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Mining Today’s traffic report: all clear underground

With the introduction of wider Wi-Fi coverage in the Cortez underground, the mine hopes to alleviate traffic by keeping track of equipment, operating block lights remotely and analyzing where bottleneck traffic occurs.

“Brassing in” — hanging up one of two identical brass tags onto a board to help mine personnel keep track of those visiting an underground mine — is low tech by any measure, but what Rob Kufeld and his team have got planned for the Cortez Hills Underground mine is anything but.

Kufeld is Cortez’s Underground Instrumentation and Communication Supervisor, and today he is leading a tour to the underground mine with his colleague Theo Kandawasvika, Cortez’s Technical Services Superintendent, to discuss traffic that occurs 1,800 feet below the earth’s surface and how to resolve it.

Haul trucks, jumbos used for drilling, scoops and other vehicles carrying personnel to and from different underground work sites at Cortez can cause traffic jams that translate to lost time and productivity. By introducing wider Wi-Fi coverage throughout the underground, remotely keeping track of equipment and connecting to block lights, which are essentially traffic lights, Kufeld and Kandawasvika hope to alleviate gridlock.

This is just one step of many in the evolution of mining.

“When you talk about that grand vision with the traffic management system, you want an automated system based out of a command center on the surface that has the ability to automatically control these lights intelligently,” says Kandawasvika. “This plays into optimized resource allocation.”

Tour members check their personal protection equipment before being ushered into the back of a big metal bus and buckling in. The bus engine is fired up and the vehicle begins to rumble its way down the rabbit hole. Natural light is quickly lost driving down narrow drifts, or tunnels. It’s easy to see how traffic can get backed up: vehicles traveling in the opposite direction must park off to the side to allow the bus to continue.

The lower the bus travels, the more winding some of the tunnels become. It looks like the sort of place where a driver could run into another piece of equipment, which, while not a common occurrence, illustrates the importance of traffic management.

After inspecting wireless technology infrastructure in other parts of the mine, the tour arrives at its destination: a set of block lights. The stop is a cacophony of different equipment engines roaring and beeping as equipment reverses in different drifts.

“So here you can see green going down and red going up, and right now it’s automated by sensors that can tell when a piece of equipment is coming through,” Kufeld says. “The system we are implementing has the capacity to store historical data to see where bottlenecks are happening and resolve them.”

That information will travel back through the local network, a feature that is expanding underground to enable operators to make better and faster decisions. This then feeds through a programmable logic controller, which is a computer that controls block lights. This allows the underground team to control block lights without running miles of copper and, instead, run Ethernet cables, which allow faster installation of communication.

“This is just one step of many in the evolution of mining,” Kufeld says.