Thanks to satellite technology people carrying a GPS device can generally be located anywhere on the surface of our planet to within an accuracy of around 25ft.
But underground there is whole different set of challenges when it comes to communicating and locating people. Out of sight is out of mind when it comes to satellite-based systems.
It is effectively a cable that is stretched throughout the mine and acts as a huge antenna. It enables workers to communicate with each other, and the surface, and crucially – to be located at all times.
Every miner who carries a communications device has their own tag which means mine co-ordinators on the surface can know exactly where they are at all times. The leaky feeder system generally provides 99 per cent coverage throughout the mine.
“If there is an accident it’s vital that you know where people are so that you can send first aid to people quickly”, says Carrol Technologies group chief executive Tom Bannister.
The US-based company is a specialist in providing safety systems to the mining and tunnelling industries.
Leaky feeder technology can also be used to help mine operators locate equipment underground. Losing equipment is an issue in larger mines, and misplacing vital gear can lead to loss of efficiency.
Bannister says: “We place a tag on that piece of equipment. That way they can know where that piece of equipment is at all times.”
Knowing the locations of mine workers and equipment at all times leads to huge efficiency savings. For instance a damaged piece of equipment can be located instantly as can the staff needed to repair it.
Personalised communications devices for all mine workers are not a requirement yet under US Mine Safety and Health Administration regulations. But Bannister believes they will be soon.
He says: “What we provide is a complete solution for communications and tracking.”
This involves designing and planning the system and installing it or, more commonly, assisting in-house staff with the installation.
“When we assist with an installation it means we can help customers understand and maintain it.”
After sales Carroll offers a same-day exchange service to replace broken items which again maximises efficiency and ensures that mine operators don’t have to keep expensive inventories of spare parts on site.
Carroll staff will visit customers weekly or fortnightly after service to address any problems they might be having.
The proof that this approach appears to work is provided by the fact that more than 90 per cent of Carroll customers tend to buy again from them.