Tracking and location systems – one part of digitising a mine

Since the first installation in 2004, MST Global has supplied tracking and Real Time Location Systems (RTLS) to over 100 underground mines.

Apart from technical improvements in the tracking system’s basic operation, a key area of development has been software and reporting systems to deliver business value from the location data, usually combined with other production data.

The software applications include cycle time reporting on production vehicles (trucks and LHDs) and time and attendance systems. Additionally, machine data, such as load, engine parameters, etc. are streamed in real-time to provide raw data to analyse, report on and use to manage underground mining processes more efficiently.

An example of MST’s IMPACT Wi-Fi network being used to provide more advanced business intelligence is in northern Russia. Their hard rock, apatite-nepheline ore mines have invested in high bandwidth networks and associated applications to digitise their underground operations.

At these operations, the IMPACT network was installed to provide two-way communications using VoIP MinePhones and tracking of all equipment and personnel. But the objective of installing the platform and devices was to use the network capabilities and data to better manage processes in the mine, such as:

  • Load and engine data from production machines
  • Train haulage monitoring
  • Interface to third party Fleet Management System

The last point is particularly relevant to mines as many Fleet Management Systems (FMS) rely on manual input of data from drivers and control room personnel.   Hence this input data is often unreliable, a classic case of a “certain thing in and certain thing out”.

Collaborating with FMS vendors through integration with MST’s network and database (tracking and machine data) allows key operational parameters to be automatically unloaded into the FMS software application, thus avoiding or minimising any manual input, greatly improving the accuracy and consistency of input data.

Another example is at Glencore’s Mt Isa Copper Operations (MICO) as outlined in a paper by Mt Isa Mines at the last AusIMM Underground Operators’ Conference.

MICO specific monitoring and report applications were developed, based on location data as well as vehicle data from machine mounted data loggers/Wi-Fi bridges, known as VIPs.   A key aspect of being able to leverage the retrieve and react to the data is the IMPACT IP/Wi-Fi network used to transfer data from any IP or Wi-Fi enabled device used underground.

The system used an application often called “reverse tracking”, where RFID Tags are fixed to key locations that are detected by the VIP module on the loader when at a precise location, such as a draw point and ore pass or dump. This allows for

ore extraction locations and dumping locations to be monitored, as well as the time taken to complete the cycles to be recorded. . Any deviation from pre-set parameters would raise an alert in the system and allow for proactive intervention and the transmission of remedial actions to address any issues – i.e. short interval control.

MST has had a policy of keeping their IMPACT Wi-Fi network and associated applications open to third party use and integration.

In summary, digitisation of mining is not new to MST, as they have been active in this area since identifying the need for higher bandwidth networks to support modern operational and business systems.

Delivering the benefits of these systems to underground mines, which the rest of the world has leveraged for the last 20 years, has been a key focus of MST’s R&D activities since 2004 and remain a large part of their on-going engineering & development efforts.