AR/VR underground

New technologies bring increased safety levels to miners

By Claire Marchand

Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), long associated with gaming and entertainment only, are really developing into essential tools for a number of industry sector: healthcare, education, architecture, urban design and civil engineering, tourism, sports viewing, film and so forth. The explosive (Ex) industry is also beginning to see the advantages of using AR/VR in their daily operations. The mining sector in particular has a lot to gain from adopting these new technologies.

Daqri smart helmet AR plays a key role in assisting Ex workers and enhancing their safety - here a smart helmet with AR display (Photo: DAQRI)

Safer and more efficient through AR

Miners work in harsh conditions, often underground in confined, dust-filled spaces with limited visibility. The machinery they operate is huge, not easy to maneuver and often too large to be moved out of the mine for maintenance or repair, which means all operations have to be performed in hazardous areas. 

This is where AR has an important role to play in assisting miners in many of their tasks, thus enhancing their safety and productivity. 

Using AR systems on handheld computers, helmet-mounted displays or “smart” glasses, miners can visualize clearly the machinery parts that need handling and have guidance in how to maintain or repair individual components of the equipment. 

Through sensors on the equipment, miners can obtain useful information on the level of wear of gears, chains and conveyors. The data collected by the sensors is fed to a database that can then provide real-time information and visualization of the machinery. Step-by-step voice-over instructions guide them through the maintenance/repair process. 

Knowing exactly where to find components that need maintenance of repair is cost- and time-effective for mining companies and, most importantly, ensures greater safety for those doing the actual work underground. 

Training and planning

VR is another technology that could prove useful to mining companies in training their staff and planning future mine sites. 

Using VR headsets, mine workers can walk through a virtual mine and learn how to prevent potential hazards through the reconstruction of past incidents. Once in the real mine, they would then be better able to recognize risks when confronted with dangerous situations. 

Through VR, mining companies can also visualize a mine plan before its implementation, thus ensuring a better design. 

Investing in AR/VR technologies may be a smart move in that it has the potential to improve performance and safety for those working in such hazardous environments. 

Designed and built for Ex areas...

As is the case with larger pieces of equipment used in Ex atmospheres, any device – from the tiniest of sensors to controllers, central processing units (CPUs) and remote terminal units (RTUs) – has to be designed and built in compliance with the very strict requirements set out in standards and specifications, most notably in IEC International Standards developed by IEC Technical Committee (TC) 31: Equipment for explosive atmospheres, and its Subcommittees. 

Designing and building these devices in compliance with IEC International Standards is not enough on its own. To ensure that any piece of equipment meets the required criteria, it has also to be tested and certified. Products associated with a certificate of conformity satisfy the criteria for safe usage in hazardous environments. 

…tested and certified by IECEx

IECEx, the IEC System for Certification to Standards Relating to Equipment for Use in Explosive Atmospheres, is the only truly international Conformity Assessment (CA) System to provide testing and certification for all items of Ex equipment and installations as well as certifying the skills and competence of individuals working in hazardous areas. 

The System addresses the inspection (location and other), installation, maintenance and repair of equipment and systems and assesses the competence of personnel working in this highly specialized area. 

IECEx has been endorsed by the United Nations (UN) through the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) as THE certification system for the assessment of conformity in Ex areas. 

IECEx operates the following Schemes: 

  • IECEx Certified Equipment Scheme
  • IECEx Certified Service Facilities Scheme
  • IECEx Scheme for Certification of Personnel Competence (for Explosive Atmospheres)

The System also has the IECEx Conformity Mark Licensing System which provides on-the-spot evidence that products bearing the Conformity Mark are covered by an IECEx Certificate of Conformity. 

For more information:

Heavy machinery in a mine Using AR systems for repair/maintenance of heavy machinery onsite is a real asset for miners
Daqri smart helmet AR plays a key role in assisting Ex workers and enhancing their safety - here a smart helmet with AR display... (Photo: DAQRI)
Daqri helmet connects to smart Android devices ...that can connect to Android smart devices (Photo: DAQRI)