In 2009, near the height of the financial crisis, mining company Dundee Precious Metals Inc. was faced with the prospect of falling metal prices—and $150 million of capital investments in Bulgaria.

Rick Howes, then chief operating officer, couldn’t undo the investments in the mine in Chelopech, which was slated to double production to two million tons of copper and gold ore a year. But he had to find a more efficient way to operate the facility. He used traditional mining technologies, emerging wireless systems and software to replace clunky communication systems.

For starters, Dundee installed an electrical ore-crushing system in the mine, reducing the use of diesel-guzzling trucks to transport ore. A conveyor system brings the crushed ore to a processing plant on the surface. This system also enabled Dundee to eliminate secondary crushers, whose metal balls required frequent replacement.

Next, Mr. Howes told the staff he wanted to get a better view of what was going on in the mine, which extended as much as 1,970 feet below the surface.

“Rick’s vision, from day one, was to take the lid off of the mine and view everything in real time,” recalled Mark Gelsomini, Dundee’s corporate director of information technology.

The Canada-based company developed a digital tracking system, outfitting miners and machinery with Internet-enabled sensors and developing parabolic antennas to counter a radio-wave scattering effect caused by quartz in the mine’s walls.

The use of Radio Frequency Identification sensors, Wi-Fi networks, fiber-optic cables and military-grade communications devices allowed for more efficient management of machines and people, according to Mr. Howes, who became Dundee’s CEO in 2013. He said the $10 million project, along with the new crushing and conveyor systems, helped lower production costs to $40 a ton, from $60.

Source: The Wall Street Journal - see full article