Underground Mining is moving toward the wholly grail of the “digital mine”. What this means exactly is open for discussion but a large part of this could be perceived to be as simple as reducing the paper trail and reducing repetitive data entry that is often seen across mining tasks. Underground tablet solutions could deliver this by linking scheduling data, populated by engineers in the office, with real time data entry from operators at the mining front; thus allowing for a more fluid data flow between what is planned and what is happening during a shift.
If implemented correctly, this could empower all parts of the mining team with the ability to make more informed decisions. This would be driven by the ability to have data in real time at all areas of the underground workings. This real time delivery would have to be powered by an underground wifi network, which is becoming more common at medium/large sized projects. When used in conjunction with personnel/machinery tracking this can become a very powerful safety, efficiency and scheduling tool.
In this article I will cover some of the main offerings from vendors that are currently on the market for underground “at the mining face” tablet solutions. Each offering will have particular pros and cons depending on what you are trying to achieve at your project. That said it is very much worth building a road map for key milestones and outputs if you are looking to move toward a digital mining environment. This will be covered at length in an article in the new year.
HxGN MineOperate UG
HxGN is a global hardware manufacturer and software provider, with integrated solutions for a range of industries. They have a global footprint across the mining sector with an office locally in Perth, WA.
Their current offering revolves around integration of both sensors and hardware to deliver underground fleet management and optimisation of workflows and scheduling:
HxGN MineOperate UG Foundation – An integrated solution that allows for tracking of personnel and equipment in the underground environment. It uses a simple tailor made interface for each underground task and for the operators to use during their shift. This data would then be fed back to a mine control office or similar for real time analysis.
HxGN MineOperate UG Pro – Builds on the data being fed back front front line operators and allows for real time analysis during the shift for managers/shift supervisors to make more informed decisions. It features the ability to adjust the schedule from its inputs depending on delays etc. in the mine, and it is available for purchase on a modular form. This means it can be tailor made and easily adjusted if you want more functionality in time.
MineOperate UG has been developed by one of the largest global mining specialists and delivers a solution for full real time mine monitoring. Details of tracking nodes etc. can not be found online but I would assume this would be delivered in house as a holistic package. This system could deliver a full one vendor solution for underground mines and due to its modular format could deliver future value through improved applications/modules.
MineOps – An Australian based business and they deliver several apps for use in underground mining:
SURVEY – Delivers underground surveyors a “cut tracker on steroids” with interactive maps of both survey pickups and designs for use in the field. This acts as the focal point for the other apps to leverage off, with the mapping capability is based on the survey/design datasets in Surpac/Deswik. This is in 2D plan form for simple use in the field, allowing individual levels to be viewed, with designs, survey stations and other underground features.
DRILLING interfaces with the SURVEY app and allows drillers to check on status of a heading from the cut tracking capability. PDF plans of the latest Mining Instruction can be accessed (paperless mining) and will remove the potential hazard of the operator having a superseded MI . Designs can be checked and cross referenced in the maps viewport. Drilling laser offsets and fillets can be calculated using “Smart Cut” possibly reducing overbreak and rework. PLODS and face sheets can be completed electronically to reduce data entry (note: production drilling app in development).
MAPS – Allows other mine operators access to the maps/designs/locations of services etc. without any access rights to store/edit data in the maps or database.
MineOps was developed by a mine surveyor, for mine surveying, and the other apps have been built on top of the initial package. It is being used by several large mining houses in WA/SA. That said, it offers a lite version of the digital mine but I am unsure if development will allow full integration to scheduling/planning features in Deswik or similar scheduling software. Although this could be a sticking point, it does have clear benefits for surveying and pushing for a smaller paper trail within the mining process. Mining houses with smaller budgets would benefit greatly from this system for relatively little expense, as it requires no wifi or tracking nodes etc.
Mobilaris – Offers several applications for use via Android tablet for underground efficiencies:
PocketMine – Gathers positional data of vehicles and personnel in the mining environment and allows users to see in real time the locations of miners/equipment.
Scheduler – Graphing dashboard and part of the feedback loop from activities at the face against scheduled activities, works in conjunction with…
Operator Client – The interface between the operator, the task at hand and the schedule. It allows checklists, PLODS, QAQC to be completed in a paperless form at the face by those completing the task.
The system has merit in its ability to interface between operators and the schedule database. PocketMine graphics look sub optimal at first glance and 3D view could easily become confusing on smaller tablets or operators. API integration between Deswik and other scheduling CAD pakcages along with vehicle tracking devices being utilised from other vendors could be an issue, I would need to explore this further.
This space has lots of vendors coming to market as it is very much the next frontier of efficiencies that are being driven by mining contractors, mine owners and consultancies. There are two other vendors that I will cover in the coming months, who I have been able to find limited details of their offerings:
LiveMine from Advanced Mining Production, is an app based system for data collection from the mining face in real time. This has been developed by the AMPS team down in Fremantle, WA and when time permits I would love to get in to see them to fully understand their offering.
Newtrax, also have been working in the mobile app and personnel tracking arena, but again, I have been unable to find out much about their tablet based system. However, that said they do have a number of solid case studies on their website including one from a neighboring mine to where I earn my crust, Goldfields’ Granny Smith.
This market currently reminds me of the EV battery operated car space, in that there are multiple offerings on the table for individuals to assess. However, there seemingly hasn’t been enough role out and hard trialing of the systems for a clear market leader to emerge. This trial and error period could bring great successes for those who explore and implement these systems thoroughly.
The holistic use of nodes, sensors, wifi networks and software driving these systems means that businesses need to be aware of cross compatibility when exploring avenues within this field. Delivering success in the short term may be fairly simple but will these systems be supported, grown and flourish by vendors to deliver maximum value in the medium to long term? I think only time, further trialing and consolidation in the marketplace will deliver the full answer.