NEVADA – One of the first mines to benefit from Barrick Gold’s decision to go digital across all its operations is the Cortez gold mine 100 km southwest of Elko. Here the company has installed Wi-Fi underground with many potential productivity benefits.
Barrick described the benefits in the recent issue of Beyond Borders:
Building an underground Wi-Fi network expands the amount of data that can be collected and analyzed from underground. For example, operators will be able to track data such as equipment and personnel locations in real time, the number of bucket scoops per haul truck and where ore is going.
Safety will also be bolstered, as Wi-Fi will facilitate the use of tele-remote and autonomous technology that will allow miners to operate equipment from the surface via remote control. This will enhance safety because it will significantly reduce the amount of time miners spend underground, reducing their exposure to mining related risks. The use of these technologies will also minimize interruptions in the mining cycle because mine personnel won’t have to be cleared from the underground in order to blast. Wi-Fi will also allow the installation of technology that empowers shift supervisors to more efficiently deploy personnel and equipment at the beginning of a shift. This will reduce shift changeover and start-up times.
In terms of maintenance, the goal is to provide on-demand service in real time. If a piece of equipment breaks down, communication with a subject expert or vendor located on surface, or even off site, via a Wi-Fi-enabled tablet, will be possible. The expert will be able to see the equipment, help identify the issue and deliver a solution. If required, a part could be ordered directly through the mine’s Oracle database system from the tablet that the underground technician is using. The work order would be processed automatically, and the service disruption would be kept to a minimum. While full integration of back office systems is the longer term goal, underground operators are already able to communicate with and receive support from experts in Elko – or anywhere else in the world – using real-time video chat.
To enable Wi-Fi underground, Barrick partnered with Cisco to standardize equipment and create a robust network that is simple to install. No specialized equipment or specialists are needed to install it.
Network cables were threaded 365 metres below the earth’s surface. These cables connect to one of six main distribution frames that service different levels of the mine. These frames collect data from different equipment underground such as pumps and air quality stations. Internet connectivity is delivered via the access points, which are made by Cisco. The access points transmit Wi-Fi signals approximately 100 metres, from one point to the next. However, as the system goes into the deeper, in parts of the mine where access points are farther from the distribution frame, data transmission speed is reduced.
To resolve this issue, copper wiring was used to buttress data transmission speeds between access points when the network was first rolled out. However, it is more costly and difficult to install than fiber or cat 5e wiring, a type of Ethernet cable.
Another challenge is to maintain data transmission speeds with equipment operating on the fringes of the network. The introduction of a combination of fiber optic cables and battery solutions is used to resolve the problem. The fiber optic cables will maintain data transmission speeds and also power access points. Specialized batteries that can last up to seven days will power portable access points installed on the equipment itself. This will allow equipment to transmit data from the rock face while maintaining data throughput speeds.
To read more of the latest issue of Beyond Borders, go to www.BarrickBeyondBorders.com.