Fluidmesh Wireless Video Keeps Watch over Coal Mine

Tucked away in the Alaska Range of mountains near the small, rural town of Healy, Alaska, is the Usibelli Coal Mine. Hundreds of miles from any major population base, Usibelli Coal Mine (UCM) is a family owned business founded in 1943. It is also the only operational coal mine in all of Alaska and supplies coal to six Interior Alaska power plants and several Pacific Rim destinations.

Joe Usibelli Jr., President of the corporation, set out this spring to make major improvements to the mine's processes and safety. Specifically, he wanted to create a more secure environment by monitoring operators and the status of equipment by video both above ground and in the mine shafts themselves.

A wireless mesh network (a communications network made up of radio nodes organized in a mesh topology) was a smart way to go, especially because the mine features a vertical underground shaft and a tall pole in the center of the field. Both locations have a relatively clear line of sight to the new control room. This made for a very effective, non-trenching way to link the field cameras to the head-end.

Chris Ragula of ATS Alaska served as integrator on the project. “The vertical shaft had many environmental challenges, namely low lighting and tight viewing angles,” he said. “The viewing angles required were wide angle and made a perfect fit for high resolution/low light cameras. Fluidmesh had the technology needed to tackle the infrastructure needs to a tee. The customer required EMT conduit for cable runs and had a tight schedule of operations that would not have lent well to trenching.”

The special challenges that the install did present, however, included coal dust, fine particles, cold temperatures, frozen ground and required a robust solution that could stand the test of time, Ragula said. The dynamics inherent to this installation that make wireless mesh technology a good choice are long distance line of sight camera locations, multiple control room scenarios (redundancy) and the constantly changing layout of the site.

This install was pioneering in many ways, as ATS had not worked on a coal mine project before, and had very limited experience with wireless mesh technology. "Fluidmesh provided top-notch tech support,” said Ragula.

Using Fluidmesh technology and equipment in conjunction with Avigilon cameras and high definition surveillance software, the system covers two sites. The first site is the vertical shaft of the mine where four Avigilon megapixel cameras are connected to the surface at ground level where the Fluidmesh 1100 wireless system is situated. The second site consists of a single explosion-proof PTZ camera equipped with an Avigilon encoder located at the top of a tall light pole and connected to another Fluidmesh 1100. Both sites are streamed live to the control room where a Fluidmesh 2200 is hardwired to an Avigilon NVR for recording and displaying.

"This is another important success story that we proudly add to our portfolio,” said Cosimo Malesci, Fluidmesh VP of Sales. “After extensive testing, Fluidmesh supports megapixel cameras encoding in MJPEG, MPEG-4, and JPEG 2000 giving our customers maximum flexibility in their deployment and a smooth integration. The Fluidmesh proprietary transmission protocol allow us to provide a bandwidth and a reliability much higher compared to 802.11 based wireless system. In addition, the IP68/NEMA6P rating of our mesh units make them a perfect fit for harsh environments such as coal mines, refineries, seaport, and chemical plants. Avigilon has been a great partner in megapixel surveillance systems due to the quality of their products and their tech support which aligns perfectly with Fluidmesh's philosophy.”

"Usibelli Coal Mine's implementation of high definition surveillance and wireless technologies is a perfect example of how these leading technologies can be used together to protect lives and valuable equipment,” said Dave Tynan, VP of global sales at Avigilon. “We look forward to working with Fluidmesh on additional customer implementations in the future.” Although the initial design required a combination of point-to-point and point-to-multipoint wireless connections for a high end Ethernet based CCTV system, Ragula said that for future expansion, there will be requirements for multiple wireless hops to transmit the video back to the head end. “Fluidmesh was a perfect fit for all the requirements,” he added.

The project flowed smoothly, as ATS was able to secure material for the project on a highly escalated timeframe. ”We had product in our hands four days from the booking date,” Ragula said. “We had the site installed and operational within seven days of the start of the project. The setup was very streamlined for both products and our technicians were able to figure out the new product in no time.”

The Fluidmesh wireless mesh solution is scalable and highly re-configurable. The video quality is far superior to the expectations of the owner based on traditional surveillance. Removing the complexity of the hard-wired approach allowed ATS to go from a site visit to a working solution in an unprecedented two-week time frame. This would have been an impossible goal with a traditional system.

The end-user was immediately satisfied with the results and began plans for further expansion of the system, Ragula said. “We intend to visit the site in the coming months to re-locate one of the FM-1100's to accommodate a reconfiguration of the site. We plan to expand the system by eight or more cameras.”

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