Guilermo Surraco
Latin America Sales and Support Manager
SAFEmine Technology

The Importance of Traffic Awareness Systems in Mining

Mon, 10/21/2013 - 10:25

Due to its hazardous nature, it is not common for safety products that have been developed for other industries to be adapted to mining operations. Vehicle collisions can cause serious injuries and even fatalities, as well as result in serious operational costs as a result of vehicle downtime. SAFEmine technology was originally developed for the small aircraft aviation market; however, in 2008 the mining company Anglo American was looking for a reliable collision avoidance system and asked SAFEmine if its system could be used in the mining industry. SAFEmine offered the company a trial period of its technology and, pleased with the results, Anglo American requested that SAFEmine develop a product specifically for its operations. Just five years later SAFEmine technology is now being used in over 40 mines worldwide, and has protected over 15,000 vehicles. 

The collision avoidance system allows management to track all light and heavy vehicles in the mine. According to Guillermo Surraco, Latin America Sales and Support Manager at SAFEmine Technology, its customers have found the solution particularly useful because it allows them to track excess speeding, idle times, and also to monitor mileage for maintenance. “The ability to track one’s fleet and assets improves productivity and reduces the risk of assets disappearing. Being able to report on speeding and dangerous driving can change behavior and allow fuel consumption to be reduced, meaning that time between failures on the vehicles is increased,” he adds 

It is difficult to measure the impact that SAFEmine technology has had on the mining industry, since companies are not very open with these statistics. Nevertheless, studies that the company has performed on mines in Canada, Australia, and the US show that speeding can be reduced by 90%. Data from those surveys also showed a 44% reduction of tailgating events and a 30% reduction in dangerous traffic situations. “Recently, we heard that one mine decreased metal to metal accidents by 53%. In another mining operation we were told that an operator had come on the radio and thanked the management for installing the collision avoidance system, because thanks to our technology he had just avoided running over a light vehicle he had not seen,” says Surraco.

The current downturn in the industry is a challenge, since companies are tempted to reduce their investments in safety to cut costs. However, market conditions are not the only hurdle SAFEmine has come across: “It is also more difficult to invest in technology when you feel that your safety rules and training are adequate,” Surraco highlights. “Unfortunately, it is commonly the case that management only starts paying attention to the issue when a serious accident occurs; that is when we get a call to come and talk to the operators about collision avoidance.” Surraco points out that there are also proactive customers that see collision avoidance as a form of insurance, and who believe that it is another useful tool for their operators. For mines that have a hard time assessing their collision avoidance requirements, Surraco believes that the mining operation has to analyze the ‘what ifs’, such as: “What if there is an accident and a haul truck runs over a light vehicle?”

One of the main design features that distinguish SAFEmine technology from other avoidance collision systems is that it was originally developed for small aircrafts, and was designed to keep the number of alarms the operators receive to a minimum. “The number of false alarms on other systems is a common complaint; the alarms confuse the operator, who stops paying attention to them, and in many cases the equipment ends up being damaged in order to silence the false alarms,” explains Surraco. “Our technology also offers the operator visual alarms. The display is very small and simple and it contains a series of LED lights that turn red or green, depending on the distance and location of surrounding vehicles. By looking at the display, the operator can quickly assess where other trucks are located and, by the color of the LED, determine how far away they are. Our system does not require any interaction with the operator, and this is one of the features that our users like the most.” This lack of interaction with the operator is possible thanks to an algorithm that calculates the trajectory of each vehicle. These trajectories are transmitted via radio frequency to the surrounding vehicles; each one receives the trajectory information, compares it to its own, and only if there is a possibility of collision the system sounds an audible alarm.

The company believes in providing technologies that its customers can add to their existing SAFEmine solutions, and seeks to offer technological compatibility and integration wherever possible. “We developed SafetyCentre together with one of our main customers in South Africa, in order to integrate some of the technology that the company already had for situational awareness,” explains Surraco. “Together with our customer we worked on integrating all of these technologies into one single platform. This integration translates to big savings for the mines. Instead of having three or four independent technologies we offer a single, integrated solution that declutters the cabin significantly.”

Headquartered in Switzerland, SAFEmine is currently looking into the Mexican mining market because of the great potential that it holds, and Surraco says that Mexico is where the company will be focusing its efforts in the near future