Guide to location tracking technologies for underground mines
By Francine Harris, GMG
Asset location tracking systems – for physical assets as well as personnel – have great potential to enhance value and improve safety and productivity. However, underground mines have additional challenges in this area due to the lack of GPS.
Section 9.2 of the GMG Underground Mine Communications Infrastructure Guidelines Part III: General Guidelines provides a high-level overview of why these tracking technologies are valuable in underground mines and the options that they have.
Tracking systems and their benefits
Tracking personnel have safety benefits such as identifying if they are in unsafe situations or in distress. Pinpointing people’s exact locations also reduces emergency response times.
Tracking systems – human, electrical or mechanical – can also improve productivity in several ways. They can reduce delays by facilitating accountability and ensuring that materials are moved to where they are needed when they are needed.
The data that these systems produce can also be analysed in order to recognise opportunities for improvement and process optimisation. For example, location services are a key enabling technology for short interval control at the foundational level (Level 2) identified in the GMG Guideline for Implementing Short Interval Control in Underground Mining Operations (Section 126.96.36.199). Recognising asset locations and only providing resources to occupied areas also provides opportunities for cost savings in areas such as ventilation and cooling.
Find guidance in the GMG guideline
- Section 9.2.1 defines asset tracking systems and their overall use
- Section 9.2.2 identifies the safety, asset management, productivity and resource management benefits
- Section 9.2.8 identifies some use cases that illustrate some of the benefits of tracking systems underground
Implementing tracking systems
The mine’s communication infrastructure will determine what approach they will take to their tracking systems. There are several choices to make and advantages and disadvantages to weigh. For example:
- What coverage approach? Real-time location systems offer wide coverage by tracking tagged assets throughout a coverage area but may have limited accuracy. Proximity-based location systems are very accurate in small detection areas, but the location has to be inferred when assets are outside of those areas.
- What type of detection system? Passive tags determine relative location against strategically located readers but have limited range. Active tags determine absolute location by identifying fixed coordinates at regular frequencies and typically have a larger range, but sophisticated systems may be more expensive.
- What communications protocol? LTE, Wi-Fi, Leaky Feeder and Bluetooth are among the options.
- How will the system report? Systems may report by asset, useful for determining where mobile equipment is, or by zone, useful for monitoring areas of high or low activity.
Find guidance in the GMG guideline
- Section 9.2.3 discusses the advantages and disadvantages of tracking approaches
- Section 9.2.4 discusses the advantages and disadvantages of detection systems
- Section 9.2.5 offers considerations on the base infrastructure
- Section 9.2.6 provides guidance on mapping location zones
- Section 9.2.7 describes system reporting options
The communications infrastructure guideline only provides high-level guidance on tracking systems and there is a need for more detailed guidance on this topic. A proposal for a new Location Tracking Project was recently presented to GMG’s Underground Mining Working Group. Interested parties are invited to participate in this initiative and can find more info at https://gmggroup.org.