Mines of the future will have fewer people and a higher level of automation, but to be successful, Australia-based mining systems designer and manufacturer Nautitech GM Alex Lester says mines will need reliable communications as well as visibility of underground operations.
“General communications and the reporting of incidents occurring around the project face have traditionally been hampered by the need for mine employees to physically walk back to the crib room, where workers take breaks, and pick up the phone to call for help,” he explains to Mining Weekly, noting that a new combination of powerline and wireless, or WiFi, communication technology solves this communication lag by enabling immediate reporting of safety incidents.
The Nautitech Wingman software technology was launched three months ago and is used as a means of configuring and integrating power line modems from the surface.
Wingman, Lester adds, makes the management of the networks easier as it provides visibility for the control room on the surface, which means that people do not have to go underground, thereby saving valuable time.
The Wingman technology allows mines to configure, monitor and diagnose all underground equipment from a computer on the surface using the mine’s existing infrastructure to establish a two-way link.
Wingman is also designed to work in conjunction with Nautitech’s Spitfire and Super Spitfire broadband power line modems (BPLMs), which are focused on creating a reliable network connection over a single section of mining cable of up to 350 m to 500 m long.
“We also had to develop specialised couplers for the shearer and continuous miner applications to launch the modem signal into the mining cables,” Lester adds.
For these applications, he explains, customers are able to gain access to any kind of data, such as a machine’s status and live video from mobile machines through the mine’s optical fibre network.
The Super Spitfire BPLM is a wireless range extender for modem signals, as mining cables were never meant to carry these kinds of signals, Lester explains.
He adds that there is a limit, which is dependent on the cable used and the noise in application, to how far a modem signal can be transmitted over a section of cable, which is typically 450 m to 600 m. However, the transmission distance can be doubled by putting two cable sections in series with a repeater in the middle.
“The Spitfire modems must be able to create a link over each individual cable section. “When that’s established, the repeater functionality takes care of sending the data through each link.”
Meanwhile, Lester adds other technologies on offer from Nautitech include the company’s Alternator Protection Device (APD), which protects all circuitry by cutting the power supply when it recognises oncoming power spikes or surges.
When the energy supply stabilises, the APD re-establishes with the power supply, Lester explains.
“While this is happening, Nautitech’s systems are powered by battery, which means that there is no interruption in their operation.”
Lester further notes that, when alternators run at a high level, they periodically have load dumps, which cause the alternator to slowly “wind down”. He explains that this transient energy damages circuitry and can lead to energy spikes of 45 V to 50 V.
“In the case of a power surge, this could ‘cook’ the circuitry at the mine. The APD, however, ensures that this doesn’t happen.”
Over 150 APD devices have been sold globally, with Nautitech making the technology a mandatory addition in all its systems to “give customers and the company peace of mind”.
Other technologies offered by Nautitech include a 10ʺ flameproof display, which can be mounted on a vehicle or in a control room as part of camera systems to display control functions of automated processes.
All Nautitech systems and technologies are accredited by the International Electrotechnical Commission, which is an international standards and conformity assessment body for all fields of electrotechnology. The company’s products also comply with Australian- and South African-recognised standard the ATEX directive, which derives its name from the French Appareils destinés à être utilisés en Atmosphères Explosibles, and which consists of two European directives on the equipment and work environments permissible in explosive atmospheres.