on June 17th, 2019

Anglo American’s coal mining operations in Mpumalanga, South Africa, are becoming more efficient and safer. They are starting to roll out underground Wi-Fi and equipping their miners and engineers with smartphones. It’s a setup that will cost only $690,000..

Currently in South Africa, telephones are used inside mines to communicate above and below the mine, but they are not immediately available to everyone involved in the mining operation. Communications is just one of the many benefits of the new underground Wi-Fi. Miners can now send photographs and videos to fellow miners and engineers so they can troubleshoot any problems in the mine.

Anglo American’s Edgar Simfukwe told the media:

“We’re working in an environment where safety and productivity are paramount. The introduction of underground Wi-Fi is a game-changer. It allows our miners to communicate more easily, thereby making mines more productive. The main benefit is that breakdowns can be reported and resolved faster - in some cases, by contacting equipment manufacturers on the spot.”

Safety is another vital benefit. Miners can now be tracked throughout the mine which will also aid rescue crews if accidents happen. In the future, miners will also wear wearable technologies that can track their vitals whilst they do the heavy work - giving the mining company incredible oversight over its workforce’s wellbeing.

Once they successfully implement a communications mesh network, the company can also look into fleet management that can be automated utilizing Wi-Fi technology. This has been happening in some technologically developed mines around the world for some time now.

 

Automation in the mine a success?

Many mining operations around the world are creating interconnected networks of miners and mining technology through Industrial Internet of Things technologies.

In Western Australia, iron ore mining producer Fortescue Metals Group since 2012 had coupled their trucks up to an automated system that actually drives the trucks autonomously. The company calls it the Autonomous Haulage System (AHS). They are connected via a Wi-Fi system as well. In February 2019, however, a pair of the trucks collided into one another.

Since then, the technology has shown its reliability over time and avoided more accidents than it has caused. Chief Executive of Fortescue, Elizabeth Gaines, explained:

“Since the introduction of the first AHS truck at Solomon in 2012, AHS trucks have safely travelled over 24.7 million kilometres.”

Nonetheless, a preliminary investigation into the collision allegedly revealed that the trucks apparently lost Wi-Fi coverage in a certain location inside the mine. Thus, it seems, the mine’s mesh network was not properly communicating dynamically.

Anglo American is on track with their implementation of networked technologies. In 2017, they began their rollout of technologies into the mining sector. With a more than $34 million USD investment into technology like drones, remotely controlled drills and novel software, Anglo American has begun its revolutionizing of their operations.

Progress is being made in making mines all across the world with the implementation of Industrial Internet of Things technologies that are making for a safer environment for engineers and miners alike.

 

Works Cited

“Anglo American Heads up Underground WiFi.” ENCA, 20 May 2019, www.enca.com/news/anglo-american-heads-underground-wi-fi.

“Not so Autonomous: Wifi Outage Results in Driverless Truck Crash at Fortescue Mine.” MINING.com, 15 Feb. 2019, www.mining.com/driverless-trucks-not-flawless-two-crash-fortescue-mine-australia/.

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