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US mines offered Aussie technology

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article image Brian Wilson (right) in Washington.

MINECOM Australia chief Brian Wilson has wrapped up a US visit in which he outlined his company's underground mine rescue equipment and technology to key government officials.

The communication exchange is part of a massive information gathering exercise unfolding in the United States as government agencies - at both state and federal level - and companies try to identify technologies that have been seen to be lacking in US mines following on from the Sago mine disaster in January. Hard rock miners who have similar issues are also expressing interest in communications technology.

During his two-week trip Wilson made presentations about the MineCom technology to 12 mining companies, the Mine Safety and Health Administration and the Virginian Government. The trip was extended at the suggestion of Austrade for Wilson to visit Mexico and speak to Grupo Mexico, the owner of the mine where 65 miners were killed last month. Tasmanian-based MineCom has been providing mining communication solutions for the last 19 years with the company's centrepiece technology a fully redundant communication system for underground mines delivered on a leaky feeder backbone.

Several other technologies exist (or are in development) that are also being examined by regulators, and while MineCom's approach is to use leaky feeder technology, Wilson does not believe a single system or approach will be endorsed as one system will not suit all operations. He anticipates companies being pointed to a range of solutions that will incorporate fibre-based communications, leaky feeder, wireless networks and/or a combination of these.

The main message Wilson undertook to convey was that MineCom offers a proven, off-the-shelf system that is fully redundant. The system, while not yet approved for use in the US, will be fast-tracked through the MSHA approval process, if it meets all requirements, Wilson said.

MineCom claims its 2005 introduced SMARTReverse system is the first fully redundant leaky feeder-based communications system. For the system to work there must be at least two egress points - an input and output hole - into the underground network. In a mine this could be via a return air shaft, a skip shaft, an escape way or a borehole (as small as four inches in diameter).

Alternately the leaky feeder cable could be interfaced to a fibre optic cable and run up to the surface.

"Using our technology, underground mine communications can now be provided during a mine rescue situation, allowing for constant two-way contact with workers underground and giving rescuers the ability to direct these people to safe areas in a mine," Wilson said.

He added the system was an important tool in day-to-day mine operations and could be used for a multitude of tasks such as tagging, tracking and gas monitoring.

Wilson also conducted a number of technical workshops with US agent Pyott Boone Electronics to bring technical staff up to date with the latest advances in MineCom's underground mine communications technology.

Wilson said he noted a growing interest in refuge chambers with similar information exchange meetings coming up in May.

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