"MineTracer Wireless Communications and Tracking Pays for Itself in Productivity and Cost Savings"-- Coal People - April 2010
New MineTracer Wireless Communications and Tracking Systems are being installed in underground coal mines across the U.S. every month. MineTracer is increasingly recognized as one of the best solutions for MSHA compliance with MINER Act safety. But what surprises mine operators most is the many ways that MineTracer can help with mine management and operational efficiency improvements. Increased productivity, reduced down-time, and lower operating costs are all good stuff when you are trying to keep a mine up and running. “MineTracer has big benefits for production,” says Consol Maintenance Manager Kenny Morgan.Read More
Coal Mine Operator Control Room
Mines typically install the MineTracer system in one of two ways: Either 1) as a standalone C+T system with two-way text communications plus tracking, or 2) with leaky feeder for voice communications together with MineTracer tracking. In all cases MineTracer provides accurate and seamless “continuous tracking” for best-in-the-industry locating of people and machines.
Mine operators that already have or want leaky feeder capability for day-to-day voice coordination of their mines find that MineTracer is a perfectly suited tracking solution. MineTracer is being installed this way by Wholesale Mine Supply in some of the largest mines in the country. Another alternative is pairing MineTracer with a non-I.S. or non-redundant leaky feeder systems to have two-way voice capability together with MINER Act compliance. For any mine, MineTracer offers the alternative of the lowest price-point of any combination communications and tracking solution that is guaranteed to meet the MSHA PPL.
Due to the fact that MineTracer is a two-way wireless data mesh system with capacity for hundreds of communication nodes, it has more capability than text messaging and tracking. For example, every MineTracer system can incorporate built-in atmospheric monitoring, such as belt-line carbon monoxide monitoring. Mine engineers can constantly monitor methane concentrations throughout the mine via MineTracer and use the data collected to reduce over-designed ventilation power for cost savings. The very same network that performs MINER Act communications and tracking can enable AMS and many other mine management features. The industry standard term that is sometimes used to describe this capability is SCADA, Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition. The built-in SCADA capability of MineTracer offers a mine operator unprecedented ability to manage their mine for operational excellence. Venture Design has partnered with one of the premier expert companies in mine management software to enable these kinds of features.
MineTracer Access Point (with 48-hour battery) Transports Data Wirelessly
Mine operators can use MineTracer to secure SCSR caches and/or inventory individual breathers. Tools and high-value assets can be secured in the same way. By affixing an inexpensive miniature MineTracer tag to any asset, the MineTracer system software will automatically alert the dispatcher if it is ever moved or tampered with. And more capable machine-mount tags can be routinely placed on moving machines in the mines to keep track of the machine location and detailed parametric health status. By wirelessly tracking vehicle diagnostics or battery status real-time, and other operational parameters such as belt drive
amperage, belt scale tonnage, and roof stability, a mine operator can make decisions and create processes that improve operational effectiveness.
Having one system to manage all of this is a boon to mines that don’t need more of a maintenance burden. MineTracer has been operating reliably for over two and a half years in full-scale deployments in underground coal. The miners who work with the system every day have come to trust it. Superintendent Les Fox sums up his experiences this way, “I’ve never seen a system exactly like this one. The MineTracer system is easy to operate and it makes us a much more efficient coal mine in terms of productivity and how we manage our mine.”
For additional information or an in-mine demonstration, contact:
• Bill Hensler, Wholesale Mine Supply, (724) 515-4993 Ext 01
• Your local Fairmont Supply
"MineTracer from Wholesale Mine Supply"---- Coal News- April 2010
MineTracer from Wholesale Mine Supply
The MineTracer wireless communications and tracking system is now available from the leading U.S. distributor and installer of underground mine radio systems, Wholesale Mine Supply. All system components including personal and vehicle tracking tags and mobile communicators are MSHA-approved for intrinsic safety under 30CFR Part 23. The MineTracer system is guaranteed to meet MSHA communication and tracking system performance requirements.Read More
Maximum effectiveness for safety and daily operations is achieved with high-accuracy, continuous tracking and 2-way communications availability for all miners at all times. Alternatively
MineTracer is easy to install, use, and maintain. Play the video in the web site below to hear from the people who use the system every day. MineTracer – the right thing to do.
For more information, call 509-232-8757 or 724-515-4993
"Wireless for Underground Mines – Why Mesh is Exceptional"---- Coal News-2009
Mine operators are choosing their MINER Act wireless communication and tracking systems, and several excellent technologies have been developed to meet their requirements. One that is particularly well-suited for underground mines is wireless mesh networking. Wireless mesh, while it has been around for several years in above-ground environments, is still not familiar to most people in mining. Some very special characteristics are worth understanding.Read More
Three of the exceptional strengths of wireless mesh systems for underground mining are (1) The ability to communicate information through mine entries/crosscuts without relying on wires of any kind; (2) The ability to adapt on-the-fly to a host of bad conditions that can happen in a mine, so as to survive and continue operating; and (3) For the special case of the Venture MineTracer wireless mesh system, the ability to operate tiny untethered readers on battery power in working sections to completely avoid the hassle of managing wires near the face.
A useful metaphor to describe how mesh wireless systems work is the simple bucket-brigade of old-time firefighters. If a couple dozen firefighters spread out between a water supply (on their left) and a burning building (on their right), they will behave much like a wireless mesh network passing buckets full of water to douse the flames (see Figure 1). If any one man in the bucket-brigade is injured or slows down (bottle-neck) the men around him can see that and automatically route some or all of the buckets around him to share the load. The end result is a highly adaptive system and a steady supply of water to the flames. The men can decide on additional useful actions on-the-fly as the situation develops. One example is that some of the men who are not passing full buckets from left-to-right can begin passing empty buckets back from the fire to the water supply (from right-to-left) so they can be refilled. And others in the group can help coordinate and supervise or send messages back and forth. This simple system illustrates much of what is going on in a wireless mesh system.
FIGURE 1 - Wireless Mesh is Like a Bucket-Brigade
In wireless mesh networks, each “reader” (sometimes called a node) is like one of the firefighters. The “reader”, just like the firefighter, has its own brain, knowledge, and wisdom of how to handle evolving situations and “still get the job done.” The wireless mesh readers pass information back and forth to/from other readers just like buckets in the bucket-brigade. The buckets in this case are filled with information. One bucket may be filled with the knowledge that “Joe is located near the #4 belt-drive.” Another bucket is filled with the information that “Tony needs help with a repair at the power center.” Another bucket is filled with the knowledge that “Methane concentration is 0.3% at the head-gate.” If any buckets are ever lost or damaged they are sent again at high speed.
So how does all this wireless communication take place in an underground mine, and why does it not require wires to carry it?
No Need for Wires; Adapt On-The-Fly: The mesh network “readers” are each separate radio repeaters (receiver plus transmitter located in the same device). These readers must be located in the entries and crosscuts so they are within radio range of each other (typically within 500-2000 feet spacing in the Venture MineTracer system). In so doing they are within transmit/receive range of each other so they can wirelessly accomplish the “relay of buckets.” Wherever a particular reader has a usable radio link to more than one other reader, an exceptional capability exists to route information around problems in a process called “self-healing” (in MineTracer we call this process “hop-over” and “orphan node adoption”.) An example would be a small roof-fall that destroys one reader. In that case, just like one of the firefighters becoming ill in the bucket-brigade, the wireless readers route buckets past the injured member to the firefighter just beyond or to the side of the injured one. Another example is the case of an explosion or major roof collapse that fills an entire entry. In that case, just like a situation in which a whole row of several firefighters becomes exhausted, the surviving wireless readers nearest the accident can reroute buckets (wirelessly via a crosscut with stoppings for example) around the exhausted group (entry blockage) to a fresh row of firefighters (readers) in the alternate entry. The reason that no wires are needed for any of this is that all the radio repeaters are within radio range of each other (including through stoppings etc.) and can send/receive packets of information wirelessly through the air and around equipment, vehicles, etc.
Incidentally, one piece of misinformation about mesh wireless systems is that “if one node goes down, the rest of the down-stream network is compromised.” This is totally false. The truth is that in a well architected mesh system, even in the worst-case destruction of several readers, or an entire set of entries being damaged for a couple thousand feet, the vast majority (>90%) of the Venture MineTracer underground mesh network will continue to operate normally for at least 48 hours after the accident. This means that all but the most severely affected areas of the mine will continue to have unaffected wireless coverage that continues to provide accurate location tracking and 2-way communications. Separately, in the immediate vicinity of the accident, the smart and adaptive networking of wireless mesh will use self-healing to restore as much of that locally damaged sub-network as possible. It is the best of both worlds. Firstly, the vast majority of the system is not vulnerable to single-points/single-zones of failure; and secondly, the sub-parts of the network that are directly inside the damaged zone will use self-healing to restore as much function at/near the accident-site as is possible.
No Wires Near the Face – Not Even for Power:
Wireless mesh systems in general share the strengths described above, but the Venture MineTracer system adds an additional set of totally unique capabilities that make it especially practical for working-section coverage. The recent MSHA PPL on this subject requires 200 feet location accuracy in working sections, together with continuous wireless communications coverage there. The MineTracer developers created a mesh system that provides 100% untethered readers for working section coverage; these readers run for many days on tiny rechargeable batteries so there is no hassle of managing wires in the dynamic working face environment. And the performance is just as good as everywhere else in the mine. MineTracer working section readers are housed in rugged fiberglass boxes smaller than a shoebox (less than 6 pounds), the antennas are omni-directional (every direction), and there are no exposed antennas or other parts that can be damaged. They can be operated for 4-12 days on tiny rechargeable batteries (see Figure 2).
FIGURE 2 - Untethered Readers with Tiny Multi-day Battery
Easy to Install, Maintain, and Use: For any wireless system to be effective it must be straightforward, easy to install, easy to use, and provide all necessary information clearly. Some wireless mesh systems like MineTracer perform exceptionally in all of these areas because the bucket-brigade nature of the communications makes it possible to operate entire underground networks with low voltage DC and very low power consumption. Even for operation of 48 continuous hours post-accident! Gone are the unfriendly requirements for dozens of AC power taps underground. Gone are the big power supplies and huge heavy batteries. And gone are the sensitive directional antennas that can be damaged or mis-aligned by bumping. All of those things bring costly installation and maintenance hassles, but well-designed mesh wireless systems eliminate the hassles. Mesh systems like MineTracer even offer additional features such as mine monitoring (AMS) and remote management that go well beyond MINER Act requirements for no additional cost.
Most mine operators in the industry will be driven by their values to find “the right thing to do” for their mines and their miners. Well-designed wireless mesh systems are one of the choices they have with some unique benefits.
Jim Barrett is the R&D Manager of the Venture MineTracer System, and has been managing the development of wireless systems for 28 years for Hewlett Packard, Agilent Technologies, and Venture Design.
"Mr. James Barrett from Venture Design Services, Inc. Nominated for World Technology Award"---- New York - The World Technology Network (WTN)-(04/17/2009)
The World Technology Network (WTN) announced today that Mr. James P. Barrett, R&D Manager from Venture Design in Spokane WA, has been selected as a nominee for a 2009 World Technology Award, presented by the World Technology Network, in association with TIME magazine, Fortune magazine, and Science magazine, among others. Mr. Barrett is eligible to be selected as the Winner of the 2009 World Technology Award for Communications Technology.Read More
Winners will be announced on July 16, 2009, in New York, at the World Technology Awards gala ceremony at the TIME & Life Building at the conclusion of the two-day World Technology Summit. The World Technology Awards honor individuals and corporations from twenty (20) technology-related sectors viewed by their peers as being the most innovative and doing the work of the greatest likely long-term significance. Award categories range from biotechnology, space and energy through to ethics, design and entertainment.
Breaking News: James Barrett and Venture were named one of four finalists on July 16, along with three others:
James Barrett, Venture Design Services, Inc.
Tim Berners-Lee, World Wide Web Consortium
Tanzeem Choudhury, Dartmouth College
Mark J. Miller, ViaSat Inc
Nominees for the 2009 World Technology Awards were identified based on an intensive, global process over a period of many months in which current individual WTN members (primarily elected WTN Fellows from previous Awards cycles, who now number over 1000 spread out over 60 countries) as well as others, made their nominations based on who they think is doing the innovative work in their field of the greatest likely long-term significance. After the WTN gathers further information from nominees, WTN individual members then vote on their preferences within their category. The top five selections in each category are announced from the podium on stage at the Awards ceremony, and inducted into the WTN membership as Fellows. The Winner receives an Award on stage and makes comments about their innovative work to those assembled.
A small selection of those WTN members in the 20 different award categories who nominated/judged/voted in recent years includes:
• Niklas Zennstrom, CEO & Founder, Skype
• Gordon Moore, Co-Founder, Intel
• Hal Harvey, Environment Program Director, William & Flora Hewlett Foundation; Former President, The Energy Foundation
• Richard Marks, Manager, Special Projects, Sony Computer Entertainment
• Tess Taylor, President & Founder, National Association Of Record Industry Professionals
• Lawrence Lessig, Professor, Stanford Law School; Author “The Future Of Ideas”
• John Logsdon, Director, George Washington University Space Policy Institute
• Randall Rader, Circuit Judge Of The Us Court Of Appeals For The Federal Circuit
• Gary Shapiro, President, Consumer Electronics Association Of America
• Gregory Stock, Director, Program On Medicine, Technology, & Society, UCLA
• Fred Von Lohmann, Senior Intellectual Property Attorney, Electronic Frontier Foundation
• Leslie Vadascz, Former President, Intel Capital
• Roger Malina, Director, NASA Euve Observatory
• Richard Dasher, Executive Director, US-Asia Technology Management Center, Stanford University
• Daniel Goldin, Chairman, The Intellisis Corporation; Former Administrator, NASA
• Bert Keely, Architect, Tablet PC, Microsoft
• Jim Fruchterman, President & CEO, The Benetech Initiative
• Alexandra Weber Morales, Editor In Chief, Software Development Magazine
• Peter Singer, Ira W. Decamp Professor Of Bioethics, Princeton University
• Arthur Rosenfeld, Commissioner, California Energy Commission
• Amory Lovins, Co-Founder & CEO, Rocky Mountain Institute
James P. Clark, founder and Chairman of the World Technology Network, added:
“The World Technology Awards program is not only a very inspiring way to identify and honor the most innovative people and organizations in the technology world, but it also is a truly disciplined way for the WTN membership to identify those who will formally join them, as WTN Fellows, as part of our global community. By working to make useful connections among our members, we look forward to assisting James Barrett and our other innovative nominees so they can continue to help create our collective future and change our world."
This year’s World Technology Awards ceremony will cap the 2009 World Technology Summit taking place on the 15th and 16th of July at the TIME Conference Center in the historic TIME & Life Building in New York City. This year’s Summit -- which has as its theme "How to Save the Future" will also include demos from the stage, and exhibits from the floor. About The World Technology Network The World Technology Network is a New York-headquartered organization that was created to "encourage serendipity” - happy accidents - amongst those individuals and companies deemed by their peers to be the most innovative in the science and technology world. The WTN's areas of interest range from IT and communications to biotech, energy, materials, space, as well as related fields such as finance, marketing, policy, law, design, and ethics. Each year, WTN members are brought together through an ongoing global series of regional roundtables, global Summits, and other events. The WTN has also convened the World Energy Technologies Summit at UNESCO headquarters in Paris. The central events in the WTN calendar include the annual World Technology Summit and World Technology Awards - the culmination of a global judging program through which new members are nominated and selected and by which the network grows and is refreshed.
About The Nominee James Barrett
James Barrett is a Research and Development Manager with Venture Design in Spokane Washington. He was nominated for the innovative work of his team in wireless communications and location tracking for underground coal mines, contributions that are expected to have great long-term significance to worker safety in the hazardous environments of underground mining.
"MineTracer Communications and Tracking for Safety and Productivity"---- Coal People-2009
New MineTracer Wireless Communications and Tracking Systems are being installed in underground coal mines across the U.S. every month. The MineTracer system provides guaranteed compliance with all MSHA PPL requirements for MINER Act, but mine operators are especially pleased when they realize the many not-so-obvious ways that MineTracer benefits their mine management and productivity every day. “It makes us a much more efficient coal mine,” says Consol Superintendent Les Fox. Mines install the MineTracer system in one of two ways: 1) standalone with two-way text communications plus continuous tracking or 2) with leaky feeder for voice communications and MineTracer for tracking-only. In either case the system comes with built-in atmospheric monitoring capability such as belt-line carbon monoxide (CO) monitoring.Read More
MineTracer CO Sensor for Automated Belt-line Monitoring
About Two-way Text and Voice
MineTracer is a wireless mesh node network. The specific architecture chosen is very well-suited for survivability in the underground mine environment since communications can take alternate paths if necessary. One of the reasons that MineTracer performs so well and is so simple is that it implements wireless mesh technology in the straightforward way in which mesh is most robust. MineTracer uses two-way text communications quite deliberately for a number of important reasons. If one considers the realities of SCSR mouthpiece limitations and traffic jams of simultaneous voice calls during emergencies, it is clear that two-way text communication is the better choice for MINER Act safety systems. MineTracer’s implementation of text messaging allows all miners to communicate with the surface at the same time, even during the chaos of an unfolding event.
But some mines want voice for day-to-day communications and for those operations an excellent solution that works hand-in-hand with MineTracer is leaky feeder voice communications. In partnership with Wholesale Mine Supply, MineTracer is installed with Varis Leaky Feeder into mines that want day-to-day voice radio service. In such cases, MineTracer provides the tracking solution, but the mine can choose whether they want the Varis leaky feeder system to be their MSHA PPL-compliant communications system (in which case the leaky feeder is regulated as a safety system by MSHA), or whether they want MineTracer to be their MSHA PPL-compliant communications system. In the latter case, the leaky feeder can still be installed (or remain installed if it is already there) but the leaky feeder system is not held to the strict IS and PPL safety requirements of a MINER Act system. The leaky feeder system can instead be used for every-day communications with little regard for regulatory matters. This type of voice system works well for day-to-day voice coordination, even across very large mines and is well proven. In fact, some of the largest mines in the country are setting up their mines this way; with MineTracer as their PPL-compliant safety system, but with non-compliant leaky feeder as their day-to-day communications system. Incidentally, MineTracer can be deployed in similar fashion with any leaky feeder system from any manufacturer – old or new.
There is a huge difference in complexity between a multi-node mesh system that employs voice versus a mesh system that employs text messaging. In layman’s terms, a wireless mesh network transfers data packets like a bucket-brigade and can normally tolerate some dropped or spilled or delayed buckets and still deliver enough water (information) to quickly put out the fire. For the MineTracer system to properly communicate or track a miner the system only needs to successfully pass a single bucket (data packet) through the mine in a period of one minute (and many retries are allowed). Contrast this with the highly complex voice-over-mesh systems that must pass tens of thousands of sequence-ordered buckets across the mine every second, with no out-of-order buckets allowed, no delays allowed, and no chance for retries. In this way MineTracer is exceptionally engineered to avoid all the problems of the voice-over-mesh systems, while properly using the many unique strengths of mesh technology to achieve breakthroughs in simplicity, reliability, and low cost for underground communications and tracking in the mines.
Built-in Sensor Monitoring
On the subject of AMS or belt CO monitoring, it surprises some mine operators that the MineTracer system has already built-in the capabilities to meet regulatory requirements of MSHA for belt-line monitoring/alarming with no extra charge. More than just carbon monoxide and methane, too; MineTracer can automatically monitor many other parameters that a mine may want to measure to improve their operations and efficiency as well. Only the sensors themselves must be purchased as additional equipment. The strobes and audible alert devices, plus calibration and management software, are already included with MineTracer. This means that the financial outlay that a mine must make to comply with their MINER Act safety requirement also covers the cost of their belt monitoring infrastructure and software. Plus having only one system to manage for all of this is a boon to mines who don’t want more maintenance burden.
MineTracer CO Sensor for Automated Belt-line Monitoring
Mine operators have also discovered the value of using MineTracer for asset tracking and theft deterrence, even for items like tools and SCSRs. A miniature MineTracer tag can be affixed to an SCSR cache, or to a tool chest or other asset, and whenever the SCSR cache door is opened or the asset moves the MineTracer system software automatically alerts the dispatcher. Other machine-mount tags are routinely placed on moving machines in the mines to keep track of the machine location and status. Consol Maintenance Manager Kenny Morgan says “With MineTracer, when you see that you’ve got a piece of equipment broke down, you can look right on the screen and know who is there and their capabilities, and you can immediately make arrangements to get other people there if needed, and that’s all good stuff when you are trying to keep a mine up and running. It has big benefits for production.”
MineTracer has been operating reliably for over two and a half years in full-scale deployments in underground coal. The miners who work with the system every day have come to trust it.
Superintendent Les Fox sums up his experiences this way, “I’ve never seen a system exactly like this one. The MineTracer system is easy to operate and it makes us a much more efficient coal mine in terms of productivity and how we manage our mine.”
"Venture Design Services Approved by MSHA"---- Department of Labor & Industry 2008
Venture Design Services receives MineTracer Tracking System Approval.Read More
"Wholesale Mine Supply Offers New Underground Wireless Tracking System"---- August 4, 2008
Wholesale Mine Supply (WMS), Irwin, PA, the largest supplier of two-way underground communications systems in the U.S. has added Venture Design's MineTracer™ Communication and Tracking System to its portfolio. MineTracer was approved for use in underground mines by the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) in January 2008. "We are really impressed with this system," said Bill Hensler, WMS President, "Venture Design did their homework and MineTracer is currently the only wireless tracking system approved by MSHA under 30CFR Part 23." Wholesale Mine Supply has over 85 communications system installations nationwide and prides itself in delivering complete turnkey communications solutions. In addition to sales and distribution, WMS provides MineTracer System planning, installation, training, and support services.Read More
MineTracer was designed to provide accurate tracking and flexible coverage areas, and the
system is MINER Act compliant for survivability and standby power
capacity. The typical MineTracer System provides continuous or
zonal tracking of miners and equipment along main travel entries,
work areas, and escapeways. Miners have the option of wearing a
tracking device called a Mobile Communicator which also has an
emergency alert capability or a two-way Text Messaging Mobile
Communicator with built-in tracking. Wireless Access Points (WAPs)
collect and communicate location and message data via neighboring
WAPs through the network up to the mine office. Three-color LED
strobes on the WAPs are used to acknowledge messages sent and to
signal section or mine-wide conditions or evacuation. The location
of each miner is displayed on a map and in tabular form on a computer
in the mine office. Location data for up to hundreds of devices and
28 miles of mine coverage is updated every 20 seconds providing
constant safety monitoring of miners from the mine office. In the
event of a mine accident, MineTracer will operate continuously on
batteries for days after the power has been cut off to the mine.
In addition to monitoring miners and equipment, MineTracer can also collect and
report fixed or mobile sensor data for gasses and air flow. Wireless
sensors for CO, methane, CO2, and air-flow are available with the
"We have a portable MineTracer demo kit that allows us to set up a mini-network in an
office or mine," said Hensler, "We can demonstrate the system,
user-interface, and show how easy it is to place the Wireless Access
"MineTracer has proven its reliability at a reference site installation in West
Virginia for over a year," said Hensler, "and Venture has
continued to improve the system and recently received MSHA approval
for longer range Wireless Access Points and extended standby
"MineTracer™ Receives MSHA's Approval for Text-Messaging Location Transponder"---- April 14, 2008
Liberty Lake, WA: Venture Design Services Inc. and Helicomm Inc. announced today the MineTracer Text-Messaging Location Transponder (TMLT) has been approved for use in underground mines by the U.S. Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). With this approval, the MineTracer system addresses both the communications and tracking provisions of the MINER Act of 2006.
"This handheld device provides wireless two-way communications for every miner," said Jim Barrett, Venture Design R&D Manager. "The MineTracer network has the capacity for all miners underground to communicate to the surface at once which is important during an emergency event.Read More
Mine operators required to comply with the MINER Act of 2006 now have access to two-
way wireless communications and tracking capability integrated into a single system.
Maintenance for operators is simplified in that only one system needs to be installed and
"We've been using MineTracer for safety monitoring in our mine since August of 2007,"
said Mona Marcum, Safety Director for Southern West Virginia Resources. "I know
where our miners are at all times. Now, we'll have wireless communications with our
MineTracer provides location information for miners and assets underground during
everyday operations and more importantly provides continuous communications and
tracking information for days in the event of an accident when power is shut off to the
With the certification by MSHA, operators can install MineTracer systems with no
contingencies (pending MSHA approval) attached. The West Virginia state functionality
requirements and federal safety requirements have been satisfied for every component of
the MineTracer system.
"MSHA's approval of the TMLT is an affirmation that the MineTracer development
team's efforts of the last few years have been successful," said Ken Hill, Helicomm's
director of sales. "We will now focus on integrating productivity features to help
accelerate the return of a MineTracer investment."
"MineTracer™ Receives MSHA's First Wireless Tracking System
Approval"---- February 1, 2008
Liberty Lake, WA - Venture Design Services Inc. and Helicomm Inc. announced today the MineTracer Miner Location Monitoring System has been approved for use in underground mines by the U.S. Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). MineTracer is the first wireless tracking system approved since enactment of the MINER Act of 2006 which mandates post-accident communication and tracking in mines.
"The system infrastructure as approved by MSHA today addresses the MINER Act requirements," said Jim Barrett, Venture's Wireless Sensor Networks R&D manager. "We enable wireless location tracking, communication, and environmental monitoring in a single system."Read More
The typical system layout provides continuous tracking of miners along main haulage
entries and work areas. In the event of a mine accident, MineTracer will operate
continuously on batteries for days after the power has been cut off to the mine.
Additional communication and monitoring features will be seamlessly integrated and
introduced over the coming months to further enhance the value of the system to mine
With about one third of the country's underground coal mines, West Virginia has been
leading the charge in evaluating communication and tracking systems. A MineTracer
system has been installed and operating in Southern West Virginia Resources' Big
Branch Mine since June 2007. The mine site has been the demonstration platform for
interested mine operators and West Virginia legislators.
In addition to intrinsic safety testing and approval, MSHA engineers recently evaluated
the functional performance of the MineTracer system at Big Branch. Engineers
measured the wireless ranges of the system including the performance through stoppings
and across belt lines and other obstructions. Exercising one of the most important
capabilities of the system, MSHA engineers observed a seamless transition to backup
battery performance after the MineTracer network was cut-off from AC power. Strobe
lights on the Wireless Access Points were shown to have multiple uses including
signaling mine safety status or evacuation. The large high-definition monitor in the mine
office displayed the fluid movement of miners and equipment section-by-section.
Venture engineers also demonstrated the MineTracer system's ability to transmit wireless
mobile methane sensor data from the miner up to the mine office.
"The MineTracer system works well and with continuous tracking we know the location
of everyone underground at all times," said Kenny Morgan, Big Branch Mine
Choosing the right technology from the beginning was crucial for meeting the ambitious
goals of the MINER Act which include wireless coverage, redundancy, and post accident
serviceability. Venture opted for Helicomm's ZigBee-based wireless networking which
enables very large, low powered, meshed networks.
"MSHA's approval of MineTracer represents a quantum leap for safety systems in the
coal industry," said Ken Hill, Helicomm's director of sales. "It is truly bringing 21st
century technology into the mines."
"New technology represents significant progress under MINER Act"---- MSHA News, Jan 1, 2008
ARLINGTON, Va. - The U.S. Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) announced it has issued its first official approval of a wireless tracking system for use in underground mines. The approval was issued by MSHA's Approval and Certification Center to Venture Design Services Inc. for the MineTracer Miner Location Monitoring System.
"Since the Sago Mine disaster, MSHA has received dozens of proposals from manufacturers and distributors of emergency communication and tracking systems," said Richard E. Stickler, acting assistant secretary of labor for mine safety and health. "This approved system provides a wireless means for mine operators to track miners underground both before and after an emergency event."Read More
The system components normally will be interconnected with
low-voltage DC power cables; however, in the event of an emergency, the
power cables become de-energized, and the system will resort to battery
power and can remain operational wirelessly. Although not yet
incorporated in the design, Venture Design intends to add text messaging
and gas detection to the system in the future.
Since 2006, MSHA has issued 36 new or revised approvals for
communications and tracking systems, including a hand-held portable
radio, several leaky feeder systems and several radio frequency
identification (RFID) tracking system components. MSHA currently is
examining 41 additional communications and tracking approval
applications, including several wireless communications and tracking
The Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response (MINER) Act of
2006 requires that each mine evacuation plan include provisions for
tracking the pre-accident location of all underground miners.
Furthermore, the MINER Act requires that mine operators adopt wireless
communications and electronic tracking systems by June 2009.
MSHA's Approval and Certification Center tests a wide range of
mining equipment, components, instruments and materials to ensure that
they meet government standards for safe design and construction. This
work helps to ensure that the various products will not contribute to an
explosion, fire, electrical failure, vehicle crash or other kind of
accident. The center, located near Wheeling, W.Va., houses laboratories,
explosion galleries and offices that perform administrative work and
"Helicomm and Venture Design Services Announced Text Messaging
Mobile Communicator"---- December 6, 2007
CARLSBAD, CA, - Helicomm, Inc. and Venture Design Services Inc. (VDSI) today announced that another milestone in their joint product development for mine safety has been reached.
The Text Messaging Mobile Communicator (TMC), an integral part of MineTracer™, the ZigBee-based tracking, monitoring, and emergency messaging system, was approved by West Virginia's Office of Miner's Health, Safety & Training for communications and tracking devices as required by West Virginia Legislative Rule §56-4-8.Read More
MineTracer is a fully integrated 2-way wireless communication and
location tracking system designed to satisfy both local and federal
regulations. The TMC enables all equipped miners to simultaneously
maintain 2-way communications with the mine office where their location
and messages are time-stamped and recorded. Unlike voice systems,
every miner can communicate with the mine office in parallel, and the
digital technology provides a history to include the who, what, where
and when of every message sent or received.
"We believe it's important for every miner underground to be
able to communicate to the surface - especially during an
emergency," said Ken Hill, director of sales, Helicomm. "This
certification allows us to move forward with additional 2-way
communication capability and continue our mission of improving mine
MineTracer was included in the first group of approved products
by the state's Office of Miners' Health Safety and Training on June 6,
2007. West Virginia required mine operators to submit initial plans for
communications and tracking systems under legislative rule Title 56
Series 4 during Q2 2007. Final plans are being approved to meet the
requirements of the new rules.
"The key accomplishment with this approval is to provide a
communication and tracking solution in a single system. There will be no
restrictions for use of the TMC device in any hazardous areas of any
mine," said Eric Pirttima, business development manager, VDSI.
"This technology provides a safer environment for the miners and
peace of mind for their families."