A two-way radio shortage means miners will have to find alternatives, creating opportunities for suppliers and distributors

By Jesse Morton, Technical Writer

Calling it a seller’s market for handheld two-way radios with MSHA approval for underground applications may be an understatement. Buyers will find that selection is, at best, limited and pricey. This has opened the door to alternatives, such as repairs and rebuilds, as well as other solutions for underground communications.

Demand for Repairs Grows

MineSafe Electronics said it can repair and rebuild MSHA-approved two-way radios, an offering that is seeing growing demand amid a reported shortage in new radios.

“Honestly, we’ve repaired more units lately than we have sold new, but it is just because there are none being produced,” said Will Alvey, purchasing manager, MineSafe Electronics. “I had hundreds of radios on order when they told me that there just are none and there are not going to be any more.”

Until Q2 2023, Kenwood supplied the NX-203/303, which MineSafe Electronics carried. Another distributor confirmed to Coal Age that the model is discontinued and that new units are unavailable. Previously, Motorola supplied a MSHA-approved two-way handheld radio, which was also discontinued. Both models may still be found at auctions, but otherwise cannot be found new for sale anywhere, Alvey said.

Used, broken, and partial units of both models may be salvaged by MineSafe Electronics. “We repair both of those,” he said.

“Send in cores. Send us your garbage and let us see if we can make a radio out of it,” Alvey said. “If anyone can get their hands on an MSHA radio, working or non, we fix them here. We can make them work.”

The surge in demand for repaired or rebuilt MSHA-approved two-way radios has prompted the company to change its business model. “For years we operated on a percentage,” he said. “If it was going to cost us more than 50% to fix it, then we would just trash it,” Alvey said. “But nowadays, people are paying more for repairs and used radios than what new ones used to cost, just to have one in their hand.”

Going forward, a shortage of new MSHA-approved handheld two-way radios could eventually present a serious challenge to certain underground mining operations. “It needs to be known right now that there is an upcoming safety issue with miners not being able to buy new approved radios,” Alvey said.

“It is really scary right now,” he said. “For the last couple of decades, miners have been using two-way radios to communicate, and right now that is being severely messed with with no new products available.”

MineSafe Electronics is renowned for its flagship wired mine phone offering, the Communicator III. “This technology has been around for years and years, and we’re still doing the tried and true approved mine phone,” he said. “Communicator III is a MSHA-approved mine phone,” Alvey said. “It is a page phone so you have paging capabilities as well as just talking handset to handset.”

The Communicator III is popular due, in part, to the short lead time and the low price. “Generally speaking, in two or three weeks we fulfill orders, which seems to be industry leading,” he said. “And you don’t want to just come out and say, ‘I’ve got cheapest one on the market,’ but we do have the least expensive unit out there, which gives us a lot of business.”

The Communicator III is the result of four decades of evolution. “Our phones are made in a fiberglass case,” Alvey said. “Some phones are made in stainless steel cases,” he said. “That is one of the reasons that we are able to have a little bit lower priced product.” The company sells as many as 500 units per year.

With its 50-year anniversary approaching, MineSafe Electronics is developing a podcast to help spread needed information on and to the mining industry. “Around the country, when you get away from the Basin here, and you get away from blue collar areas, I think there is a negative stigma to mining,” Alvey said. “We want to highlight that there is a lot of good folks, great people, in this industry,” he said. “We want to keep them safe.”

Wireless Capabilities Grow

Matrix Team reported it is continuing to further integrate technologies into its N-Connex high-speed data network for more benefits to customers.

A modular network, N-Connex “is fully compatible with 802.3 and 802.11 Ethernet and WiFi devices for voice, tracking, atmospheric monitoring, data and video systems,” Matrix Team said. “WiFi solutions include voice and data support for private calls, push-to-talk broadcasts, tablets, laptops and smartphones.”

The system is described as easy to update and expand, and is capable of supporting “all” WiFi and Ethernet devices.

Burning Springs mine installed an N-Connex network with Icom VOIP radios, tracking software, environmental monitoring, and WiFi blasting capability. (Photo: Matrix Team)

“We’re now combining data technologies within our networking system to enable more efficiencies in the mining process,” said Chris Adkins, mining manager, Matrix Team. “These tech stacks are providing state-of-the art solutions for mining,” he said. “For example, we’re enabling mines to connect with all of their devices that are data-enabled, such as vehicle and belt monitors.”

The data is then used in analysis and planning. “Preventive maintenance data points can be obtained through the system for many measuring devices, including strain gauges and vibration monitors,” Adkins said. “There are numerous benefits to this data collection, including reducing downtime by reporting abnormalities.”

Among the benefits offered is more efficient inventory management and maintenance. “They will have the ability to order parts from the warehouse, look at schematics of equipment and reference maintenance manuals remotely,” he said. “The system can also enable Facetime video that allows people on the surface to see issues underground.”

Another benefit is improved communications that accelerate problem resolution. “Clear and precise communications, preventive maintenance, and the ability to fix any issues in a timely manner can significantly increase production and revenue in a mine,” Adkins said.

The supplier has deployed “several systems recently,” he said.

“These range from a mine using them as a check-in, check-out system all the way to numerous mines installing full tracking and communications systems with vehicle monitoring,” Adkins said. “Our most successful fully implemented system is at Burning Springs mine.”

The mine installed N-Connex with Icom VOIP radios. It supports tracking software, environmental monitoring using Maestro Digital Mine, tablets, and WiFi blasting. The system has reportedly helped the mine reduce downtime, and improve safety and security.

Certified to IP68 and MIL-STD-810H testing standards, the RG880 is drop-proof from 1.5 m and water-resistant to 1.2 m. (Photo: RugGear)

Rugged Smart Phone With PTT, SOS, Emergency Response Features

RugGear introduced the RG880 smart phone, a rugged and slim Android 13 device with a large push-to-talk (PTT) button on the side, an SOS button, and a switch for group PTT calls. Having passed multiple military standards tests, it is drop-proof and water-resistant.

The RG880 supports GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, Beidou and A-GPS. It allows positions to be determined quickly and with high precision in the event of an emergency, RugGear said.

The smart phone is equipped with the PTT/MCPTT-optimized Snapdragon 680 4G Mobile Platform from Qualcomm Technologies, and supports 3GPP Release 12. It has a 5.5-in. screen, an innovative speaker design, and a fingerprint sensor, the company said.

Other features include a 50-megapixel camera that can capture high-resolution images and videos. The fast-charge battery can be quickly and easily replaced, the company said.

The RG880 is compatible with global carrier standards.