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Development of a Wireless Sensor Network for


Blast Monitoring and Slope Stability

Conference Paper February 2014

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Development of a Wireless Sensor Network for Blast Monitoring and Slope Stability

John Kemeny, University of Arizona and Split Engineering LLC


&
Johnny Lyons-Baral, Mintec, Inc.
&
Don Kraemer, Split Engineering LLC

Abstract

Ground vibrations from blasting can result in the degradation and failure of rock and soil exposures, as
well as damaging neighboring houses and buildings. At the same time, vibration provides an
opportunity to regularly monitor the rock and soil exposures. If a geophone or accelerometer is attached
to a rock block or wedge on a mine slope, for example, then blast vibrations will regularly sound the
rock block and the resulting vibrations can be used to assess the stability of the rock mass in the
neighborhood of the accelerometer, as well as monitoring the properties of the blast. This paper
describes the development of a wireless sensor network based on inexpensive MEMS accelerometers for
blast monitoring and rock and soil structural health monitoring. The wireless sensors are placed at
various locations in and around an open pit mine or quarry, and transmit data to a central source after
ground vibration events occur. As described in the paper, a variety of wireless and non-wireless
accelerometers were tested in actual field conditions. This includes the monitoring of over 30 blasts at
an open pit mine in Arizona with as many as nine simultaneous accelerometers. Matlab was used to
process all the data and develop innovative methods to view and interpret the data. This includes the use
of the wavelet transform to determine resonance frequencies, and the use of both ground resonance
frequencies and scaled-distance peak particle velocity (ppv) relationships to assess slope stability. As
part of this research, a three-dimensional point cloud environment for viewing and analyzing the
vibration data from the sensors has also been developed.

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Introduction
Ground vibrations from blasting can result in the degradation and failure of rock and soil exposures, as
well as damaging neighboring houses, buildings and other structures. At the same time, vibration from
blasting provides an opportunity to regularly monitor the rock and soil exposures. Vibration data can be
used to assess the stability of slopes in a way that compliments traditional slope monitoring instruments
such as extensometers and slope radar. Recent research has shown that low resonance frequencies in
rock blocks and wedges on slopes are a good indicator for impending rock instability (Swanson, 2002;
Levy et al., 2009). This is of course already known to underground miners and is the basis for
"sounding" the roof of an underground drift. If a geophone or accelerometer is attached to a mine slope
or bench, for example, then blast vibrations will regularly sound the ground and the resulting
vibrations can be used to assess the stability of the rock mass in the neighborhood of the accelerometer,
as well as monitoring the properties of the blast.

This paper describes the development of a wireless sensor network based on inexpensive MEMS
accelerometers for blast monitoring and rock and soil structural health monitoring. The wireless sensors
are placed at various locations in and around an open pit mine or quarry, and transmit data to a central
source after ground vibration events occur. An example of a compact MEMS accelerometer attached to
a slope is shown in Figure 1a, and a possible layout in an open pit mine is illustrated in Figure 1b.
Blasting that occurs on a regular basis sounds the accelerometers, giving information on the blast and
also the integrity of the underlying rock mass.

Figure 1. a) Gulf Data Concepts X6-2 USB accelerometer attached to a rock slope, b) example of
wireless accelerometer network in an open pit mine.
This paper describes the Phase I aspect of this research that has recently been completed. In the Phase I
work, a variety of wireless and non-wireless accelerometers were tested in actual field conditions. This
includes the monitoring of over 30 blasts at an open pit mine in Arizona with as many as nine
simultaneous accelerometers. In the Phase I work, Matlab (Matlab, 2013) was used to process all the
data and develop innovative methods to view and interpret the data. This includes the use of the wavelet
transform to determine resonance frequencies, and the use of both ground resonance frequencies and
scaled-distance peak particle velocity (ppv) relationships to assess slope stability. The Phase II research
will involve the development of a robust wireless accelerometer, developing embedded software for
processing the vibration data, and the testing of this system in actual field conditions.

As part of this research, a three-dimensional point cloud environment for viewing and analyzing the
vibration data from the sensors is also being developed. High-resolution topographic point clouds
provide a traditional way to delineate geologic structure, plot the structure on a stereonet, and conduct

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stability analyses (Kemeny and Turner, 2008). By combining point cloud processing with accelerometer
vibration data, slope stability prediction can be conducted with a higher level of confidence.

Field Equipment
A variety of wireless and non-wireless accelerometers were tested in the field. This included
accelerometers with resolutions ranging from 0.06 to 1.5 milli-g, accelerometer ranges from 2 to 16 g,
maximum sampling rates that ranged from 320 to 650 samples/s, and both wireless and non-wireless
units. In general all the accelerometers were inexpensive and compact and consisted of an internal
MEMS accelerometer, data acquisition board, memory and data storage. Details of the accelerometers
used are given in Table 1, and pictures of the different accelerometers are shown in Figure 2. In addition
to the off-the-shelf wireless and non-wireless accelerometers listed in Table 1, parts for Zigbee-based
wireless accelerometers were purchased and assembled, as discussed later.

Table 1. Specification for the accelerometers utilized in the field testing


Accelerometer Sensor labels Accelerometer Resolution Max Wireless Wireless range
Model Range sampling Protocol
rate (/s)
Gulf Coast X6- X198, X211 2g 0.00006 g 320 - -
2 X217
Gulf Coast X740 16g 0.001 g 320 - -
X16-2
Yost TSS-DL Yost1, Yost2 2g 0.00024 g 650 - -
Yost3, Yost4
Yost5, Yost6
Yost7
Microstrain G- G460, G461 2g 0.0015 g 512 IEEE Programmable up
link G462, G464 802.15.4 Star to 2 km

Figure 2. Accelerometers used, a) Gulf Coast X6-2, b) Yost TSS-DL, c) and d) Microstrain G-link.

Field Testing and LIDAR Scanning


A series of tests were conducted with the accelerometers over a six-week period at an open-pit copper
mine in Arizona. Tests were conducted between March 5 and April 15, 2013, and during that period of
time 30 blasts were monitored. In some cases, one day tests were conducted with as many as nine
accelerometers. In these tests, the accelerometers were first charged and the internal clocks were
synchronized, and then they were then placed at various locations in the mine for the duration of the day.
As many as three blasts were monitored, and then the accelerometers were collected and the data
removed and processed. In other cases, multiple-day tests were conducted where accelerometers were
placed at various locations for over two weeks in some cases. Long term monitoring was possible by
using small solar cells and external battery packs. As many as seven accelerometers and as many as 15
blasts were monitored using the multiple day tests. In these long-term tests, the sensors were periodically
removed to download data, check on the working condition, and clean the sensor. Details on the one-day
and multiple-day tests that were conducted in the Phase I work are given in Table 2.

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Table 2. Details on the one-day and multiple-day tests that were conducted in an open-pit mine.
Type of Test Date(s) Number of Number of Blasts Rock/soil Notes
(all 2013) Accelerometers installations
One-day March 5 7 1 3/4
One-day March 25 3 2 2/1
One-day April 15 9 3 4/5
Multiple-day March 5-18 1 15 0/1 Installed in
unstable ground
Multiple-day Mar 5 April 15 7 9 4/3

Table 2 shows that 30 blasts were monitored with as many as 9 simultaneous sensors. Most of the
installation locations were in stable rock conditions, but for the multiple-day test from March 5-18, 2013,
the accelerometer was installed in an area of the mine that experienced significant ground movement
during the test period. Also, in order to understand the vibration characteristics in different ground
conditions, accelerometers were sometimes installed on vertical rock faces, and sometimes buried in the
loose crushed rock/soil on the horizontal benches. LIDAR scanning was also conducted in the areas of
the mine where the accelerometers were installed using the I-SITE 8800 scanner. The high-resolution
point clouds from these scans are integrated with the accelerometers, as discussed later.

Processing of Accelerometer Data


This section describes the Matlab processing of the accelerometer data that was conducted. A number of
different ways to process the accelerometer data were investigated, resulting in some optimal methods to
process the data both for blast monitoring and slope stability monitoring. It is the intent that these
procedures would be programmed onto the controller board of the wireless sensors that would be
developed in the Phase II aspect of this research. An event/sensor combination refers to a vibration event
at a particular time that is recorded by a specific accelerometer location. For example, Figure 3 shows
the z-component results from a blasting event that occurred on March 5 and was recorded on the X198
accelerometer located about 323 meters (1060 ft.) from the blast. The details of this figure are discussed
below. Overall, over 100 event/sensor combinations were recorded and processed in the Phase I work.

Calculation of acceleration vs. time and velocity vs. time. Acceleration (g) vs. time (s) for a vibration
event was calculated by zeroing out the initial values, correcting drift that occurs in the accelerometer
values from the start to the end of an event, and calculating time in seconds from the start of an event.
Velocity (mm/s) vs. time is calculated by converting from g to mm/s2, and integrating over time. An
example of processed acceleration and velocity plots for a blasting event at a distance of about 323
meters (1060 ft.) is shown in Figure 3a and 3b. The blast event at this distance lasted about 0.8 seconds.

Calculation of the frequency spectrum and frequency/energy vs. time. The overall frequency spectrum
for an event/sensor combination is calculated using the fast Fourier transform, fft (Aki and Richards,
2002). Figure 3c gives the fft frequency spectrum for the March 5 blast recorded with the X198
accelerometer. It shows strong peaks representing resonant frequencies at around 30, 60, 90 and 120 Hz.
The lowest of these resonant frequencies, referred to as the LRF, is used in slope stability evaluations
discussed later. It should be noted that since the results shown Figure 3 are from a production blast
rather than a signature hole blast, the peak frequencies may be influenced by the delay timing between
blast holes, as well as other parameters such as hole length, burden and spacing, and distance to blast
(Dowding, 1985; Khandelwal and Singh, 2009). The approach used in this paper is based on being able
to use multiple sensors and everyday production blasts as regular indicators for changes in ground

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conditions. Since signature hole blasts are not as common, production blasts are used along with a focus
on the spatial variations in peak frequencies and changes in the peak frequencies with time, as discussed
later.

Figure 3. Processed vibration data from the z component of one of the accelerometers monitoring
the blast on March 5, a) acceleration vs. time, b) velocity vs. time, c) frequency spectrum, d)
frequency/energy vs. time (highest energy in red and large circles).

A second method of examining resonance frequencies is to use the wavelet transform (Mallat, 2008).
Rather than determine the frequency spectrum for the entire wave, the wavelet transform determines the
frequency content as a function of time. Thus if one part of the wave has different frequency components
compared with other parts, the changes in frequency content will be observed with the wavelet transform.
The wavelet transform has advantages over other time-frequency transforms such as the short-time
Fourier transform (STFT) and the Gabor transform, as discussed in Sifuzzaman et al. (2009) and others.
There are many different families of wavelet transforms in use today (Haar, Morlet, Daubechies, Meyer,
etc.), and the Morlet transform was chosen for the Phase I work, based on its ability to differentiate
different parts of the vibration events that were studied in Phase I. Also, there are two categories of
wavelet transforms, discrete and continuous, and the continuous wavelet transform (cwt) was used in the
Phase I work. The usual graphical output for the wavelet transform is the scalogram, which is a 3D plot
of scale time, and energy. Each scale is associated with a range of frequencies, with high scales
representing low frequencies. Energy refers to the strength of a particular scale or frequency at a
particular time. So, for example, if a low frequency is dominant at a certain time in the wave, the scale
associated with that frequency would have a high energy.

For the Phase I work a modified scalogram has been developed, as shown in Figure 3d. First of all, for
each interval of time, the scale with the highest energy has been chosen and plotted, and this scale is then
converted to frequency. Secondly, the energy of this point is presented by the color (red highest) and
size (large circle highest) of the point. For example, Figure 3d shows that the highest energy (also

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associated with the highest acceleration and velocity) occurs at about 0.2 seconds with a frequency of
about 30 Hz. It also shows other high-energy parts of the wave at 0.55 and 0.75 seconds that have a
higher frequency of about 60 Hz. The wavelet transform provides a second method for calculating the
LRF (lowest resonant frequency) for an event/sensor combination and has the advantage that it is
automatically calculated.

Picking PPA, PPV, and LRF. For each event/sensor combination, a set of four plots like Figure 3a-d is
produced. From each plot an important parameter is determined that is used in slope stability
calculations. From the acceleration and velocity vs. time plots, the peak values are picked, referred to as
the peak particle acceleration (ppa) and the peak particle velocity (ppv). From the frequency spectrum,
the lowest dominant resonant frequency is picked, referred to as the fft LRF. From the wavelet plot, the
dominant frequency associated with the time in the wave with the highest energy is picked, which is
referred to as the wavelet LRF. In the Phase I work, the ppa, ppv, and fft LRF values for each
event/sensor combination have been picked manually, and the wavelet LRF is determined automatically
from the wavelet plot. From Figure 3, these values are 0.26g, 8 mm/s (0.31 in/sec) , 31 Hz and 32.5 Hz,
respectively.

Scaled Distance plots. Vibration from a blast, earthquake, train, or other source has the ability to damage
structures such as houses and buildings, as well as to cause damage to rock and soil slopes themselves.
The damage from ground vibration depends on the strength of the vibration source (amount of explosive
used in a blast, or earthquake magnitude, for example) and the distance from the vibration source. Both
the peak particle acceleration (ppa) and the peak particle velocity (ppv) can be used in assessing possible
damage from vibration, but historically the ppv has been used (Siskind, 2000). For blasting, it is
common to use a scaled distance formula of the form:
!

= Equation 1

where D is the distance (m) from the vibration event, W is the weight (kg) of explosive per delay, and A
and n are fitting parameters. The A and n parameters depend on the rock type as well as the rock mass
characteristics (fracture spacing, etc.) and rock mass damage (weathering or blast damage). Figure 4a
shows the results for the blast on March 5 that was monitored with 7 accelerometers.

Each data point in Figure 4a comes from a different location and is the maximum of the three ppv values
(x,y or z) for the sensor at that location. The best-fit line gives an A value of about 1161 and an n value
of about -2.6. Since the seven sensors were in different locations, the A and n values reflect the average
properties of the rock in these seven locations. Another way to determine scaled distance relationships is
to use multiple blast information at a single sensor location. This will reflect the properties of the ground
in the vicinity of that sensor. Figure 4b shows the results from the multiple-day test March 5-18. In this
test a single accelerometer recorded 15 blasts from different distances ranging from 250 to 1720 meters
(820-5643 ft.). It should be noted that this sensor was located in an unstable area of the mine exhibiting
ground movement. The best-fit line in Figure 4b gives an A value of about 1976 and an n value of about
-2.3. These parameters indicate that for a given scaled distance, the sensor in unstable ground results in
significantly higher ppv than in other parts of the mine. We propose to the use the scaled distance
parameters as an indicator of rock mass conditions (rock mass quality and potential unstable conditions)
as discussed later.

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Figure 4. Scaled distance plots, a) blast on March 5 with 7 accelerometers, b) 15 blasts monitored
by single accelerometer on unstable ground.

Resonance frequency as a slope stability parameter. Recent research has shown that low resonance
frequencies in rock blocks and wedges on slopes are a good indicator for impending rock instability
(Swanson, 2002; Levy et al., 2009). This is of course already known to underground miners and is the
basis for "sounding" the roof of an underground drift. The results from the accelerometers in the Phase I
work can be used to assess the resonance frequencies in the ground surrounding each accelerometer, as
well as changes in resonance frequencies with time. In a mine, daily blasting can be used to continually
monitor resonance frequencies at multiple locations. As discussed previously, because production blasts
are used as the basis for this analysis, the dependence of the peak frequencies on blast parameters and
distance from the blast must be kept in mind.

Figure 5. a) Frequency vs. distance for the blast on March 5, b) frequency vs. distance for 15 blasts
recorded with a single accelerometer in unstable ground conditions, c) & d) frequency spectrum &
wavelet for one of the blasts in b).

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Figure 5a shows the lowest resonant frequencies (LRF) for the single-day test on March 5 with seven
accelerometers. The LRF values were calculated two ways, using the fft spectrum (diamonds in the
figure) and also from the wavelet plot (circles). Except in one instance, the two methods give very
similar results with resonance frequencies in the range of 25-30 Hz for most locations. In this instance,
there is no apparent trend of decreasing LRF with distance from the blast as has been noted by other
researchers (Zhong et al., 2012). The results in Figure 5a can be compared with the results of the
multiple-day test of one accelerometer in a location in the area of the mine with unstable ground
conditions, shown in Figure 5b. The data from the 15 blasts are very consistent in showing very low
LRF values ranging from 6-8 Hz. Figures 5c and 5d show the fft frequency spectrum and the wavelet
plot for one of the blasts, showing almost no frequency content above 20 Hz. These results support the
use of LRF values to assess slope stability.

As additional support for the idea of using LRF values to monitor slope stability, a modal analysis of a
simple slope was conducted using the ANSYS finite element program (ANSYS, 2013). Figure 6a shows
the finite element model with no fault, and Figure 6b shows the model with a fault (height 80 m, each
bench is 15 m high and 15 m wide). A Youngs modulus for the rock mass of 30 GPa (4.35 x 106 psi)
was used, and the fault was modeled as a one-meter thick zone with a reduced Youngs modulus of 3
GPa (4.35 x 105 psi). The results of the modal analysis give the first 5 natural frequencies of 21.2 - 34.7
Hz for the case with no fault and 6.7 - 11.0 Hz for the case with the fault. Thus the model results show
very good agreement with the accelerometer data.

Figure 6. Modal analysis using the ANSYS finite element model, a) no fault, b) with fault

Integrating Vibration Data into Point Cloud Processing Software


Split Engineering LLC has developed point cloud processing software, called Split-FX. The Split-FX
software is focused on geotechnical investigations, including rock mass characterization, stereonet
plotting, and change detection. As part of the research with vibration monitoring, modifications were
made to allow the integration and interpretation of accelerometer data, including colorizing the
topographic points based on the sensor information, creating subregions around a sensor or group of
sensors to conduct rock mass characterization, and showing potential wedge and plane failure for each
subregion on the stereonet. As an example, Figure 7a shows the distribution of ppv for the one-day test
on March 5 (highest ppv in red of 42 mm/s (1.65 in/s), lowest in green of 0.4 mm/s), and Figure 7b
shows the stereonet with a slope stability mask for the subregion surrounding two sensors for that blast.

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Figure 7. a) Distribution of ppv for the blast on March 5 monitored by seven accelerometers, b)
lower hemisphere stereonet for subregion surrounding two sensors for that blast, showing possible
left wedge, plane and right wedge failures.

Wireless Protocol
One type of wireless accelerometer was purchased and tested as part of the Phase 1 work, the G-link
sensors from Microstrain. Specifications indicated that these sensors had a range of 2 km, but in fact the
2 km range is for communicating with the devices but not for transmitting vibration data. The range for
transmitting data turned out to be about 100 meters (328 ft). The Microstrain wireless sensors are based
on a star topology, where sensors must communicate directly with a coordinator radio. This means that
in order for the sensors to transmit vibration data to the coordinator radio, they all must be within 100
meters (328 ft). This does not meet the requirements for deployment in a mine, where sensors may be
scattered over many miles. Because of this deficiency, attention was turned to very low energy wireless
protocols that are based on the mesh topology, where sensors can transmit data from sensor to sensor.
The ZigBee protocol was investigated, which operate at very low energy, are capable of communicating
through mesh networks, and utilize XBee wireless radios (Zigbee, 2006). Four XBee radios with a
range of 120 meters, along with Arduino Uno programmable micro-controllers and MMA8452 and
MPU6050 accelerometers were purchased and assembled. For possible applications in a mining
environment, Zigbee radios are available with ranges up to 300 meters (984 ft).

Conclusions
In this research project, a rock slope monitoring technology was conceived and tested based on utilizing
routine vibrations from blasting to sound accelerometers and determine when unstable ground conditions
are occurring. In addition to vibration monitoring, this technology integrates the data from wireless
accelerometers with topographic point clouds. Conclusions from this research include:

1. A number of wireless and non-wireless sensors with different specifications were tested in real
world field conditions
2. Accelerometers were deployed in an open-pit mine and monitored more than 30 blasts over a
period of six weeks
3. Matlab was used to develop optimal and innovative methods for processing the vibration data,
including a modified wavelet scalogram to determine resonant frequencies vs. time
4. The research revealed two important indicators of rock mass quality or rock mass damage that
can be assessed from vibration data, lowest resonant frequency (LRF) and scaled distance
parameters (A and n). In the field tests conducted, the LRF identified an unstable area in the
mine in spite of possible dependencies of the frequency on blast parameters and distance.

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5. Modifications were made to the Split-FX point cloud processing software, including colorizing
the topographic points based on the accelerometer information, creating subregions around a
sensor or group of sensors to conduct rock mass characterization, and showing potential wedge
and plane failure for each subregion on the stereonet.
6. A wireless accelerometer based on the Zigbee protocol was built and tested.

Future work on this project includes the development of a robust wireless mesh network and
accelerometer sensor that can operate for at least two years on one set of batteries, embedding software
to perform the calculations currently being made in Matlab, and field testing of the system.

Acknowledgements
Funding of this research was through National Science Foundation Phase I SBIR Grant #1249022.

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