Report: APP CMHS Project 1

CSIRO advises that the information contained in this comprises general statements based on scientific research. The reader is advised and needs to be aware that such information may be incomplete or unable to be used in any specific situation. No reliance or actions must therefore be made on that information without seeking prior expert professional, scientific and technical advice. To the extent permitted by law, CSIRO (including its employees and consultants) excludes all liability to any person for any consequences, including but not limited to all losses, damages, costs, expenses and any other compensation, arising directly or indirectly from using this publication (in part or in whole) and any information or material contained in it.

3.1.11. Mine Communication

Current Technologies

A comprehensive survey of underground coal mine communication has been published in September 2009 by Australian Longwall Magazine. Many of the Australian technologies have been covered and details of the survey can be found in Appendix D. In October 2009, CSIRO has submitted a report for the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) (CSIRO Internal Report No. P2008/2678), which evaluates various options for underground communication during routine production and emergency conditions such as voice over internet protocol (VoIP) telephones and provides a comparative assessment of the CSIRO proposed communication infrastructure which could be implemented using readily available off-the-shelf equipment.

Personal communication via IS phones and digital to analog conversions (DACs) is generally of a high and acceptable standard, although by design it is limited to specific locations. Remote communication has been undergoing a rapid development in recent years to the point of now being able to provide a broad suite of communication options. Similarly, there have been major advances in electronic tagging of equipment and personnel for location purposes particularly during emergency conditions.

Mine Site Technologies, one of the main providers for mine communication products such as personal emergency device (PED), has an extensive range of products and communication capabilities in the areas of communications infrastructure, specific mine systems, and linkage with the Integrated Communications Cap Lamp (ICCL). The infrastructure is enabled through underground Ethernet, Wi-Fi and VHF radio. The mine systems and applications include tracking and proximity detection of people and equipment, voice and video capability, ventilation and mine environment (such as diesel exhaust) data download, vehicle health and production data download, remote blasting, and emergency messaging. The ICCL is capable of integrating with the tracking system, voice operation using VoIP phones, and the current PED pager system. The ICCL with real-time tracking capability is installed in 26 underground sites with 17 currently in operation.

The ’ImPact Digital Communications’ system by the Mine Site Technologies is an 802.11g Wi-Fi network that provides tracking via RFID Wi-Fi tags that can be installed into the ICCL or mobile machinery, and supports VoIP phones (with two way communication capability) and IP video cameras. The MinePhone can be used on the normal PBX system for internal and external connection, person to person and Push-To-Talk functionality and has the ability to search the location of other users and emergency notification buttons. Vehicle intelligence proximity (VIP) provides data on location as well as diagnostics of machine condition and operability. The system can also provide remote automatic traffic control, ventilation data, personnel data from the Cardax or other proprietary system.

InSeT systems (USA) have developed an underground tracking system that is indicated as having a high degree of tracking accuracy and text communication potential.

Northern Light Technologies offer Northern Light DigitalTM Network which supports VoIP and data communication through IS wireless access points, WIFI and RFID people and vehicle tracking, and a cap-lamp-powered wireless messaging system.

In more recent times, communication equipment that conforms to open IEEE standards has been deployed underground.

  • Non-IS IEEE 802.3x Ethernet switches and IEEE 802.11x wireless access points are mounted within flame-proof enclosures.

  • Intrinsically Safe IEEE 802.3x Ethernet switches and IS IEEE 802.11x wireless access points have been developed.

For example, IS certified (IEC Standards Ex Ia) auto-sensing fast Ethernet Switch, Ethernet Protocol Converter and low-power Paging and Locating System (PLS) have recently been developed by CSIRO and JCOAL with support from Australian Coal Association Research Program (ACARP) and will be available to the mining industry from Ampcontrol Pty Ltd.

Arguably, mine communications technologies are converging and high-bandwidth underground data communications will soon become commonplace. Thus, compatibility with an Ethernet protocol that supports high bandwidth communications during routine production conditions would be an important assessment criterion for systems deployment in the underground environment.

In urban environments, analogue telephones have been replaced by VoIP telephones that conform to the ITU H.323 standard and use line-powered twisted-pair Ethernet cables. The IEEE has also ratified the 802.11r standard for VoIP over WiFi. This will lead to improved VoIP quality on personal digital assistant (PDA)/mobile phones. It is foreseeable in the future that IS VoIP handsets will be available for underground coal mine personnel.

In order to efficiently manage and coordinate mine site activities, demand is rapidly growing for frameworks that will support ubiquitous communications and universal coordination of plant and personnel. This need for communications and localisation is particularly acute in the event of a mine disaster, such as an underground fire or explosion, inundation, roof collapse or other serious unplanned incident.

There is a need for a dynamic, wireless framework for real-time communications, localisation and sensing in mining operations. Such a network structure needs to be rapidly deployable, have built-in redundancy, be self-managing, and be free from reliance on fixed infrastructure. The only possible candidate technology that can meet these requirements is based on the widespread distribution and use of miniaturised hardened wireless devices. This type of wireless device is often referred to as a “breadcrumb”, so named because of the small physical size of the device that allows many units to be readily distributed over a wide area of interest.

The motivations for considering miniaturised hardened wireless networks under standard operational coal production conditions are readily appreciable:

  • Instant localisation and identification of personnel and equipment on the mine site would directly benefit logistics, fleet optimisation, contractor monitoring and thus productivity.

  • Real-time communications and sensing capabilities would greatly enhance monitoring and coordination of personnel and plant, heralding new safely levels for mixed-fleet operations.

Some of the enabling technology employs next generation networked wireless transponders recently developed by CSIRO to locate, track, sense and communicate with people and assets in a diverse range of environments such as mining and emergency services. The mine site navigation system would incorporate wireless transponder beacon-and-tag devices; high-accuracy scanning radar units; and integrated monitoring and coordination networks.

The CSIRO wireless localisation project team is undertaking research and development of the Wireless Ad-hoc System for Positioning (WASP) platform to provide real time simultaneous localisation and mapping methods for mining applications. Positioning and tracking for constrained and underground environments using WiFi technology can be enhanced by being integrated with data communication and inertial navigation systems.

Furthermore, newly developed by CSIRO, in collaboration with the JCOAL and support from ACARP, is the Nexsys™ Real-Time Risk Management decision support system. This technology integrates data from a range of proprietary systems and independent sensors within a single concise system, providing real-time safety-critical hazard analysis and enabling operators to make informed decisions in safety-related areas. Nexsys™ is a truly mine-wide hazard reporting system that monitors real-time critical data to detect potentially hazardous mine conditions. Through its data analysis capability over a multitude of domains, Nexsys™ is designed to reduce the uncertainty and variability in the interpretation of this data and improve mine safety through its continuous monitoring of the state of a mine, integrating critical mine data from various systems and sensors, and notifying the appropriate personnel using a variety of decision support tools.

Proximity detection and collision avoidance systems are well developed and implemented in many surface mining operations (RFID, infrared, laser, ultra-sound or radar). With the availability of RFID and WiFi tracking systems as well as sensor-based (radar and others) detection systems for underground operations, the application of proximity detection systems depends mainly on the provision of IS certified equipment and monitoring/warning systems.

It should be noted that conventional underground mine communication networks are not designed for survivability during major mine disasters. Although an underground core switch and its associated power supplies are typically housed within IP54/55/66 enclosures, they are unlikely to survive explosion, fire and flooding. Connected optical fibre cables are typically secured to pipes, roof bolts, ribs and other infrastructure, and will not necessarily survive fire or roof collapse. That is, catastrophic failures occurring within one part of an underground mine can affect communications elsewhere.

Application Sites

The communication technologies are applicable to all underground coal mines, There is a strong demand and implementation process underway in the Australian underground coal mining sector with a similar demand from other countries. Mines with the tracking system of operations include Newlands, Springvale, Oaky North, Austar, Crinum East, Beltana, Whitehaven, Mandalong, Angus Place and Integra. Of particular significance is the MinePhone and person/vehicle proximity detection.

Technology Gaps/Needs

The following points summarise not only technology needs, but also the development actions being undertaken by the technology suppliers.

  • Full implementation and operation of VoIP phones with tracking integration.

  • MinePhone broadcasting to Voicecomm systems.

  • Full integration with other equipment in the mine – such as conveyor belt status.

  • High definition tracking on longwall faces, personnel and equipment proximity detection

  • Real-time monitoring and coordination network to allow all wireless objects (fleet and/or personnel) to be located(to provide localisation and two-way communications between vehicles and the base station.

  • GPS capability via MinePhone.

  • Reliable emergency communication technology.

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