Ahead of the Technology Game: Above and Below Ground

as published in: Canadian Mining Magazine (Print)
By Rick Huijbregts
Fall 2013, Page 31

There’s no disputing that advancements in technology can help transform an industry. We’ve already seen it in industries like real estate, where running an IP network through buildings during construction can provide the infrastructure for things like automated thermostats and remote controlled lighting and blinds.

But where does the mining industry fall on the spectrum of technological innovation? Believe it or not, it’s probably farther along than you think. More and more mining companies are leveraging new technologies to increase productivity, operational longevity and even safety precautions.

Take Canadian-based Dundee Precious Metals, for example. Two years ago, the company began incorporating IT solutions from Cisco Systems into its mining operations overseas. Dundee needed to introduce a reliant and resilient network that would improve communication in the mines and maximize efficiencies, with scalability and high availability.

Mark Gelsomini, Dundee Precious Metals’ Corporate Director of IT, shared Dundee’s story in a recent discussion with international media. “We have enabled and developed technologies that give us critical functionality and a 360 degree view underground,” says Gelsomini.

What Gelsomini is referring to is a system that uses WiFi and radio frequency identification (RFID) tracking in order to locate assets, increase resource availability and keep miners out of harm’s way. The system includes embedded sensors, cameras and controllers and can keep track of vehicles, equipment and miners themselves. The information collected from the underground is then transmitted to control centres with no lag time. “We can see assets underground and get details on where it is on the decline and what it is doing―all in real time. The information is coming from access points throughout our operation.”

Dundee also developed a tablet for real time monitoring and processing from the underground, as well as technology for push-to-talk kits that mimic the traditional leaky feeder system. Leaky feeder systems are typically quite expensive and can cause a lot of issues if not maintained correctly. Gelsomini says that with the introduction of technology and the innovative developments around it, Dundee can expand the system at its discretion without having to worry about operating issues or exorbitant costs.

Not only has the use of technology eased communication and promoted efficiency in the organization; it also helps ensure the safety and security of its miners. Mining companies can use RFID systems to track both assets and people. “Safety is the first and foremost priority for our entire organization. Now when we blast underground we can verify where people are to ensure they have left the area and there is no question where someone may or may not be. That’s one very key area where technology has improved our visibility,” says Gelsomini.

Additionally, a series of WiFi-enabled seismic sensors and an industrial camera monitors the underground seismic activity in real time and will let the control centre know when it is safe to return to the mine.

So, is there a way to quantify the value of adding technology and innovation to a mining operation? Absolutely, says Gelsomini. “The objective was to bring our production level to two million tonnes per year at our operation in Chelopech, Bulgaria. With the help of technology and this kind of innovation, we’re achieving that goal.”

As a result of this success, the company is now installing the technology systems as a company standard across all of its operations.

Dundee Precious Metals is now a trendsetter in the industry, being one of a few organizations in the world that has full WiFi in operation underground. At Cisco, we see tremendous opportunities for growth as the Internet of Everything helps make valuable connections between people, data, process and things. Mining is ripe for innovation and with forward thinking companies like Dundee blazing the path, we expect to see more exciting developments in the near future

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