Editorial Feature

ThingSpeak: Ensuring Coal Mining Safety with Internet of Things Solutions

Coal mining is one of the most dangerous occupations, historically claiming the lives of hundreds of thousands of coal miners. Although fatalities in coal mining are at an all-time low, this industry still presents its workers with conditions that can have detrimental effects on their health.

coal mining safety, internet of things solutions

Image Credit: Parilov/Shutterstock.com

One of the main causes for concern is the production of toxic gases within the underground tunnels of a mine, which is simply a by-product of mining. Due to the health implications, the aim of many mining companies is to ensure that their workers do not encounter these gases and that mines can be evacuated as soon as they become too hazardous. ThingSpeak provides a viable internet-of-things (IoT) solution for the integration of various sensors to detect hazardous scenarios.

Hazards of Coal Mining

When working in a mine there are many potential hazards, including thermal stress. Exposure to extreme heat and humidity can cause fatigue, heatstroke, as well as exacerbate other health conditions. Heat and humidity fluctuations are common in mines due to being underground with few channels for heat and hot air to escape.

Another common occupational hazard here is that of chemical exposure. Some of these chemicals are those that miners work with, whilst others are the natural gases that come directly from the surrounding environment. Some of the most toxic of these gases are carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide, and methane. Once inhaled, these gases can cause long-lasting respiratory problems, reduced oxygen flow, and in the most severe cases, death.

ThingSpeak: An Internet of Things (IoT) Analytics Platform

ThingSpeak is a IoT analytics platform designed to collect, analyze and visualize live data from numerous sensors via the Cloud. IoT platforms such as this are designed to allow data to be transmitted over the internet from multiple sources, leveraging technologies such as smart devices and cloud connectivity.

What makes ThingSpeak suitable for monitoring conditions within a mine is its ability to both visualize and analyze various data streams in real-time. With the increasing availability of cloud computing power and decreasing cost, IoT solutions such as ThingSpeak are providing reliable and cost-effective ways of continuous monitoring sensor data. 

ThingSpeak can also be fine-tuned for specific domains. In the case of coal mining, this would mean integrating algorithms that can determine the conditions within the mine from sensor data to then allow those in the mine to be alerted.

New IoT System Model  

Comprising of several parts, the SRM Institute of Science and Technology has proposed an IoT system to monitor conditions within coal mines.

As an overview of this system, there are various sensors that come together to a device known as NodeMCU. This device is then able to transmit and receive data from the ThingSpeak platform. There is a buzzer and LED attached to NodeMCU acting as the main system for alerting nearby miners of any hazards.

The main interface of the system uses the Ardunio Integrated development environment (IDE), which is a low-cost IDE commonly used for robotics and hardware engineering projects. The Arduino IDE provides a console for imputing commands to the system while also providing a way of providing information coming from the system.

The central component of the system, NodeMCU, contains an ESP8266 microchip that holds a WiFi module, allowing data transfer between the system and the cloud via the internet. Connected to NodeMCU are a variety of sensors that continuously take measurements of the conditions inside the mine. The first of these is the GHT-11 sensor, which is a sensor for temperature and humidity. Another is the MQ-6, which is a multi-gas sensor, allowing the detection of hydrogen, methane, alcohol vapors (which are highly flammable), and carbon monoxide.

Another gas sensor is also used in the system, the MQ-7 sensor which detects carbon monoxide and is required due to the highly toxic nature of the gas. In addition, light-dependant resistors ensure that the lighting conditions within the mine tunnels are adequate and safe for work.

A flame sensor is also used to detect the presence of any nearby fires.

The system will use all these sensors to determine the conditions of the mine. If any of these sensors transmit values deemed to be hazardous, the system will activate a buzzer and an LED to alert those in the mine of imminent danger. As the system is connected to the ThingSpeak platform, the mine’s conditions can be monitored in real-time at an offsite location, with those observing the readings being able to alert those in the mine through the platform.

The overall system proposed here provides a cost-effective way of monitoring the conditions in a mine and also presents a way to collect data over extended periods of time down to the second interval. Having data such as this provides a way for those responsible for mine safety to analyze and possibly predict how conditions could change in different areas of the mine, increasing the safety of those within the mines.

References and Further Reading

Prabhu, D. et al. (2019) IoT Based Coal Mining Safety for Workers using Arduino. IJESC. https://ijesc.org/upload/8e5c382df1c15740a9ca1f1e42d809f6.IoT%20Based%20Coal%20Mining%20Safety%20for%20Workers%20using%20Arduino.pdf

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2010) Injuries, Illnesses, and Fatalities in the Coal Mining Industry. [Online] Available at: https://www.bls.gov/iif/oshwc/osh/os/osar0012.htm

Brandon Gaille (2019) 26 Coal Mining Industry Statistics, Trends & Analysis. [Online] Available at: https://brandongaille.com/26-coal-mining-industry-statistics-trends-analysis/

KaaIoT Technologies. What is an IoT platform? [Online] Available at: https://www.kaaiot.com/blog/what-is-iot-platform

ThingSpeak. [Online] Available at: https://thingspeak.com/

Dr. R. Bhuvaneswari. et al. (2021) Design of coal mining safety monitoring and alerting system based on IOT. Paideuma Journal. https://paideumajournal.com/gallery/46-may2021.pdf

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the author expressed in their private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of AZoM.com Limited T/A AZoNetwork the owner and operator of this website. This disclaimer forms part of the Terms and conditions of use of this website.

Written by

Robert Clarke

Robert is a PhD student studying Artificial Intelligence at the University of Bath. He really enjoys learning and reading about current technology advancements, particularly in areas such as robotics, machine learning and neuroscience. In his spare time, Robert uses artificial intelligence to create artwork and model robots on computers.

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