In a world of deeper mines, rising energy costs and infrastructure shortages, mining companies remain under exceptional pressure to control costs, heighten efficiency and improve safety performance. Although there is no single easy solution, it is becoming increasingly apparent that technology will play a growing role in the mining industry of the future.
As the fourth industrial revolution progresses, data connectivity is taking a more pivotal role – information from sensors, data-heavy automation solutions and data analytics must be conveyed across large distances and through challenging environments. The mining industry is deploying automation technologies at a rapid rate, meaning the demand for flexible and high-bandwidth communication is soaring.
Fiber optic networks are a critical enabler of this bandwidth, providing a bridge between devices, data processing units and control systems which are increasingly being adopted across many sectors. With fiber optics come additional benefits including immunity to electromagnetic fields, galvanic insulation and future-proof advantages with regards to bandwidth extension. But mining environments pose a risk for the physical integrity of these networks.
With mines reliant on their communications infrastructure for essential safety systems and the critical link between operations underground and those working on the surface, network failure is not an option. So how can mining companies ensure high-performance, quality, reliable and long-life solutions that enable seamless underground communication networks?
RAPID AND EASY-TO-DEPLOY
In mining, production depends on full and continuous availability of the network to ensure reliable communication with sensors, between machines and workers. Any damage to a mine’s fiber optic network, therefore, translates into significant expense and potential safety hazards. Hitherto, fixing damage was time-consuming and dependent on the arrival of a qualified fiber optic technician with suitable and calibrated termination tools and components.
Today, while network failure and damage cannot be avoided altogether, mining companies are able to massively reduce downtime as a result of network outages. This is due to a new solution created jointly by HUBER+SUHNER and Ampcontrol to enable rapid deployment of fiber optic networks in mines.
Leveraging the extensive experience of HUBER+SUHNER in providing solutions for optical connectivity in harsh environment conditions and Ampcontrol’s renowned expertise in providing integrated electrical and electronic equipment and power solutions for mines in Australia and elsewhere, the harsh environment reticulated fiber optic solution – H3RO – enables fast deployment of fiber optic networks in mines. The solution is based on standardised components that can be combined in a tool-box like manner. The solution’s modularity implies it is flexible in design, allowing for dynamic and easy modification and expansion of network architectures. This is critical in mines, where the network topology changes continuously as the mine grows/moves along. Also, because mine workers are frequently unskilled in communication technologies, simplicity of use and robustness against mishandling is essential.
PUTTING THE THEORY INTO PRACTICE
The benefits brought by solutions of the two companies have been experienced by many mining customers, one reference case being an underground gold and copper mine in Western NSW, Australia when an existing communications cable was severed.
H3RO was deployed from an existing FOBOT (fiber optic break-out terminal) panel for a distance over 1 km along the roof, through a number of vertical drops and into another existing FOBOT enclosure. The solution’s plug and play cables and modular components made it the ideal choice for the fast deployment of cabling for this work. The IP68 connectors and bulkheads allowed a neat, maintainable solution that integrated seamlessly with off-the-shelf IP68 bulkheads and pigtails to match the existing patch panels.
Due to the modular installation and low-loss connectors, network expansion and recovery from similar incidents in the future is now hassle-free. The entire cable run consists of a quantity of four 260 m 12-core H3RO cables, making swapping any section out easy, rather than replacing the entire run or requiring expensive and time-consuming fiber field splicing in the mine’s harsh environment. The H3RO cables allow the addition of break out terminals (BOTs) at any cable joint allowing standardised and flexible network access/extension as requirements evolve.
H3RO components are manufactured in state-of-the-art facilities, all items are tested and shipped with quality reports. This offers a more cost effective, reliable and risk-free solution to field splicing in an underground mine where constraints such as time, darkness and the dirty working environment all affect the quality of the job.