As mines rely more on real-time information and advanced diagnostics, the need for pervasive connectivity has become more critical.
Maestro Digital Mine has come up with a solution that borrows from an old method of delivering TV channels and the internet to your home: a copper coaxial cable network.
Currently, modern mines use fibre-optic communication networks underground for voice, data, video and autonomous vehicle applications. The fibre cable is fragile and prone to breakage from blast concussion and damage from mobile equipment. Fibre splicing and termination is very delicate and requires an ultra-clean environment and expensive equipment.
In short, getting fibre-optic networks in the "last mile" of the mine is difficult, time-consuming and expensive.
The Plexus PowerNet is the latest creation from the company that is being touted as yet another way for mines to incorporate digital innovation. It's the world's first coaxial gigabit network designed to be a simple and efficient means of getting data from the underground workings back to the command centre.
"It is designed to distribute the mine's network to the working face," said David Ballantyne, vice-president of product development. "It uses coaxial cable instead of fibre, so it is easier for the mine to work with and the guys to terminate and advance the network (connect wire to a device)."
Data and power are combined on the same cable, so the network powers the end point devices to eliminate additional infrastructure and reduce installation cost and time, he said.
The cable and fittings are already designed to withstand a lot of punishment. Ballantyne said while working on this problem he was looking at coaxial cables, which had been designed to transfer information over long distances.
"These cables we've used since the late 1960s and are the same cables used for the cable TV industry," he said. "There's tens of thousands of kilometres of cables in Sudbury alone, and they terminated on telephone poles."
Those same cables can also withstand a wide range of temperature and weather conditions, making them ideal for mines, where blasting happens almost daily and temperatures become increasingly hotter as they go deeper into the mine.
Mine operations can now add devices on the same cable without adding another separate power to each device.
"It cuts down on infrastructure costs and it gets the data to an area really quickly," he said.
One of the other drivers behind this innovation...