The need for new innovative technologies in the mining industry is becoming more pressing, as easily accessible reserves are declining, forcing mining companies to go deeper underground
May 17, 2020
Daniel Brightmore

HUBER+SUHNER: reshaping underground connectivity

underground communications
fibre optics
HUBER+SUHNER’s Market Unit Manager for Industry, Dr Thomas Paul, explains why plug and play could be the answer to the future of mining communications...

HUBER+SUHNER’s Market Unit Manager for Industry, Dr Thomas Paul, explains why plug and play could be the answer to the future of mining communications.

The need for new innovative technologies in the mining industry is becoming more pressing, as easily accessible reserves are declining, forcing mining companies to go deeper underground and to improve recovery yields while keeping costs under control. In addition, more stringent regulations on worker safety from authorities, the public and shareholders incentivise miners to drive their operations to higher degrees of automation.

As a consequence, the demand for flexible and high-bandwidth communication in mines is soaring since data links are the backbone of automated operations and serve as safety critical infrastructure. Information from sensors, CCTV, data-heavy automation solutions and voice communication need to be broadcast across long distances and through difficult environments. The link between the surface and operations underground is the umbilical for safe and efficient mining operations. 

Bridging the gap

Fiber optic networks are key to enabling the level of bandwidth required by mining corporations, providing a bridge between control systems, devices and data processing units. Fiber optic technologies also bring additional benefits such as immunity to electromagnetic fields, galvanic insulation and the advantages of future-proof bandwidth extension. However, the harsh environment of mining operations can pose a risk to the physical integrity of these networks. This creates a need for high-performing solutions when it comes to installing, modifying and maintaining underground communication links.


Mission critical

The operation of mines increasingly relies on the ability to have a network which is continuously accessible for communications between workers, with sensors and machines. Therefore, it is mission critical to have a quick fix when things go wrong and a mine’s fiber optic network becomes damaged. 

Network failure and outages prove a headache for mining companies as it implies a loss of essential communications leading to major safety risks. Under such circumstances, operations in the affected areas underground must be stopped and personnel removed. Next to safety being potentially compromised temporarily, significant financial damage is incurred.

The need to be able to repair the network quickly is a serious challenge faced by mines throughout the sector. Solving issues underground is time consuming: the availability of qualified fiber optic engineers with the necessary tools is low and expensive. 

Despite best efforts, damage to fiber optic networks cannot always be avoided – but operators can reduce the amount of downtime needed on a network and get back to normal much quicker. 


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Fast, simple and reliable

The ability to do this is thanks to a new breakthrough from HUBER+SUHNER and Ampcontrol which have combined their expertise to create a speedy and innovative solution – H3RO – to ensure fiber optic networks can be rapidly installed, maintained and repaired in mines to allow them to get up and running quickly and easily.

The experience of HUBER+SUHNER in providing essential solutions for communication in challenging conditions has been leveraged alongside Ampcontrol’s renowned expertise in integrated electronic equipment and power solutions for mines to create H3RO – Harsh Environment Reticulated Optics. This provides a toolbox-like fix via standardised components, allowing fiber optic networks to be deployed quickly. 

H3RO is a pre-terminated modular fibre optic system which removes the requirement for specialised labour and simplifies installation with its plug and play modular elements that supports standardisation allowing reductions in cost, simplified rollout, consolidation of spares and consistent high-quality system expansion within difficult environments.

It combines telco grade low-loss connectors with fit for purpose industrial break out terminals (BOTs), glands and cable armour to allow for a reliable and robust industrial solution. The BOTs replace the need for large enclosures and minimises common failure points such as needless patching and unnecessary connector exposure to harsh elements. 

Supporting traditional Ethernet, as well as Passive Optical Network (PON) models, the single-mode fiber optic system removes the need for timely fiber optic terminations in the field and allows the introduction of a standardised and future-proof fiber optic infrastructure. 

The perfect solution

The separate components of H3RO make it flexible in design, ensuring its practicality for enabling easy modification and expansion of networks needed for when the mine’s structure changes as it gets deeper or gets larger in size. It is also extremely handy for mine workers who are not skilled communication technology technicians and offers a simple to use and robust solution in case of mishandling.

It has already been used by several mining customers, including a gold and copper mine in Western New South Wales (Australia), which switched to the H3RO system after an existing communications cable was severed. It was used from an existing fiber optic break out terminal (FOBOT) panel along 1km of the mine’s roof, down several vertical drops and into another FOBOT enclosure.

The modular design of the product and its plug and play features made it the perfect choice to enable the fast installation of cabling to allow for their network to get back up and running quickly. The IP68 connectors and bulkheads meant it was relatively easy to be deployed and allowed it to integrate seamlessly with the off-the-shelf IP68 bulkheads and pigtails to match the existing panels. As a result of the low-loss connectors, network expansion and recovery for similar incidents in the future is now hassle-free. 

The whole cable consists of four 260 m 12-core H3RO cables – adding to its easy functionality of being able to swap out any section without necessarily having to replace the complete run or the need for fiber field splicing – where constraints such as time, darkness and low-cleanliness all affect the quality of the job. 

There are many options for mining operators to consider when selecting fiber optic systems for their communication networks, but as the mining industry is progressively being squeezed for higher capital and operational efficiency, operators need to take advantage of systems that are simple, risk-free and cost-effective that will help them to do their jobs more effectively. 

H3RO will be being exhibited by HUBER+SUHNER at Expomin 2020 which is being held in Santiago, Chile in April 2020.


About the author

Dr Thomas Paul brings the fusion of business thinking and scientific curiosity to functions where continuous transformation and novelty are essential. With over ten years in the manufacturing industry, he builds adeptness in steering complex innovation and business development programs, from idea generation to commercial success. Accomplished in establishing cross-functional stakeholder relationships and in leading diverse teams, he is passionate about effectuating bold moves in technology and business innovation. Prior to his role at HUBER+SUHNER, which he took up in October 2018, Dr Paul was a Group Leader for Sensor Technologies at ABB and a Project Manager at Zeiss Group.

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