In underground mining operations, communication systems play a crucial role for personnel safety and maximising productivity. Although communication systems for underground mining have improved significantly over the past two decades, it remains difficult to achieve reliable wireless communication in ultra-deep level underground mines.
Building and maintaining an underground wireless IP network is challenging due to the harsh and ever-changing environment. Signals reflect inside a mine and cause multipath interference. In addition, these same signals will not penetrate through the mine walls, making conventional network designs undesirable.
Due to the unique environment of underground mines, there are several common challenges that need to be taken into consideration when designing a communications system, including:
Long distance ramp/decline, shaft or tunnel where reflection/refraction causes loss in signal strength;
Poor line of sight - nature of declines and drives;
High temperature, humidity, dust, and gas concentration;
Noise, vibration and explosion in confined space which can damage the infrastructure;
Lack of wireless RF coverage modelling/prediction;
Equipment compliance with the appropriate protection level to work under the mine’s specific hazardous area rating;
Underground power supply constraints; and
Dynamically changing environment as the underground mine expands.
These challenges make it difficult to deploy an effective and secure way to communicate underground. Conventional implementations for Wi-Fi can be impractical as a site would be required to install a large quantity of wireless access points which would only be able to cover small areas before the mine layout resulted in communications dropouts and extreme signal degradation . Powering these access points also adds complexity, as conventional solutions can not carry enough power to daisy chain access points all the way down a drive and the required voltages are uncommon in underground infrastructure.
Additionally, these systems mostly operate independently, leading to a significant amount of infrastructural duplication. This can increase installation and maintenance costs, and cause delays. However, traditional voice and data networks are starting to converge. This is occurring due to the development of technologies LTE.
Radio waves travel through the air and reflect of the walls underground, making radio coverage underground difficult. Digital Drift Leaky Feeder Wi-Fi Systems solves this problem by forming an antenna that is installed throughout the mine, providing complete radio communication coverage. Leaky Feeder cable is a type of coaxial cable that ‘leaks’ radio signals throughout the mine. Amplifiers are installed along the Leaky Feeder cable to boost the signal and compensate for cable loss and branch units can be used to provide service down different pathways.
Insig Technologies Digital Drift Leaky Feeder Wi-Fi Network provides a reliable, high-speed network connectivity to devices in challenging industrial environments such as underground mining shafts, creating a single mine-wide hyper-efficient communications network that can handle all of a mine’s voice communication and data transfer needs. Our high speed, fit for purpose Digital Drift leaky Feeder Wi-Fi System is an improvement over traditional wireless systems as it provides a much more consistent coverage and a high speed link between the surface and remote underground operations. Our Digital Drift System can:
Broadcast a Wi-Fi network along 180m of cable between systems (Conventional technology wouldn’t work over 100m or be able to run the required power)
Support all IP communications between the surface and the underground systems including high speed shaft systems, remote bogger solutions, CCTV and voice to name a few.
Pass power and internet communications from one panel to the next
Chain multiple panels together to provide communications over +2000m in a small diameter mining shaft.
A recent example within a gold mine in the Norther Territory that had Insig Technologies Leaky Feeder Wi-Fi installed in a new shaft found that communication was a lot more reliable communicating with the high speed shaft conveyances. Additionally, the system was straightforward enough to be installed by the mine’s electrical team with minimal extra tooling or training required. A single coaxial cable carries both power and data, providing high-speed communication that works with any industrial ethernet device. Installation requires the same tooling most sites s for VHF/UHF coms systems, which means most electricians and auto electricians can install and maintain the leaky feeder system without extensive training or extra tooling.
Leaky Feeder Wi-Fi systems have the ability to scale and grow with a changing environment in any underground mine. Each Leaky Feeder System can be tailored to specific site requirements to provide the best radio coverage. Overall, leaky feeder Wi-Fi is cheaper and quicker to install over conventional Wi-Fi. It is also more practical, as you are able to get Wi-Fi to the areas that need it and can quickly relocate equipment to suit your underground mine as Leaky Feeder cable is strong and flexible.
A Leaky Feeder Wi-Fi is the first step to a digital mine. Contact us now to find out more about how this solution can enhance communication, safety and efficiency in your underground mine.