Wednesday, 21 October 2020
The Nautitech / NLT Equipment WiFi Bubble: Data Communications in Underground Coal
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The Nautitech / NLT Equipment WiFi Bubble: Data Communications in Underground Coal

Written by Alex Lester, General Manager, Nautitech Mining Systems

Some of the benefits derived from improved communications in underground coal mining operations are:

  • The logistics and locations of people is known
  • Fleet optimisation
  • Contractor monitoring
  • Machine performance (monitoring)
  • Autonomous mining
  • Efficiency and productivity improvements
  • Improved safety and emergency notifications

The Current Solutions on offer:

There are generally 2 types commonly used:

The Wired variety which consist of a twisted pair, coax cable, CAT5, fibre optics, or trailing cables

The Wireless variety - point to point and mesh radio, Wi-Fi and Leaky Feeders

Typical product technologies that are available are wide ranging:

  • 2 way radios
  • VOIP phones
  • DACs
  • Cap lamps
  • Nodes/access points
  • Serial Powerline Modems
  • Broadband Powerline Modems
  • RF tracking tags

While the existing product technologies are proven and are well supported, none effectively resolve the issues that are presented by the environment. Ideally any solution would have a high bandwidth and coverage for areas currently with no or low coverage

The current practice for roadway development is to have access points along wall to boost WiFi signal and or laying fibre. Both of these practices are prone to failure due to the fibre being cut, or the WiFi signal lost or weak.

Our Solution - Minesite Case Study: Ensham Resources, Emerald, QLD (Brad Price - Electrical Engineering Manager)

Requirements of the mine site:

  • Sound Network connections – Wired equipment
  • Sound Network connections – WiFi equipment
  • Reliable provision of network access
  • Supports all the existing product technologies
  • Simple and reliable installation and operation


The Solution would need to fulfill the 2 functional requirements of:

  • Surface to CM - Power line communications
  • WiFi Hotspot around CM - WiFi access point

The Nautitech / NLT combination of different but existing and proven communications technology, takes advantage of Nautitech’s best in class power line modems, with their reliable and high bandwidth and the use of the existing trailing cable for communications.

We can achieve this while protecting the signal from the harsh mining environment by utilising the NLT WiFi to create hotspots around the Continuous miner and any other piece of equipment. As we are using portable equipment without wires, we can have coverage in areas where it’s most needed.

So we can fulfill the mine site's requirements by using two separate sub-systems; the Spitfire BPLM kit with an I.S. Access point for the WiFi.

Our proposed, tested and validated solution is now well proven, and is a bolt-on solution, meaning no new approvals are required as we are using existing and readily available and extensively used equipment in combination.

Main components used: Nautitech Powerline modem kit

  • Spitfire BPLM
  • Remote display assembly
  • Capacitive couplers
  • Power cable
  • Power-line bus cable

The Ensham mine site is using the standard Spitfire; however a Long range Spitfire is available than can take the signal as far as you would want it to. (Optional, for DCB if no fibre exists between transformers to DCB) Ensham will be using the longer range super Spitfire for other assets on the mine site.

Main components: NLT Wireless kit

  • I.S. PSU
  • I.S. Net Port Access Point
  • Media converter
  • Antenna
  • FRAS LMR 400 coax cable 5m M-M


  • Reduces the cost of communications infrastructure
  • There is no need for Wi-Fi infrastructure all along the roadway between DCB and Continuous miners
  • The set up brings connectivity to the coal face with the CM
  • Increases the data bandwidth
  • Consistent and reliable connections with no drop outs in coverage around the CM.

In Conclusion

The Spitfire BPLM WiFi solution installed at Ensham is the first system of its kind, and has been an outstanding success in the field for the last 14 weeks

The Physical layer data rate has consistently been above 50 Mbps with no drop outs of any sort in the whole 14 weeks. Subsequently, a second system has been installed into another CM, With Enscham looking to extend the use of the BPLM wifi system into their other applications

Other applications and considerations

This innovation can be utilised anywhere in the mine but typically the places that would benefit greatly would be: 

  • Breaker / Feeder
  • Shuttle cars
  • Conveyors
  • Proximity detection system connectivity
  • Live video streaming
  • Data logging of machine state
  • Production improvement
  • Fault analysis & Preventative maintenance
  • Diagnostics

Future applications and considerations

This system opens doors that were up until now firmly closed, due to the poor communications, areas such as

  • CM automation
  • Instantaneous pointing and tilt information
  • Automated roadway alignments
  • Remote control from surface

These are just a few of the potential opportunities for this innovative idea and technology.

If you'd like to see more about what NTMS can offer, check out their website.


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