V. M. Salgaocar & Bro. Mines Automation From NFC-based Process

By Mary Catherine O'Connor

The Indian mining company has deployed a Near-Field Communication system to simplify the tracking of trucks from its iron mines to weigh stations, and through its processing plant.


V. M. Salgaocar & Bro., an Indian mining firm that sells iron ore to some of the world’s largest steel mills, has deployed a Near-Field Communication (NFC) solution designed to simplify the tracking of trucks from the company’s iron mines to various weigh stations, as well as through the firm’s processing plant.

In 2009, V. M. Salgaocar parterned with Infotek Software & Systems (i-TEK) to develop and implement the system. The solution, which has been deployed to date at three iron mines in Goa, India, eliminates the need for manual, paper-based documentation, the company reports.

The supervisor’s NFC phone contains RFID application software known as 4r Mines.

“A lot of discussions and brainstorming happened during the technology-selection process,” says Ashim Patil, i-TEK’s CEO. “The major decision to be taken was between short-range and long-range RFID. Long-range has its own benefits, where the truck gets identified over a few meters, and it apparently would result in faster throughput.”

But the team was concerned that the trucks and other metallic materials within the vicinity might interfere with the RF transmission between passive ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) tags and readers. Moreover, Patil says, high-memory tags were deemed important, since the company wanted to write each truck’s identification number, tare weight, gross weight, ore type and route information to the tag, along with a time stamp showing when that tag was interrogated.

Ultimately, i-TEK developed a solution based on the ISO 14443-A standard, using high-frequency (HF) 13.56 MHz passive RFID tags and readers, as well as Nokia 6212 cell phones containing NFC modules. NFC, an RFID communication protocol based on the ISO 14443 standard, was developed for use in mobile devices, such as cell phones.

When a truck is loaded with material at the mine, its driver hands a supervisor a plastic RFID card, which identifies that individual and his or her vehicle. Loaded onto the supervisor’s NFC phone is the RFID application software that i-TEK developed specifically for this system, known as 4r Mines (which stands for “read, record, report, real-time”). The supervisor can navigate the software to pinpoint the “read truck card” command, and then hold the card up to the phone. The NFC module within the phone collects the card’s tag ID, and the supervisor can then input his or her decision regarding whether the load contains material of an acceptable grade. If that supervisor deems it unacceptable, he or she can direct the driver to another area within the mine, where the load will then be rejected.

If the load passes inspection, the driver is directed to a weighbridge. In either case, the software transmits the data, which contains the truck’s ID and destination, along with the date and time, to both the card’s memory (via RFID) and to the main 4r Mines server (via GPRS), where it is stored in a database.

If the truck is sent to the weighbridge—located at the mine exit—the driver holds his or her RFID card up to a fixed reader positioned on the bridge (and within reach, so he or she need not leave the vehicle). The reader collects the tag data, as well as the truck’s weight; transmits that information to the i-TEK server, via GPRS; and writes the weight to the tag’s memory.

Once the truck reaches the processing plant, the driver again enters a weighbridge and repeats the process of holding his or her RFID card up to a fixed-position reader, which weighs the load and transmits that data to the server, as well as to the tag’s memory. The driver is then either directed to a barge, where the cargo is unloaded and exported, or into the plant.

If the vehicle is directed into the plant, another supervisor determines whether the load should be stockpiled or processed, depending on the factory’s needs. The supervisor can use the Nokia phone to read the driver’s card, and to input his or her decision into the i-TEK software, which again transmits this data to the tag’s memory and to the server, via GPRS. If the load is to be processed, the driver brings the truck to yet another weighbridge, where he or she again presents the card to a reader, and the data is collected and transmitted.

At the end of each day, the i-TEK software aggregates all of the data collected through the NFC phones and fixed-position readers, in order to create a log of that day’s activities.

This new system enabled V. M. Salgaocar to do away with the manual, paper-based records that supervisors previously used to log daily activities, and to collect each truck’s ID, location and weight, as well as the grade of the materials collected. At the end of every day, each supervisor’s records used to be entered into a main database manually.

This RFID-based system has significantly streamlined the process, allowing supervisors to spend more time processing loads and less time taking manual notes. What’s more, at the end of each day, plant managers can read the daily reports through the 4r Mines software, rather than having to wait for each supervisor’s records to be aggregated.

Starting in September of this year, V.M. Salgaocar plans to expand the RFID-NFC system to two of its processing plants. Once the technology is deployed at the plants, while the load is being moved through the processing plant, up to three more supervisors will use their phones to read the RFID card, make a processing decision, write data to the card and then transmit that information to the server.

After spending two years working with i-TEK to refine the solution and make it as automated as possible, V. M. Salgaocar & Bro. has met its project objectives, according to J. J. Naik, the mining firm’s deputy general manager of information systems.