Canadian Mining Journal


Efficiency & safety thanks to real-time data

 I don’t have to tell you that the resource industry is very competitive and to run an efficient business, managers need timely and accurate data.  Waiting for month-end or quarterly reports, and the subsequent...

 I don’t have to tell you that the resource industry is very competitive and to run an efficient business, managers need timely and accurate data.  Waiting for month-end or quarterly reports, and the subsequent interpretation and reaction time, is not acceptable as it places companies at a serious competitive disadvantage. 

Thanks to on-going changes in technology,  however,  real-time data can inform shift supervisors, maintenance foremen and mine managers of key statistics on staff and equipment allowing immediate adjustments for efficiency and safety.

For example, if a 360-ton haul truck is only carrying 350 tons (short by 2.7%), team leaders have the ability to quickly find out why and make changes so subsequent loads are full.  It’s virtually instantaneous and allows problems to be fixed before they show up on the bottom line. 

Real-time data drives directly to the bottom line. Any piece of surface or underground equipment can provide important data.   The challenge is to provide the most pertinent information to a supervisor, foreman or manager so quick action can be taken. 

Network Requirements

Many mines currently have some sort of data network.  To have real impact, that network needs to be highly available, scalable and have the capacity to easily carry the data load. 

Today, many  mines are moving toward Wi-Fi networks that have a combination of fiber and wireless networks.  The fiber network provides the “big pipe” for data.  The wireless network collects data quickly anywhere that work is being performed.  Wi-Fi networks are advantageous because they operate on an 802.11 open standard, providing flexibility to choose solutions from various manufacturers.  Voice and text communications, tracking solutions for employees and assets, access control, and wireless video conferencing can all be utilized on a Wi-Fi network.

Manufacturers also have equipment specifically for targeted applications.  In coal, Wi-Fi nodes can be added to longwall shearers.  The node has the ability to send information to small nodes under the pan line or under the shields through wireless and fiber based nodes that provide data integrity under all conditions.

Another manufacturer has a mesh product that uses software to send data in more than one frequency and multiple paths simultaneously 

Data Sources

Virtually every piece of equipment and every employee can be a source of data.    With mobile and stationary equipment, real time data can be broadcast and received by making the equipment a “client” on a Wi-Fi network, similar to a computer being a client on a network in an office.  A Wi-Fi device is installed on the equipment to capture data in the format native to the machine and then translates it for transmission over the Wi-Fi network.  At the other end, the data is displayed through software that pulls disparate information from various manufacturers into one easily viewed “dashboard.”

Once all the data sources on a piece of equipment are connected to the Wi-Fi device on the vehicle, that data is available wherever there is a network or internet connection. Valuable data for equipment maintenance (hours of operation, tire and oil pressure), and load cells (measuring load capacity) is easily collected along with operational notifications such as whether a cutting head on a continuous miner is engaged.

Data from employees can also be collected easily in real time, allowing the tracking of critical information related to employee and equipment location and movement within the mine for ventilation on demand requirements.  Cap lamps for the mining industry are now available with tracking tags housed directly in the lamp.  This approach offers many advantages, not the least of which is reduction in costs due to lost or misplaced tags.  These cordless cap lamps house a variety of RFID and Wi-Fi tracking tags, making them adaptable to a wide spectrum of networks.  The ability to quickly and accurately locate workers is critical should an incident occur in the mine. Rescue efforts can be focused and valuable time saved simply through the use of a reliable tracking solution.

Wireless Input  Output Devices (WIOD)

Once a network is installed and information is available from various sources in the mine, another component to optimize the system is a device that captures the information from the equipment and sends it up over the network.

Wireless input output devices (WIOD) can now be used in mines.  WIOD’s are small and very cost effective all-purpose client devices that provide many advantages to transferring data through WiFi.  WIOD’s for mining currently have two configurable data inputs, a great deal of processing capacity, and a large amount of storage. They also have built-in temperature and pressure sensors as well as a three-axis accelerometer to monitor movement.  The device works in or out of network coverage and can be mounted to fixed or mobile equipment and be line or battery powered. 

Management Reporting

The beauty of collecting data in this manner is that it is highly flexible and compatible with a variety of management reporting systems.  With this data, centralized management information reporting systems provide information that allows mine operators to provide a safer working environment and increase productivity and equipment reliability. 

New technology like cap lamps with tracking tags, WIOD devices and Wi-Fi technology work in concert to help managers drive efficiency into leading organizations.

*Heidi Levitt, President, NLT (Northern Light Technologies). Heidi can be reached at For more information, visit

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