The battery-powered wireless nodes, which function as both tag readers and mesh routers, have several advantages over competing systems, said Jannatec president Wayne Ablitt. Patented battery technology provides eight to 10 years of power and the system works with leaky feeder, Ethernet or fiber communication backbones.
Installation is a breeze because there are no wires and no electricians required.
“You just hang up the boxes with a simple tie wrap. If they decide not to use that part of the mine, they just collect the nodes and move them somewhere else,” said Ablitt.
The nodes communicate wirelessly to underground fans and to a gateway connected to the mine’s leaky feeder network. A Newtrax computer interface on surface shows the layout of the mine, the position of the nodes and the location of equipment and personnel underground.
Simsmart’s dynamic modeling and simulation software continuously calculates optimal ventilation settings based on diesel equipment location and operating status, personnel location, government regulations and user-defined criteria. The optimized settings are then fed back to the fans and airflow regulators.
The solution is currently being deployed on a pilot basis and is scheduled for a commercial launch at MINExpo in Las Vegas September 22 – 24.
“Being able to piggy-back on a leaky feeder system is a big plus because 99 per cent of mines have leaky feeder in place,” said Alex Cervinka, founder and CEO of Newtrax. Battery power and ease of installation are also of interest to mining companies “because one of the big issues the mines are facing is the shortage of skilled labour.”
Ventilation is widely estimated to account for between 35 and 50 per cent of a mine’s energy consumption. For a large mine, that can translate into $20 million to $30 million per year. According to Ablitt and his partners, using a real-time ventilation-on-demand system to turn off or modulate fans in areas of a mine where there is no need for air can trim energy costs by 20 to 50 per cent. The Simsmart software will actually calculate how much money a mine is saving, said Ablitt.
Newtrax and Simsmart have only recently targeted the mining industry, but both have extensive experience in military applications. Newtrax develops perimeter protection systems for border and battlefield applications using RF tripwires and battery-powered wireless mesh technology, while Simsmart designs simulation and personnel tracking systems for warships.
The “ventilation on demand” solution is one of several new products Jannatec will be launching at MINExpo. The company, which was purchased by the German-based Schauenburg group in September 2006, will also be launching a collision avoidance system and a new Johnny Light radio cap lamp for the global market.
The cap lamp will feature a focusable LED light and a Kenwood radio. It will also be designed to accommodate an RFID tag for integration with tracking, collision avoidance and ventilation-on-demand systems.
Incandescent bulbs last between 400 and 600 hours, or 34 shifts, said Ablitt.
“After that, the company has to come back and buy a new bulb from us. It’s a great business for us, but they have to pay $14. An LED light can last up to 10,000 hours, so the cost saving to the mining companies is going to be phenomenal. They’ll pay a little more up front, but in the long run they’ll save a lot more money.”
The focusable light is popular in the Sudbury mining camp and Ablitt is hoping it will catch on elsewhere.
“Miners (in Sudbury) prefer it. The hot spot (brightest point) for a cap lamp with a fixed light is 1.2 metres away,” he explained. “With a focusable light, if you have to look at something 50 feet away, you can adjust it so you have a brighter light at that distance.”
Current customers will be able to refit their Johnny Lights with RFID tags and new lampheads, allowing them to take advantage of the new technology without having to replace their entire cap lamp inventory.
Jannatec is in the midst of seeking MSHA approval to serve the U.S. coal mining industry, which is gearing up to comply with new federal legislation mandating the use of underground tracking and communication systems.