Breakthrough in Technology for Locating Trapped Miners

“Miners trapped underground in rock fall.” Headlines such as this are all too familiar in the mining fraternity, particularly in South Africa where deep hard rock mines such as those in the gold industry predominate. Booyco Electronics’ new Trapped Miner Locator promises to make a hugely positive impact by facilitating and accelerating the process of establishing the whereabouts of miners trapped underground.

“Seismic events, gas explosions or rockfalls deep underground can be catastrophic because of the time taken to pinpoint the position of trapped miners,” Anton Lourens, managing director of Booyco Electronics, explains. “Previously, it was almost impossible to penetrate the volumes of rock to find people, so clearance had to take place agonisingly slowly. The mining industry has long been looking for a system that can ‘see through’ rock so that people can be found without wasting time.” Time, of course, impacts not only on the possibility of saving lives but has a dramatic impact on productivity and thus the bottom line.

A Trapped Miner Locator, developed by Selectronics of Germany and already successfully implemented in Poland, is being introduced in South Africa by Booyco Electronics. Lourens says this has extended the current range of VLF collision warning products available from the company, and has been met with positive feedback from the mining sector.

“Miners’ tags are fitted with a VLF transmitter,” Lourens continues. “VLF has pronounced through-rock penetration capabilities – up to 30 metres and more. Search teams are equipped with a VLF receiver which is much like a hand-held unit and this is used to screen the rockfalls ahead of them. The VLF technology enables them to read a good 30 metres ahead of them and if no VLF signals are detected from the miners’ tags, the team can go in with heavy equipment to clear out fallen rock speedily without fear of further injuring or even killing those trapped.”

The device has two different antennae – one which can scan for 30 metres and a second that scans within ten metres. “Once rockfalls have been cleared, one can use the near-range antenna to find miners within a few metres and clear that debris by hand.”

There are no Trapped Miner Locator systems currently deployed in South Africa. “The current global recession has put many mining concerns under considerable financial strain,” Lourens points out. “So implementation of such a system might not take place as speedily as one would desire, but there is little doubt of its value and I am confident that depending on financial constraints, all deep hard rock mines will soon be evaluating it.”

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