Don’t let your network dictate your choices

Strata Worldwide and Sydney-based RFI Technology Solutions have joined forces to bring the underground world a simple yet powerful solution for overcoming many of the classic constraints of typical digital networks.

It assists in resolving the common “last mile” difficulties of getting power and connectivity to the working section, it solves the issue of limited availability and fixed locations of underground power stations, it breaks the boundaries set by pre-existing network cables that dictate the placement of end-point devices, and it streamlines the labour of cable installation and maintenance — all by combining power and high-speed data into a single coaxial cable. With data speeds comparable to fibre optics, RFI’s Digital Drift is an ideal solution to send power and data to the edges of your mine.

RFI’s Digital Drift is a multi-drop Power-over-Ethernet (PoE) coaxial cable network that is easy to install, involves low maintenance and is highly user friendly. The simplicity of coaxial cable eliminates the need for specialised technicians and enables operations to utilise on-site tradespeople for installation, expansion, recovery and maintenance.

Coaxial cable is inherently simple to use; it can be cut and spliced at any point and at any length, providing complete flexibility in network architecture and system engineering. Power can be inserted at any point along the cable, enabling operations to utilise power stations wherever they are. Once connected, the 24–60 volts of DC power will flow in both directions, powering components and end-point devices anywhere along the cable. High-speed data will travel for 1–2km without a repeater, with the ability to splice PoE outlets anywhere along that cable segment. By using a repeater, these 1–2km coaxial cable segments can be daisy chained indefinitely.

Digital Drift is a universal platform for data and power transport to networked devices. It is fully compatible with any off-the-shelf Ethernet end-point device, and mining operations can elect to install devices anywhere along the network. Using standard procedures to tap into the cable, personnel can attach the Digital Drift Quadport units, which provide powered digital ports for the connection of devices such as:

  • Wi-Fi Access Points
  • Digital Cameras
  • Atmospheric Monitoring Stations (AMS)
  • PLCs
  • Mine Phones

This point-to-multipoint network can be used as a standalone system for underground connectivity or can be used to expand and/or break off from pre-existing fibre optics. Mines can use Digital Drift for Voice-over-IP (VoIP) communications, high-speed digital data and real-time telemetry, and it is ideal for establishing powered connectivity in remote and abandoned areas that still require monitoring.

Examples of current applications include a central African copper mine utilising Digital Drift technology to operate digital cameras, Wi-Fi access points and tracking readers in production areas of the mine. The cameras enable surface operators to visually monitor areas, measure productivity, understand potential bottlenecks and identify the root causes of incidents.

In its selection criteria, the mine required adequate bandwidth to support a large number of digital cameras in real time, operating simultaneously with Wi-Fi and tracking, while having the flexibility to quickly deploy and move cameras into different locations as required.

In a second African mine, Digital Drift is being used to remotely monitor the mine’s emergency refuge chambers to ensure appropriate use of the units, and that they remain operationally ready in the event of an emergency. By using this technology, the mine’s permanent and portable emergency chambers include video surveillance, telephony, RFID tracking, Wi-Fi access and remote atmospheric monitoring. In making its selection, it was important to the mine to be able to disconnect the portable chambers and easily reconnect them once in their new locations.

Finally, an underground nickel mine in Western Australia has deployed the Digital Drift platform to remotely operate its underground loaders from the surface. Since the loaders work across ore drives on multiple levels, it was difficult and expensive to connect all levels to the surface using fibre.

This forced the suspension of loading operations during shift changes, losing hours of production. To resolve the issue, Digital Drift technology was chosen by the mine for its significant comparative cost savings and ease of installation. The technology’s native Ethernet capabilities also allow Wi-Fi access points and digital cameras to be added.