Underground » Communications
The aim of this project has been to examine ways by which the continuing uptake of communications, and equipment monitoring technologies by the underground coal mining industry can be enhanced. This report describes how this aim has been achieved through the following activities. The specific needs of the industry in these areas have been established through a comprehensive industry survey. Existing technologies have been documented through a survey of manufacturers, and from research of the relevant technology areas. Possible paths to introduce existing technologies and standards to the industry and specific research projects to satisfy industry needs are recommended.
It has been found that existing international data communications standards are readily applicable to the industry, and are already being introduced into non hazardous zones. The industry seems to be heading towards a de facto communications standard for PLC networking, with the dominant position held by Allen Bradley in the supply of PLC hardware. It is recommended that an industry standard for PLC networking be established, based on the AB system.
In the area of voice communications, a strongly voiced industry need is for more flexible personal communications underground. The MINECOMMS/UCELLNET project is addressing this problem directly, and it is recommended that this project be supported by the ACA through demonstration in underground coal mines.
There is also a need to develop intrinsically safe instrumentation and sensors which can operate in hazardous areas and which can interface to mine wide communications systems. Such equipment is necessary for monitoring, and its development depends on designers and manufacturers being familiar with regulations governing approval of equipment for hazardous areas. One of the major barriers in the uptake of new and other 'industry' technology, as seen by both the industry and equipment suppliers is the underground approval process for new underground equipment. Approval is seen to be lengthy and expensive procedure. It is suggested that in the short term, the information already supplied by testing stations to prospective system developers can be augmented by input from experienced system designers to speed up the learning process.
The industry has a positive attitude to automation on the basis of enhanced safety. Many items of production equipment are already remote controlled, which means that some of the problems in communications and machine control at the face have already been solved. The next set of problems will arise in the provision of powerful control computers to implement automatic control. The industry envisages problems in achieving sufficient reliability in complex computers to make automation dependable.
In the area of condition monitoring, research is required in several areas to enable newer technologies to become mainstream maintenance tools. Sensors and dataloggers for the underground environment require development. Automatic exception reporting is required to minimise data presented to operators. Monitoring systems must be flexible to allow the addition or removal of sensors and facilitate monitoring over extended periods of time. The advent of a portable used oil analysis system has satisfied a need for in house capability. There is a need to develop intelligence in the system to identify trends and to replace the need for skilled analysts.