By Greg Fenrick

In 2000, Wal-mart raised eyebrows in the retail space by mandating that its 100 top suppliers start tagging all cases and pallets carrying merchandise by January 2005. Most small suppliers failed to see a ROI (return on investment) for their business, but despite the cost, complied in order to keep Wal-mart as a customer. Radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology has cut Wal-mart’s incidences of out-of-stock products by 30% while improving the efficiency of moving products from backrooms to store shelves by 60%.

In the mining industry, RFID is being used to improve safety and productivity by offering tracking tags for both personnel and equipment. NL Technologies is a leader in the use of this technology in the mining industry and uses their Northern Light Digital™ Tracking software to display the location of both personnel and equipment underground. Asset location is identified using tracking tags. Tags transmit RF signals to readers, which link to the software via the Northern Light Digital™ Network. Tags can be stand-alone or integrated into the cap lamp to eliminate tag battery replacement and reduce lost tags.

Benefits include:

  • Improve safety by monitoring the location of personnel in real-time
  • Increase productivity through the logistical deployments of resources
  • Benefit from increased operational efficiency
  • Search for individual assets or groups
  • View asset location according to site zones, sub zones or proximity to tag reader
  • View asset information history including last location, medical history and training qualifications

Even though there are concerns by the U.S. Department of Labor that many of these systems aren’t intrinsically safe, they can be placed in explosion proof boxes. As well, there are limits to tracking accuracy based on the number of installed readers. However, the improved safety for miner’s far outweighs these minor limitations, this alone, should encourage any underground mining operation to look at this investment.

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