In recent years, underground mine safety has become a top priority agenda item for any mine site management, and while the measures taken to prevent dangerous situations from occurring is essential, so too is the necessity to be prepared for those situations when they occur.

Using internally developed innovative underground safety technology solutions, MineARC Systems is bringing the mining industry into a new safety era, writes LAURA CORNISH.

Technology has become a cornerstone around which new and even existing operations must build their businesses. It has the power to enhance productivity, streamline operations and importantly, save lives.

This article first appeared in Mining Review Africa Issue 10, 2020
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Established in Perth, Australia, MineARC has since its inception in 1999 been dedicated to setting the benchmark for emergency safe-refuge systems worldwide; and more recently focused on pioneering new underground safety technologies.

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It is this pioneering approach that has seen the company deliver a new safety solution to the mining industry – bringing greater peace of mind to both mine workers and managers and leaving them to focus on their core priority – mining.

“With the introduction of our GuardIAN Intelligence Network suite we offer a comprehensive solution that we believe is unparalleled in the industry,” starts MineARC chief innovation officer Brent Pearce.

“Having noticed the increase in ad hoc safety chamber inspections by on-site personnel, being conducted over and above the typical four-month inspection we offer for our own inspections, we identified the need to bring a technologically advanced system to market that allowed for continuous safety monitoring,” he continues.

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Launched in 2015, the GuardIAN Intelligence Network is engineered to provide site-wide integration, allowing real-time monitoring site-wide diagnostics of the underground environment, site assets, and personnel via any PC, tablet, or mobile device.

It encompasses a range of products that can be implemented singularly or collectively to improve safety standards on-site, including gas monitoring, smart lighting, personnel tracking, and refuge chamber monitoring.

A digitally connected node network

MineARC has introduced the concept of a digitally connected network of nodes, all capable of feeding real-time digital monitoring information to a central location dashboard that does not require any high-level skills to interpret.

Its GuardIAN Digital Gas Nodes provide an external gas monitoring solution for mine sites; designed specifically to be mounted to rock wall and high traffic areas of the underground mine.

Sensor technology within each node monitors gas levels in surrounding areas; designed to facilitate efficiency and safety during re-entry and in an emergency.

As part of the GuardIAN Intelligence Network, the gas monitoring nodes can form an expandable and adaptable web, allowing increased coverage and accuracy of atmospheric data transmitted between MineARC refuge chambers, underground personnel, and above-ground control.

The GuardIAN Smart Lighting Nodes provide sites with the ability to remotely communicate safe and unsafe areas of an underground mine site, and most importantly, provide a visual alert when evacuation is necessary.

“Think about an airport runway, directing planes to land or highlighting unsafe areas – this is a visually effective method for alerting and guiding underground personnel,” Pearce notes.

GuardIAN’s Personnel Tracking Nodes have been specifically developed to integrate with the GuardIAN Intelligence Network, allowing sites to remotely monitor the location and well-being of all underground staff.

“This extends beyond tagging personnel in and out of zones, and can pinpoint specific distance and location to a refuge chamber,” explains Pearce.

A small tracking chip located within MineARC’s personal devices (such as the SiriUSLUX cap lamp and Aura-PT handheld gas detector) communicates via wireless technology with the nearest GuardIAN node, providing location information back to the GuardIAN Network.

And finally, Refuge Chamber Monitoring with GuardIAN is an exciting new development in refuge chamber technology. It enables real-time monitoring; providing confidence that an operation’s fleet of refuge chambers are emergency-ready at all times.

It is an independent system that continuously monitors all vital refuge operating systems. During standby mode, GuardIAN chamber monitoring checks for component faults and monitors refuge chamber usage or entry to the chamber.

“The incorporation of our GuardIAN network is truly designed to bring underground mine safety into the next century and speaks to the industry’s need to invest in the benefits technology has to offer,” Pearce highlights.

Naturally, the GuardIAN system relies on a stable underground internet connection – but again, underground telecommunications infrastructure is another important investment that MineARC is seeing a steady uptake in.

In support of this, the company also offers the GuardIAN Connect Coaxial Cable – a high speed, fit-for-purpose, linear access layer network, which carries both power and data for the node network to operate.

“We do understand the cost to install fibre/LTE networks underground is a significant investment and so we do recommend clients consider this as an alternative in higher risk areas of the mine,” Pearce notes.

Africa embracing technology

Importantly, this safety technology has already been embraced by the African industry – a true showcase that even in remote regions, technology is playing an important role.

“We first rolled out our GuardIAN system to Mopani Copper Mines’ underground SOB/Synchlonorium mine in Zambia in 2015,” says Jason Van Niekerk, sales manager for MineARC Africa.

“With the incorporation of our various node solutions, it offers the full GuardIAN benefits.”

Consequent to this, MineARC has since installed the GuardIAN safety solution at another 10 mining sites in Africa, including the Kamoa-Kakula project being developed by Ivanhoe Mines and Zijin Mining, a large-scale PGM mine in Zimbabwe as well as the Bogoso/Prestea gold mine in Ghana, “and enquiries are gaining rapid momentum too,” Van Niekerk adds.