The goal of any underground mine communication system is the improved local and global communications within a system which is simple to use, improving the health and safety of the workers. All of this is moving towards an integration of all the different systems into comprehensive systems which embrace people, machines, monitoring and service. MineTrax is one such example with its implementation at Fresnillo’s La Cienega mine, Mexico beginning in 2011. The Chief Information Officer of the company Baldomero Gutierrez is of the opinion that MineTrax is a breakthrough technology since it is the only underground system with wireless network infrastructure that is capable of lasting several years on a few small batteries.
Newtrax Technologies is another high-tech company based in Montreal, Canada. The company is working towards battery-powered wireless networks for texting, telemetry and tracking in regions where the installation of wires for communications and power is complicated or can endanger the lives of the people working there. The networking platform that Newtrax uses is MineTrax and is purpose-built for underground mines. In collaboration with many mining application specialists, a comprehensive list of solutions have been drawn up to improve safety, condition-based maintenance, productivity and energy management. The safety benefits of such a system are early warnings of health and safety hazards, which may be ground instability or low air quality; emergency communications in production areas in the event of a cave-in or fire, even in the hard-to-reach last mile of tunnels; faster rescue operations with the help of real-time location information on the miners trapped underground etc. The productivity benefits of the system are real-time operational intelligence which enables better optimisation of the mining process, automated data collection and reporting and early warnings of maintenance problems such as total uptime of production machinery. Social and environmental benefits include lower energy consumption which is done by turning off ventilation in areas of the mine where active diesel machinery or personnel are absent; continuous observation and logging of operating parameters which enable verification of their compliance with commitments, and better competitiveness means better chances of maintaining jobs even at low prices.
The backward compatibility and simplicity of the MineTrax system are extremely valuable. It has a network infrastructure comprising battery-powered, wireless and self-organising nodes which were designed to last years on just a few small D cell batteries. Another essential feature of MineTrax is that it can also inter-network with both narrowband such as leaky feeder, through-the-earth etc. and broadband like fibre, coaxial cable etc. having backhaul links to the surface, which provides better adaptability and flexibility to heterogeneous mine sites. So miners need to be able to use both wired as well as wireless communication system in the chance that either one of them fails.