Via Sudbury Mining Solutions Journal
by Norm Tollinsky
Symboticware Incorporated, a Sudbury-based technology company, has teamed up with Vale Inco, the Centre for Excellence in Mining Innovation and Cast Resource Equipment Ltd., a heavy equipment sales and service company, to develop, demonstrate and commercialize an open information management platform for mobile underground mining equipment.
The so-called Pando Project will allow for the near real-time collection of mobile equipment data via a mine’s Wi-Fi network. A hardware device called a SymBot, a low power, high performance micro industrial computer built to withstand the harsh operating conditions of an underground mine, captures data from proprietary mobile equipment systems, processes it for decision support and transmits it through the network when the equipment is within range of a Wi-Fi access point.
The technology captures data on engine performance, fluid temperature, LHD payloads and equipment location to improve productivity, optimize equipment utilization and enhance worker safety.
The Pando platform is designed in compliance with the OPC Unified Architecture specification and makes use of the IREDES standard for mine equipment communication.
Most equipment manufacturers currently provide access to engine performance data, but it has to be manually downloaded, said Symboticware product manager Bikash Agarwal. “In most cases, the data is not being used in the way that we want to use it – to predict failure and for decision support.”
The SymBots feature a software platform called OPIS, short for Open Platform for Intelligent Systems. Described as a modular software framework for implementing intelligent monitoring and control of industrial automation applications, OPIS applies rules to the raw data, refines it for decision support purposes and transmits alarms to operators and other selected personnel in the event of an equipment performance issue.
Symboticware president Kirk Petroski likens it to General Motors’ OnStar technology. Prompt notification of dangerously high fluid temperatures, for example, can avoid a major equipment breakdown, along with the resulting downtime and loss of productivity.
“If it’s only the raw data that you’re looking at,” said Symboticware research and development manager Lorrie Fava, “you could miss it.” If you have a decision support system in place with rules hard coded into the system, you’re much more likely to take action.”
Alerting maintenance staff and supervisory personnel to a potential problem is important because equipment operators focused on production in a dark and noisy environment may not notice a flashing light on their dashboard.
The SymBots will also be used to capture and transmit LHD load weight data via a mine’s Wi-Fi system. Currently, said Bishant, operators determine the load weight by raising the bucket to a certain height and measuring the hydraulic pressure. The process takes 10 to 15 seconds per load and detracts from the operator’s productivity.
Symboticware is looking at inertial measurement unit technology used in iPhones and Nintendo Wii controllers to eliminate distortions of the weight data caused by bucket vibration.
“The main reason the LHDs need to stop now to do the bucket weighing is because the roadbeds are pretty rough,” said Agarwal.
“There’s a lot of vibration, a lot of bouncing and that interferes with the measurement. Our thinking is to have sensors on the equipment to measure the vibration and the bumps in the road. Then we can eliminate that from the final measurement. By doing it on the go, you save about 10 to 15 seconds per truck, which adds up over a period of time.”
Symboticware also plans to use its technology to automate equipment activity data collection and monitoring, freeing operators from manually documenting circle checks and diagnostic information.
Instead, the operator would use a touch screen and that data, too, would be transmitted through the Wi-Fi network.
The SymBot can also be used as an RFID controller.
“If a mine has a lot of Cisco access points already installed, it can use the SymBot both to read RFID tags and, at the same time, control and manage the routing in the network,” explained Agarwal. “One option is to go to Cisco and buy a location controller, but that would require them to upgrade every access point.”
The SymBot would serve as a network controller and an RFID tag reader at the same time, relieving the mine of the need to upgrade its Wi-Fi network.
The Pando project will be deployed at Coleman Mine’s 153 Orebody as soon as the current strike is settled.