Safe and sound

CUTTING edge technology is limiting the risk underground, says Matthew Brace

One of the most striking advances in mining technology has been in the field of communications.

We have progressed from primitive signalling methods and good old fashioned yells down the mine shaft to rapid, multi-level electronic systems using fibre optic networks, sensors and database software.

One of the big questions that researchers have been trying to answer recently is how do we use these modern communications sensing and information technologies to deal with managing the many risks in the hazardous business of mining in both coal and hard-rock environments.

Thanks to a successful collaborative project called the Nexsys Real-time Risk Management System — the world’s first intrinsically safe Ethernet-enabled mine communications system — that question is now being answered.

What is Nexsys?

It is the product of an internationally collaborative research project jointly funded by the Japan Coal Energy Center (JCOAL), CSIRO Exploration and Mining (CEM) and the Australian Coal Association Research Program (ACARP).

The system will deliver world-first capabilities in real-time risk profiling, hazard management, control and decision support, and next generation Ethernet-enabled communications systems based on IEC Ex ia (intrinsically safe) hardware.

All energy generated by the equipment is below the level that can ignite dangerous gases.

CEM’s director of mining research and project leader Greg Rowan explained why the system was relevant in today’s — and tomorrow’s — mines.

“Such is the size, depth and complexity of today’s underground mines, that many have anywhere up to 20,000 sources of data gathered from monitoring networks throughout the mine,” he said.

“This information is fed to mine control rooms where it is often left to one person to decipher and initiate a response, should any one data set indicate a problem.”

Ultimately, this system will provide predictive, real-time risk management strategies and provide mine operators with the capability to initiate pre-emptive Trigger Action Response Plans (TARPS) should operating parameters worsen.

This has the added benefit of eliminating the endless stream of false and non-critical alarms that consume energy, resources and valuable time.

“Studies from previous post-incident inquiries have shown that in many cases predictive data was available prior to catastrophic events taking place,” Rowan said.

“That data, if properly interpreted, might have reduced the impact of the event and possibly have avoided it altogether.”

How it works

Nexsys integrates — in real-time — key data from ventilation, strata, environmental, atmospheric, operational, statutory, production and maintenance reports with personnel and equipment location systems.

These data sets can be determined depending on the type, characteristics and requirements of each particular mine.

They are drawn together either directly from a wide array of available serial sensors or collected in an indirect way from the databases of existing proprietary monitoring systems through a range of database software connectors.

Once the information is amassed in a single database, Nexsys gets to work. The system can analyse, report, present data results, and initiate a range of autonomous actions which are completely at the discretion of the individual mine.

Another way of describing Nexsys is to call it a rule-based reasoning engine.

The advantage of analysing such critical data sets with a tool like this is that it can cross-reference historical events and then present the results of this analysis, again in real-time, through 2D, 3D and 4D user interfaces.

Risk profiling

One of the key capabilities of the Nexsys system is its ability to configure an up-to-date risk profile of a mine.

A large number of potential hazards and risks can be compared against a standard chart showing likelihood-versus-consequence.

Data is drawn from electronic sensors which are in place within the mine and constantly monitoring their surroundings.

From this data, trends can be mapped, in real-time.

CEM’s long standing collaboration with JCOAL has meant the in-situ trials of Nexsys have taken place at Japan’s Kushiro mine.

*This article first appeared in CSIRO Exploration & Minings magazine earthmatters that can be downloaded from www.em.csiro.au.

Greg Rowan

07 3327 4179

greg.rowan@csiro.au

Dr David Hainsworth

07 3327 4420

david.hainsworth@csiro.au

To keep up to date with Australian Mining, subscribe to our free email newsletters delivered straight to your inbox. Click here.