Monitoring Mining with the Latest Tech: A Mine Operator’s Guide

May 19, 2022

In the past several decades, monitoring mining has evolved from human guesswork (tapping a mine wall and listening, or placing humans on watch) to mechanical tools, and now the latest in digital technologies. Read on to learn more about the evolution of monitoring mining, as well as the proliferation of advanced tools and data that help to keep mining sites and workers safe.

Safety considerations for monitoring mining

Safety is the single greatest concern for mining site managers and there are a number of variables that they need to keep tabs on. Concerns for both the health of workers and the environment are why an increasing number of monitoring tools and technologies are emerging. 

Aside from the immediate safety considerations, project managers also like to be able to monitor the progress and productivity. Sensors that measure aerosols in the air, depth measurements, line of sight tools (like wireless cameras) and more are used to ensure that projects remain safe and on schedule. 

All of this monitoring also assists in ensuring that projects meet their various regulatory compliance requirements. Most governments have very clear and robust compliance requirements — mining monitoring tools can help them provide proof of meeting the specific safety standards in place. Read on to learn about tools and technology in use by mining companies today.

The evolution of tools and technology for monitoring mining

Only a few decades ago, mining safety was almost exclusively a human endeavour. Observational techniques that included dedicated safety supervisors and primitive ‘sounding’ techniques were the order of the day. As technology has continued to evolve, so have the tools used to ensure the safety of workers and the condition of specific sites. 

Over the last decade especially, new techniques including mechanical measuring devices and even motion capture technologies have emerged, helping companies to not only monitor the air quality and ground at mining sites but also to help predict and prevent injuries to workers.

Air Quality Sensors 

To achieve the kind of knowledge that site managers like to have about their sites and workers, a number of sensor technologies are emerging. IoT (Internet of Things) sensors are used in more and more mining applications to feed real-time data to safety personnel. IoT sensors can help detect irregularities with the aforementioned aerosols, movement of equipment or workers, and more. These are often connected to alert systems that can help crews detect and sometimes even predict events that could compromise safety. For example, if an area has poor air quality, sensors can detect the presence of combustible gases like methane and alert workers before they enter the affected area. They can also alert crews to spills, or even track the locations where slips and falls are most common. 

All of this monitoring is to keep people safer of course, and several regulatory bodies ensure that specific air quality standards are met. Some examples of air quality standards are MSHA’s (Mine Safety and Health Administration’s) Respirable Coal Dust Rule, OSHA’s (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) Respirable Crystalline Silica Standard, and The Clean Air Act, established by the EPA, which regulates emissions of hazardous air pollutants. Mine operators must meet the demands of these standards to remain compliant and ensure the safety of their teams. Air quality sensors allow operators to view and share that data, sometimes even in real time. 

Microseismic Monitoring of Mining and Drilling Sites

Microseismic monitoring has also become more prevalent. This technique uses fracturing or water injection-induced microseismic phenomena, called microseisms, or small earthquakes, to monitor fracture activities. A set of geophones are installed adjacent to the location being measured, to listen for these microseisms. This gives accurate measurements, in real-time, of heights, lengths, orientations, geometries, and spatial arrangements of fissures produced during mining or drilling activities. In general, the harder the materials being measured, the farther the sound travels. The geophones are capable of providing accurate measurements from these transmissions — subtleties that the human ear cannot process. 

Load Cells for Monitoring Payload Weights 

Load cells and tension cells are also used to ensure that the weights of loads during transport are within specific allowances. A load cell or tension cell is a transducer that changes force into measurable electrical output, most often using strain gauge technology. 

Everything from mine lift equipment, construction cranes, industrial tanks, locomotives, and more are being upgraded to include load pins, load cells, and tension cells. This is a major step up from using guesswork to monitor weight. Now, you can measure and report on the weight of your payload or other materials even as they are being transported.  


LiDAR (Laser Image Detection and Ranging) techniques are also used to measure distances and depth. LiDAR is a method for determining variable distances by targeting the area with a laser and measuring the time for the light to reflect back to a receiver. Lidar can also be used to create digital 3-D representations, sometimes called a ”digital twin” of mining areas; a much more effective means of sounding an area on a mining site. 

Various electromechanical roof monitors are also in use to replace the less sophisticated methods of sounding that were used in the past to measure the depths and thicknesses of materials. 

In addition to all of these, there are a number of other considerations that site managers like to stay on top of. Slope stability analysis, weather monitoring, lightning warnings and more are all factors that contribute to the safety of a mining site. 

Rugged, Self-cleaning Cameras for Line of Sight

Ask any site manager what they would most like to monitor and they will invariably tell you: “let me see.” Cameras arguably provide the richest data of many other sensor types. This richness of data combined with the recent leaps in Artificial Intelligence and image processing technologies can create a step-change in our monitoring ability. 

However, cameras are frequently dismissed for some of the most critical parts of the process such as material transfer points, chutes, and conveyor belts. The primary reason for this dismissal is the vulnerability of cameras to dusty and harsh environments, the resulting continuous maintenance and cleaning that needs to be diverted to maintain a usable picture, and the mistakes and false detections that result from basing a decision on a compromised view. 

More recently, the technology has now caught up with these challenges and a self-cleaning camera such as ToughEyeTM would maintain consistent image clarity without demanding regular maintenance and upkeep. ToughEye is a one-piece, self-cleaning camera that can offer operations, safety and management personnel a crucial component of monitoring: line of sight. When all of the above-mentioned technologies do their jobs correctly — for example, if an air quality sensor triggers or a fracture event is detected, a manager’s first instinct is to want to see the affected area. 

ToughEye™ patented self-cleaning camera technology was developed specifically for the needs of industrial sites like mines, where dust and fragments can quickly compromise the effectiveness of a lens. With no external parts and a sealed single-piece design, the cameras provide clear vision without any downtime or scheduled maintenance, maximizing your operational uptime including autonomous and remote equipment.

To learn more about ExcelSense Technologies cameras for monitoring mining, request a quote.

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