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November 10, 2021

Mining Newsletter Issue #1

Getting the most from safety technology

That data is in! Thanks to the wide deployment of collision avoidance and other advanced safety technologies, their potential to save lives and boost productivity has been proven beyond a doubt. What's less obvious is how the maximum benefits of these technologies are achieved in real-world scenarios. In this issue of Experts Corner, SMS Equipment's Smart Mining Solutions expert Shawn Tetreault reveals some of the key guidelines for achieving this.
Realize the value of safety, operational control and business productivity by collaborating with Wabtec Digital Mine & SMS Equipment.

A: Safety is something the industry is continuously getting better at, and that's a global phenomenon. So safety is a matter of keeping up with global standards, and technology has become a big part of that based on its track record. Some countries have gone as far as mandating safety technology - South Africa is a prime example. Canada hasn't mandated anything like this yet, but mines are looking to the future, and the technology is now well established.

Another issue is that operators with twenty or thirty years of experience are retiring, and mines will have to fill their jobs with younger operators who expect technology to help them with their work. So it's not just about reducing incidents - it's about attracting the next generation workforce, and giving them the tools they need to be confident and productive.

A: There are several ways these technologies work. Collision avoidance, which we believe is the most effective currently, acts as an extra set of eyes for the operator, creating what we refer to as situational awareness, where the operator knows the location of all the hazards in the area. Then, as a piece of equipment gets within a close range, there are audible alarms that warn the operator to slow down or stop. Rounding a blind corner, for example, an operator will know if there is a hidden piece of equipment.
Geo-fencing is another important awareness tool. In this case, an operator might be alerted when crossing into a zone where there are workers or equipment. In addition, zones where there are safety hazards, might have speed limits or restricted access.

The technology also provides data that helps companies learn from past experiences and improve safety programs. For example, you might have a weekly safety review to assess situations of machines being too close to each other. If there is an accident or a near miss, you can replay that incident on video and determine where things went wrong. That's not anything people want to think about, but the technology helps ensure that an accident doesn't happen again.

A: First of all, you have to make sure you have all the supporting infrastructure in place. That might include wireless equipment, servers, software, etc. We spend a lot of time with customers to ensure that they have a suitable environment and the skills to support that environment.

Secondly, we stress working closely with operators to ensure they understand and are comfortable with the technology. These systems are very user-friendly, but using them requires new habits.

It's also critical to ensure that systems are configured. For example, a common mistake with new systems is to get lots of false alarms because the settings are too sensitive. When this happens, operators sometimes use tape to silence the alarm speaker, which you do not want to see.

I often recommend that operators start using the new systems with the alarms turned off. The thresholds are then increased gradually to ensure that the operator is comfortable but is not missing any hazardous situations.

A: Change management is one of the most essential factors for senior management. A collision avoidance system changes the way equipment operators do their work, and there needs to be adequate time and training for that transition.

You also have to ensure that the technology team understands the features and can champion the deployment. I highly recommend that if you want to manage a collision avoidance system correctly, you probably need a new role within your dispatch center to monitor that system.

When it comes to measuring success, I think it's important to look broadly at the benefits. Financial payback is important, but some aspects are hard to quantify - how do you quantify the accident that didn't happen? Ultimately, the technology reduces some pressure off busy operators and allows them to be more confident and productive. So the ultimate test might come when jobs are getting done faster with less equipment, and operators are asking for the technology.

A: These systems are complex, and I recommend that companies get help, at least in the early stages. SMS Equipment has a team of experts who guide customers through implementing the technology correctly and ensure that objectives are achieved.

Takeaways from Shawn:

  • Higher global standards and a shortage of skilled operators are driving the need for better technology.

  • Collision detection creates situational awareness, augmenting the work operators already do.

  • SMS Equipment has an experienced team of experts to help mines get to the next level with technology.

  • Geo-fencing, data collection, and other features provide additional opportunities to reduce incidents and improve productivity.

  • Technology alone doesn't create safer mines - it needs to be used correctly, and its use needs to be assimilated into the daily workflow.
     

Shawn Tetreault
Manager,  Smart Mining Solutions

 

Wabtec's Collision Awareness System – Surface offering can be deployed with various proximity detection methods, including GPS, radio frequency (RF), VLF magnetic and cameras to provide one of the most effective high integrity systems on the market.

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SICK is one of the world's leading producers of sensors and sensor solutions for industrial applications. Through our partnership, we offer sensors for trucks, excavators, wheel loaders for surface mining, and the tunnel positioning systems for underground mining.

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Next steps:

Are you interested in discovering how collision detection and other features can take your safety and productivity initiatives to the next level? We're here to help. 
Discover how SMS Equipment's substantial market presence, technical expertise and installation support services combined with Wabtec CAS technology can bring a new level of safety to your mining fleets.