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New collision avoidance system makes open pit mining safer

Anglo Coal is in the final stages of rolling out a high-tech traffic awareness and vehicle collision warning system at its opencast mining operations in South Africa.

Known as SafeMine, the new technology comprises a compact traffic awareness and collision avoidance system which is suitable for all vehicles in open pit mines. Supplied by Trysome Auto Electrical Parts Distributors, it warns with audio and visual indications of possible collisions, and supports the driver by improving his traffic awareness, especially in blind spots around his vehicle.

Trysome’s Safemine GPS technology – which has been installed in 750 light and heavy pit vehicles – is designed to alert drivers to dangerous situations, and aims to eliminate the high number of transport-related incidents prevalent in opencast mining.


The SafeMine display unit

The technology is an adaptation of equipment successfully used in the aviation industry, and was extensively tested at Landau Colliery following research and development work undertaken by Anglo Coal’s Regional Engineering Services and Swiss service provider Safemine.

According to Anglo Coal control and instrumentation engineer Steve Niven, the technology has been modified to withstand arduous mining conditions, and is unique in that it assists operators to identify dangerous situations at both close proximity and long range.

“The GPS satellites orbiting the earth transmit signals to the equipment fitted with Safemine. This information is then processed by each unit, which calculates the position, speed and direction in which the vehicle is travelling. Every 250 milliseconds this data is transmitted to any vehicle within a radius of 500 meters,” he explains.

The system calculates vehicles’ relative position to each other and indicates to the operator how far a vehicle is away from him and its position. If one or both of the vehicles are in motion, Safemine determines if they are on a collision path. If so, it alerts the operators via a flashing light and an audible alarm which persists until one of the drivers has either stopped or taken evasive action to avoid an accident.

Niven points out that a number of incidents occur when haul trucks reverse or drive into vehicles situated in their blind spots. This is an issue that is addressed by Safemine, which alerts operators to any vehicles parked within 10m of them. The system also alerts the operator when safe following distances are not maintained.

Optionally, SafeMine may contain a database of known static obstacles. During operation, it continuously scans the predicted vehicle path for possible collisions with obstacles.

“Whenever the system determines the risk of dangerous proximity to one or more vehicles or obstacles, the unit warns the driver of the greatest danger for that given moment,” Niven explains. “The warning is issued by a buzzing sound and bright, flashing light emitting diodes indicating both the threat level and the bearing to the threat. This information supports the driver in visually assessing the situation quickly, identifying the threatening vehicle and deciding on and executing appropriate evasive action,” he adds.

In addition to these warnings, SafeMine increases overall situational awareness by continuously indicating the bearing to all nearby, yet not currently dangerous vehicles. For deep mine operation, various augmentation systems can be connected to improve position accuracy.

“The system complements the cameras and thermal imaging devices that were previously installed in all heavy mining equipment,” Niven states, “and these eliminate blind spots and improve visibility at night and in misty and dusty conditions.”

Operator training has commenced on this user-friendly traffic awareness and vehicle collision warning system, and preliminary feedback has been positive.

The system has been designed so that nuisance alarming is kept to a minimum, and another benefit is that the technology can be quickly and cost-effectively installed. Test stations are situated at brake test ramps so that operators can ensure that the equipment is working correctly before entering the pit, and this has become part of the standard pre-start checklist.

Niven and his team are already working on a number of new advances to the product, and he says the system will soon be rolled out to all permanent contractors.

The introduction of this technology takes Anglo Coal a step closer to compliance with Anglo American’s Fatal Risk Standards, which address high-level hazards and eliminate or minimise the risk of fatalities or injuries. The rollout follows proof of concept work carried out by Anglo American’s Collision Avoidance Working Group at Kumba’s Sishen Mine.