Approvals status addressed at comms, tracking seminar

THE US Mine Safety and Health Administration provided a clearer vision of mine communications and tracking approval progress at a one-day seminar on Wednesday, telling a large crowd it has made strides but that much research, approval and regulatory work remains. Donna Caudill reports from the conference.

Donna Schmidt

According to MSHA’s Kevin Dolinar, the Approval and Certification Center has reviewed and approved 55 communications and tracking systems since 2006, permitting commercial sale and installation of those products at mines across the country.

It also has given 80 revision applications the green light.

The number of proposals the agency has received has remained steady since the signing of the MINER Act four years ago, with 35 device and component approvals recorded in 2006 and 2007 including Tunnel Radio’s leaky feeder system and Kenwood’s portable radios.

In 2008, 33 applications were given the okay, including Venture Design’s node-based tracking and text messaging system, Matrix Design’s RFID tracking device, and the communications and tracking products of Becker, NLTech, IWT/L3 and Motorola.

In 2009, and to date in 2010, MSHA has given approval to 34 more systems and associated items.

Some of these include MST’s wireless access nodes, Active Control’s node system and handset, Minecom/Pyott Boone’s leaky feeder system, and the text message device developed by Matrix.

Becker, L-3, AMR, Kutta, Kohler-Bright Star, Rajant, and Tunnel Radio also received indications in the past 15 months that their systems or system components would be approved.

With all the work already under the belt of federal evaluators at the A&CC in Triadelphia, West Virginia, Dolinar said that much work lies ahead as companies continue to work at the development table to produce even more cutting-edge design technology.

Currently, 48 applications for communications and tracking products are pending MSHA review, 34 for new approvals and another 14 for revisions to previously submitted items.

All 48, he noted, were under investigation, and agency staff said RFID tracking readers and tags led the group with 14 applications.

Nine are node-based devices and another five are leaky feeders, and nine submissions are for peripherals such as PDAs, text messengers, voice over internet protocol (VoIP) phones, and radios.

Legacy products, such as page phones and face communications, make up five of the products in line for federal approval, and another three are cap lamps with tag/radio/collision avoidance.

Two repeaters are in the pending group, as well as one through-the-earth device and one that is medium frequency technology.

Dolinar said MSHA was working with the industry to expedite the process, which was beneficial for the agency as well as the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) developer and the end user.

Federal staff is aiming to educate applicants to the approval process and technical requirements, and notes that its timely response to discrepancies keeps the entire process efficient.

While he noted that the future would be hard to predict, the agency expected approval submissions that include new technology, such as through-the-earth devices, would be limited.

However, the review and approval of the steady stream of applications will continue, including revisions.

Officials noted that many would correct system deficiencies via enclosure changes to increase durability and circuit changes to improve reliability.

It anticipates increasing available standby power as another key issue, with many OEMs resubmitting items after making those improvements to their systems.

Other devices that approval staff will see again will have undergone capability expansions, such as the integration of mine-wide monitoring with communications.