Uptake Of Man-Machine Interface Technology on Mines Poised to Increase Exponentially

The uptake of man-machine interface technology in the mining industry is poised to increase exponentially, against a background of increasing pressure to progress more rapidly towards achieving Zero Harm, an industry-wide desire to eliminate collision-related fatalities in the mining industry and imminent legislation that will enforce the installation of some form of proximity detection system on moving equipment and vehicles in underground mines.

Safety of underground mine transport and machinery is one of the four focus areas of a dedicated Mining Industry Occupational Safety and Health (MOSH) team instituted by the Chamber of Mines of South Africa to drive the adoption of leading safety practices throughout the industry. Under this banner, a Transport and Machinery Adoption Team is working on developing processes which will speed up the widespread adoption of safe practices in this particular arena.

Electronic safety equipment specialist Booyco Electronics is the leading supplier of collision warning systems to the South African mining industry. Managing director of the company, Anton Lourens says that to date, however, industry uptake of proximity detection technology has been relatively slow. Although Booyco Electronics has equipped more than 25 000 mines with collision warning systems since 2006, this represents less than 10% of the market that will soon be required by law to install this type of technology.

Lourens says both collision warning systems and collision avoidance systems are required in the mining industry, depending on the nature of the application. A collision warning system consists of a sensor that detects the presence of an object, an interface that provides an audible and/or visual alarm to the equipment operator and wiring between the two. These systems warn both vehicle operators and pedestrians of potential danger. Sensor technologies include ultrasonic echo detection, infrared reflection, radar (radio detection and ranging), video cameras and radio frequency identification (RFID) systems.

A collision avoidance system is a system of sensors that is placed within a vehicle to detect potential collisions with objects or personnel. This technology is able to interact with the mobile equipment or vehicle’s brakes and bring it rapidly to a complete stop.

“The coal industry is starting to install collision avoidance systems,” Lourens says, “but collision warning systems are more appropriate for hard rock mines, with their steeply angled stopes. Within this technology, experts agree that very low frequency (VLF) systems are best for warning pedestrians who work near moving machinery, while ultra-high frequency (UHF) signalling is more suitable for high speed and track-bound equipment.”

Lourens believes, therefore, that mining companies that are about to install this kind of technology underground for the first time should do extensive research before deciding which system to purchase. This is particularly advisable at the moment, since he predicts it is likely that new non-specialist companies will emerge in the current climate to market collision-related technology to the mining industry, in a technology maturing market.

“Protecting personnel and equipment is a critical focus area in the industry,” he comments. “Proximity detection technology is also capital intensive, so when investigating which system would be most suitable for a given application, mining companies should look for a system that has a proven track record and which is well supported by the supplier in terms of technical support, spares, stockholding, operator training and change management. Suppliers should also be seen to be reinvesting into continuous product development and enhancement.

“Price is always a factor, but we advise companies to evaluate the total cost of ownership, rather than the initial capital outlay.”

Booyco Electronics markets a range of CWS (Collision Warning System) products, custom adapted for use in both the surface and underground mining environment. The company is focusing on supplying reliable safety systems to warn of the possibility of collisions between vehicles and pedestrians, and vehicles with vehicles. Research in this arena has led to strategic alliances with the innovative companies, VAK Technical Solutions and Selectronic Funk-und Sicherheitstechnik GmbH, which ensure that Booyco Electronics is able to continuously develop solutions to meet customer-specific requirements in the mining industry.

One of the company’s early successes was with the CWS500U collision warning system, out of which its CWS800 and CWS800 PLUS have been developed. These innovative systems includes vehicle-to-vehicle detection as part of a single underground and surface solution for both close proximity (pedestrians) and longer range (vehicle) warning. The added benefits of the system could include, among others, interlocking with third party equipment, such as ventilation doors and robot systems.

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