YEONGWOL, Gangwon Province -- In a push toward digital transformation, South Korean telecommunications giant KT Corp. has launched communication-based digital solutions to help improve worker safety in mines.
Jointly developed with Almonty Korea Tungsten Corp., the Korean office of a Canadian mining firm, the LTE-based communication infrastructure has been deployed at Sangdong Mine, in Yeongwol-gun, Gangwon Province.
The KT-Almonty "mine safety DX" solution is composed of smart devices such as a smart band and helmet with a smart tag that workers wear, a smartphone; access and location management; an AI-based mine safety system and workplace environment monitoring.
“We intend to realize prevention-oriented mine safety DX based on artificial intelligence to detect workers’ risks and monitor their health,” Jung Myung-ju, an office manager of corporation customer management’s building sales team at KT said in a press briefing at Sangdong Mine, Tuesday.
Located about 190 kilometers southeast of Seoul, Sangdong Mine is one of the largest tungsten mines around the globe. Canada-based Almonty Industries acquired Sangdong Mine in September 2015. It is the first time DX technology has been deployed in a mine here.
There has been an increasing demand for integrated safety management in mines, such as being able to make emergency calls, workers’ positional tracking and collision prevention of vehicles inside the mine, according to Jung.
Working deep underground in often harsh conditions can hamper a timely response to unexpected situations. Citing 2021 data, Jung said most of the workers there are over 50 years old and 70-80 percent of them experienced fatal accidents.
The reduction of business days due to accidents can also lead to a deterioration in mine profitability.
Almonty started constructing the LTE-based based enterprise communication infrastructure from last December by investing around 1 billion won ($772,700). Since there was "no perfect" solution model, KT had to come up with new developments to leverage the coverage, compared to the existing infrastructure on Wi-Fi and radio.
The installation of communication infrastructure in mines have also proven to be challenging, as the sharp tunnel turns and rock features can obstruct the transmission and reception of radio waves. The structure and location of a workplace inside the mine also changes alongside the mining process, according to Kang Dong-hoon, mine operations planning director at Almonty Korea.
To make 100 percent communication feasible in the mine, the telecom giant installed various equipment -- leaky coaxial cables, yagi antennas and mining-designated line amplifiers -- to overcome the obstacles.
Leaky coaxial cables allow seamless communication deep underground with its ability to radiate the signal they are transmitting outward, with the cable acting as an antenna of sorts. When a new gallery is created by blasting, a temporary yagi antenna would be installed instead of the leaky coaxial cable, KT said. The line amplifier stabilizes the quality of communication by amplifying the radio wave that was lost.
So far, the infrastructure has been deployed in a 1.6-kilometer section inside the mine, but the telecom firm aims to descend over 100 meters below the sea level and cover a total distance of about 16 kilometers by September, Jung of KT said.
The latest project is both KT and Almonty's journey to realize AI-powered smart mining. Kang of Almonty Korea said, "It is not just about simply automatizing everything."
"We have already started collaborating with industry and academy for research and development on smart mining developments. We are also adopting cutting-edge IoT technology from companies like KT that can be applied to mines. Combining all of these with our 120 years of metal mine development know-how will realize our vision," the mine operations planning director said.
Meanwhile, KT and Almonty will pursue joint patent applications for their self-developed digital mine solution and apply it globally, but without commercializing the technology.
"We are considering applying the solution to Almonty mines around the world, starting with Sangdong Mine," Kang said.