South African platinum and gold mines are a maze of noise, dust, and darkness and are generally hazardous. The conditions make it quite difficult for mine operation managers to know what exactly is happening in the environment as the mining face advances. They are often forced to react to internal environmental changes rather than be proactive.
Having a consolidated view of the environment could make mines safer, and more profitable as managers would plan better – having knowledge of what is happening or likely to happen. For mineworkers, communication is difficult as in most cases it is non-mediated verbal communication, meaning that they constantly have to shout over the noise to communicate instructions to each other. With all other dangerous factors added, this is a precarious state of affairs for mineworkers.
Much has been tried in a bid to improve communication and environmental analysis in mines. The problem is that because conditions vary greatly inside a mine, the equipment used may not work. Thus, you might find disparate systems being used in different environments within the same mine. These variations often lead to the systems not being interoperable or data rendered useless as they are too context specific. These are precisely the problems that the CSIR is
trying to solve with AziSA.
AziSA (IsiZulu for ‘make known’) is not a product as such, but a series of protocols that facilitate data acquisition and underground control. The system serves as a backbone for standardised wireless sensor networks. It is an open protocol for connecting to sensors, getting measurements and controlling actuators. It is also a data communication system that uses already installed mine power cabling (power line carrier). It can support data mining tools by using computational intelligence to distil the input from a vast array of sensors into knowledge that can be mustered for real-time decision-making.
AziSA is designed to enable mining companies to have a dynamic, continuous risk assessment of potential dangers during mining operations. For example, it allows for early warning systems for potential rock-falls. With AziSA, mine operators will be able to easily quantify dust and noise levels, aiding in making decisions in the best interest of the health of workers. Ultimately, it will enable tighter operational control and aid in creating safer and healthier working conditions for miners.
In addition to the AziSA protocol, the CSIR has a number of reference designs available to allow equipment manufacturers to produce compliant equipment, and to convert their current equipment. Currently, the CSIR is in talks with potential commercialisation partners who are interested in distributing the standard, as well as aiding mine houses to customise and apply the standard in their environments.