December 17, 2017

Tagging and tracking

Mines as a hive of humanity, equipment and machinery and the need to locate, monitor and generally keep tabs on everything is a major undertaking. In recent times however technology has developed that allows this task to be done seamlessly and in a virtually paperless environment through tagging and tracking.

This has been assisted by the adoption of RFID(radio-frequency identification) which is the wireless non-contact use of radio-frequency electromagnet fields to transfer data for the purposes of automatically identifying and tracking tags attached to objects.

The tags contain electronically stored information.The technology itself has been around for a while however, it has only become economically viable in the last decade or so creating a revolution of sorts and spawning an industry that is projected to grow to US$20 billion this year.

An RFID tag affixed to vehicles, rolling stocks or even a human allows a reader to transmit an encoded radio signal to interrogate the tag. The tag which received the message then responds with its identification and other information. This technology allows for greater safety for mine workers because it allows the reader to determine the location of all workers at any time and this can mean the difference between life and death during an emergency. In addition the system is invaluable in tracking assets and managing inventory.

Other than reduced costs, the RFID technology has overtime had improved reliability of upto 99% and enjoyed a stable international standard around UHF passive RFID. The trend now is towards smaller and smaller RFID transponders with some being successfully glued to ants.

The tags are finding additional use on sites for collision control as well as access control because they don’t require punching in a code or a magnetic strip. Daily new uses are being discovered and we can be certain that more uses will be emerging that will further revolutionise how mining is carried out.

Another critical use for tags is in deterring theft of equipment and plant on a site in addition to actual recovery. In the past this risk was considered low given the bulky nature of the equipment but not anymore. Loss of equipment is expensive for any mine when you consider lost productivity, replacement cost and even insurance. For the equipment rental companies this risk is even higher because of the lead time between theft and the actual discovery of the theft in cases where dishonest clients make away with equipment.

In this issue we take a look at some of the companies dealing with tagging and tracking.

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