Underground mining generates over $650 billion USD each year. The mining industry supplies essential minerals for energy, construction, manufacturing, technology, and electric vehicles. While mining safety has significantly improved in recent years, mining still presents inherent risks to workers. Safety issues include roof collapse, toxic gas exposure, asphyxiation, powered haulage, ground failure, and rockfall. These hazards are diverse, and as a result, the most effective protection are measures that can help to either remove the worker from potentially hazardous situations or alert them to impending danger.
With these risks, how does the IoT affect the mining industry? Technology is driving measurable improvement in miner safety with increased connected applications. These solutions can:
- Help inform the miners about the state of the job site
- Predict the likelihood or location of a hazard
- Automate tasks that are excessively hazardous for humans
- Monitor rock and ground movement and machinery usage
- Monitor miners’ vital signs and location
The following is an advanced technology review to illustrate how these solutions improve worker safety across the spectrum of hazards in these applications.
Immersive Technology and Worksite Simulators
A transformative innovation in this space is the implementation of immersive technology. Able to expose the worker to various challenges like weather, ground conditions for digging, or equipment configuration and control, immersive technology meets the user at their aptitude level. This approach expedites the learning process and applies adaptive learning to sharpen the miner’s skills.
The simulation helps to standardize best practices, eliminate bad habits, and accelerate specialization in the desired area. The opportunity to encounter and react to an emergency situation arms the user with the skills they need to protect themselves. It also helps prevent risking the rest of the group due to a lack of experience in a high-stress situation. It is critical to equip the miners with the background and tools to set them up for success in the actual application.
Robotics is becoming an increasingly vital part of high-risk industries. Using a machine for dangerous or remote work directly protects human workers. Automation such as autonomous trucks or robotic drills enables workers to remove themselves from hazardous situations. This can help workers achieve the precise, expert performance required by the job. Examples of these environments are the mine’s lack of ventilation and water.
Mining robots can traverse flooded areas and carry imaging technology to identify minerals and other valuable contents of the mine. They can also survey remote regions of the mine and conduct inspections and surveys that humans would not be able to. Augmenting robotic automation with autonomous travel has increased the value of mining robots.
Drones are another technology improving mining applications. These machines can enter locations not easily accessible on foot, capture images inside mines with areas with a high risk of collapse, and perform labor-intensive surveys, inspections, or mapping activities previously conducted by humans. Incorporating connected technology at the worksite lets the miners understand the environmental conditions and provides a line to the surface team.
Data Collection: Monitors and Sensors
Data is the currency of the IoT, and sensors are the collection mechanism. Employing sensors and monitors paints a picture of the current state of the miners and the worksite. Then, a device can issue an alert or trigger a corrective measure.
An example of how monitors and sensors make mining safer is the assessment of rock movements. By monitoring these movements, workers can receive warnings regarding the potentially dangerous seismic activity. Examples of these types of monitors include radar and LiDAR. These are the same technology used to assess the ambient environment around an autonomous vehicle. These sensor types can identify workers underground and assist in job scoping, drilling operations, and controlled demolitions.
Another application through which monitors and sensors deliver worker safety is by monitoring the usage patterns of heavy equipment through radio-frequency identification. This predictive maintenance process can aid the scheduling of part replacement or fluid change or maintenance optimization while reducing downtime by determining roughly when a part will fail. The operations team can then schedule maintenance at a safety margin before an expected failure. This process can protect the remaining equipment from the failing component.
Several other mining processes monitors gauge PLC equipment usage, miner and longwall control centers, control and diagnostic belt assessment, location of fans, and watering/de-watering pump controls. Monitoring the state of each helps reduce equipment wear and downtime while increasing worker safety.
Wearables and GPS
Global positioning systems (GPS) have apparent benefits when monitoring workers deep in a mine. Tying GPS to wearables technology can also benefit miners in multiple ways. With their positions pinpointed, wearables can also detect heart rate and blood-oxygen levels, two key performance indicators for worker safety.
The devices feed information to a central processor for assessment, alert expected hazards resulting from the measurements, and communicate work status to the surface team. Receiving a real-time picture of the workers’ health and position could make a significant difference when an emergency arises.
Some examples of the types of hazards wearables help prevent include:
- poor air quality
- lack of oxygen through insufficient blood-oxygen readings
- transient changes in these levels to indicate worker fatigue
For example, a continuous slowing position change or blood-oxygen level could signal gradual exhaustion. Having these devices communicate directly (and passively) to the control system saves precious seconds when workers are in their highest-risk condition.
Mining carries enough risk without technology durability hindering working safety monitoring. Rugged, lightweight, high-performing technology is the centerpiece to achieving results and protecting miners. Rugged tablet solutions can instantly collect and transmit inspection data or convert radar signals into 2D images. This saves vital time to improve decision-making.
The dusty, volatile mining environment requires a technology that can withstand harsh element exposure while delivering high performance. In addition, mining environments can see extreme temperatures, contain large drop distances, and often are high-humidity climates. Rugged tablets process data from immersive technology, automated or autonomous robotics, monitors and sensors, and wearable devices. This information provides the in-field team with the tools to communicate the status to the surface. This also gives them local access to critical data to help in decision-making.
Visit Getac’s mining solutions to learn how the industry can benefit from rugged technologies in the field. These devices run on Windows 10 while supporting Android OS, making them ready to use when the application dictates. In addition, Getac offers solutions like the F110 fully rugged tablet. This device offers dual hot-swappable batteries to extend life and assure continuous device operation. It is impractical to stop mining activities to recharge after a partial shift to minimize worker exposure to the adverse mining climate. Selecting a tool that meets the job’s demands is a differentiating benefit.
As coal and mineral mining evolves with climate regulations and market needs, equipping the working team with cutting-edge tools can accelerate the positive trends in worker safety in the mining industry.