours.
By Claire Swedberg
Jan 07, 2018

European mining company Sibelco is employing Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology at its quartz mine in Robilante, Italy, to ensure that its workers are safely out of harm's way when it detonates explosives. The solution consists of BLE gateways at each entrance and exit, as well as beacons worn by miners, and software that issues alerts to management if anyone is determined to be within the vicinity before a timed explosion. BluEpyc provided the solution, which was installed last summer.

BluEpyc is the business unit of Italian technology company Softwork Group, which is focused on wireless technologies, especially Bluetooth Low Energy. The company's other business unit is RFID Global by Softwork. The three-year-old firm provides BLE solutions in what it calls an unconventional way, since it employs mobile beacons that transmit data to receivers (as opposed to using fixed beacons and a mobile phone as a receiver). This, explains Massimo Damiani, BluEpyc's founder and CTO, provides a solution similar to active RFID, but at lower cost and with simpler installation.

Sibelco's quartz mine in Robilante, Italy
The system employed at the Sibelco mine ensures that workers can be automatically recognized as they drive into and out of the facility, without stopping at the gate, thereby eliminating delays related to checking identifications and any potential errors. Sibelco has been mining since 1872, when it extracted silica sand from deposits in Flanders for Belgium's glass-producing companies. The company now operates more than 200 mining sites throughout 40 countries. Among those is the Robilante mine, in Italy's Piedmont region, that extracts quartz used in ceramics products.

Massimo Damiani
The company utilizes explosives to break up the quartz during extraction, and transports the mineral down to the valley on a 2-kilometer (1.2-mile) conveyor, where it can be processed for customers. The production area covers 1 million square meters (386,100 square feet) and explosives can be detonated throughout that site. That makes it challenging for the mine to ensure that no one is ever unintentionally within the explosion's vicinity.

Traditionally, the company used a physically locked gate to control who entered and exited the quarry area. On a typical day, there are approximately 20 workers onsite. When a vehicle arrived, typically with three or four workers onboard, a miner representing the group had to step out and physically open the gate with a key. At the same time, that individual used his or her mobile phone to call the office and alert them specifically regarding which miners were arriving or departing. The same process took place as he or she left.

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