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Wits ‘digital mine’ bringing satellite communication to underground mining

JOHANNESBURG ( – The digital-mine mock-up that is being built beneath the School of Mining Engineering at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) is expected to pave the way for the introduction of real-time satellite communication into South Africa’s Internet-deprived underground mines.

The move, if successful, is expected to bring South Africa’s underground mines into the twenty-first century by providing modern communication that could save lives and slash costs.

The aim is to facilitate real-time communication in underground mines, to a point where underground mining and safety decisions can be made from control rooms on surface.

JSE-listed gold mining company Gold Fields has provided the seed capital for the imitation mine, on which Wits has worked wonders up to now by coming in at just under R600 000 on an initial R3-million budget.

Initial steps have been taken to render the already-built mine tunnel ‘smart’, through the use of a drone that roams the space.

The prototype, on which work is at an advanced stage, will allow for real-time monitoring of environmental, mapping, navigational and a host of other factors that have the potential to protect South Africa’s high-cost deep mines from the sort of margin squeeze that is currently prevailing.

The aim is to extend to underground environments everything that satellites can do on surface, Wits School of Mining Engineering head Fred Cawood told Mining Weekly Online in a video interview .

He sees the digital mine as an interim phase ahead of the mine of the future.

Meanwhile, the mining school itself is being turned into a living laboratory in that signals are sent from roof to floor for the purpose of calculating the impact on the vertical path of those signals, which are made to encounter built-to-scale steel mine-shaft structures that have been placed in stairwells.

Actual underground mine material has been used to build the realistic 67-m-long tunnel, where full Internet enabling is targeted and which will also serve as a site of study on mine safety, tunnel economics, improved ventilation and energy savings.

“Students will be able to take ventilation measurements, see the kind of support designs that are needed, carry out survey exercises and do a host of other important exercises in the tunnel,” Cawood explained to Mining Weekly Online, as he led the way through the realistic mine tunnel facility at the university, which is confident of graduating students at a rate of 100 a year from 2015, the overwhelming number of them black and many of them female.

Still to be built are a true-to-life stope and an intelligent lamp room, where airport-like technology will take the risk-mitigating step of preventing ill people from entering the mock mine.

Source – miningweekly