Let’s get flexible – how plug and play cables could be the secret to securing mining communications

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.

Find out more about H3RO 

H3RO simplifies communications in tunnelling applications

Reliable communications infrastructure and networks are vital to ensure the safe and on time completion of underground tunnel construction.

Ampcontrol was engaged to support the Thomson East Coast Line project in Singapore, which consisted of two tunnels with one launch shaft and one arrival shaft created by a tunnel boring machine.

Ampcontrol provided communication infrastructure for everyday and emergency voice communication requirements and for real-time monitoring and reporting to the surface.

Achievements

  • Cost savings
  • System standardisation and simplification
  • Ability for expansion and dynamic network layout
  • Reduced downtime due to more suitable harsh environment connectors
  • Self-sufficient fibre optic maintenance without specialised technicians
  • Lower loss between fibre optic connectors
  • Fast and easy deployment and re-deployment of fibre optic cable for re-use in other projects

Problem

Tunnelling applications require repeatable patterns of emergency call points every 100m, these call points need to be installed as the tunnel borer progresses while maintaining reliable communications. The traditional approach to networking these emergency call points presents a number of limitations.

The fibre optic communications infrastructure relied on military spec (MilSpec) connectors. These connectors are expensive, bulky and prone to breaking where the heavy attachment joins the
cabling. Failed or broken MilSpec cable require expensive repairs and fibre experts to cut, splice and terminate long cable runs and add additional fibre optic network cabinets. This made extensions to the network difficult requiring specialist tools and labour.

Emergency call points are required to be quickly deployed in a standard fashion with quick setup, removal and re-deployment. The standard set up is for each emergency call point to be linked to other call points in a daisy chain, meaning there are two bulkheads required within each call point. Not only does this make it a costly installation, but the arrangement takes up significant space within the limited room in the fibre system enclosures.

Solution

Ampcontrol deployed H3RO, our harsh environment reticulated optic solution which reduces network complexity and offers plug and play functionality with off the shelf components which do not require fibre specialists to install. Offering superior versatility with its ‘ plug and play’ modular components, H3RO removes the requirement for patch panel cabinets and allows for system standardisation which simplifies the network and reduces complexity. When compared to traditional MilSpec connectors, H3RO connectors have loss levels up to 20 times lower, providing overall system efficiency . By using this single mode modular network solution, Ampcontrol was able to reduce the capex cost of the optical network, simplify the topology and replace error prone and expensive network cabinets with H3RO Break-Out Terminals (BOTs).

On the ground maintenance is made easy with the H3RO system, with the connectors designed to accommodate cost effective standard fibre cleaning tools. This means day to day maintenance, such as removing any dust or dirt contaminants, can be carried out onsite without requiring a fibre specialist. Not only does this enable site works to continue efficiently, it reduces unforeseen costs which can be associated with projects in these environments.

The system is designed to be future proof, with the modular components enabling quick and easy duplication or extension as required, based on any configuration. With this in mind, the system
package was designed in a way that simplified the overall communications network and consolidated spares requirements. One of the major benefits offered by the H3RO system is the versatile design. When the project scope changed and additional fibre optic networking was required, H3RO allowed for easy extension. Additional surface infrastructure was required to be connected to the network including a workshop, medical lock and office area.

Drawing on the H3RO fibre backbone of the existing network, the design was easily expanded with a single H3RO BOT (Break-Out Terminal) which allowed for three lots of 4 core fibre cables to be diverted from a 12 core trunk to the these separate areas. This network extension was completed by site labor in a quick and timely manner keeping the overall project on schedule.