A locally designed and manufactured safety system, adapted for open pit mining applications and which could save the mining industry tens of millions of rand, is about to be launched on the South African market.
Plans are already underway to introduce this system, known simply as intelligent safety system, or collision avoidance system, in other parts of sub- Saharan Africa and selected overseas markets as well.
It was designed and developed by specialist design engineers for Motion Performance Industries (MPI), a 12 year-old South African company with a product range of some 2,000 items and more than 500 outlets in Africa, Thailand Singapore, Indonesia, Iraq, Australia, Ireland, Portugal, Turkey and the United Kingdom.
“There are similar products available to the mining industry, but they are imported from countries like Australia, the United States and Switzerland, and are extremely expensive,” CEO Gavin Diehl says.
About 26% of all mining accidents are vehicle-related, according to MPI. This is particularly common in open cast mines, where massive dump trucks are used. “These vehicles are as big as a house, and the driver sits some 15 m in the sky and cannot see the small utility vehicle below him. So he drives over it, and the utility vehicle is mangled by the huge truck,” Diehl says.
“Various versions of imported collision avoidance systems are now being used in South Africa by some mining companies like BHP Billiton and Anglo Coal, but they cost anywhere between R28,000 and R48,000 per unit,” he points out.
This is where MPI comes in. “We are designing and producing a prototype of the intelligent safety system. We have been out to both Anglo Coal and BHP Billiton for testing. They have driven in the vehicle, and the prototype is working,” Diehl says.
“We continue to conduct a whole range of tests daily to keep improving the system. The actual launch in South African will happen at the end of July in the coal mining area of Witbank.
“We will also be showing the system at the Electra mining exhibition in Johannesburg in September, and there’s a mining exhibition in Shanghai in July. We are hoping to have prototypes ready for that show so that we can have an international launch there.
The intelligent safety system is an identification system in a vehicle covering a certain perimeter around it which is set by the installer, under the mine’s instruction. As the dump truck travels along the road, if a utility vehicle comes anywhere near it an alarm goes off, and on the LCD screen the driver can actually pinpoint where the two or more vehicles are.
The driver can see both the location of the vehicles and the exact distance between them. When the utility vehicle is spotted the unit will start beeping, and the closer it gets the louder the beeping becomes.
If you are a contractor, one of these units can cost R30,000 to install, and if you have 10 vehicles that means R300,000, which most contractors just cannot afford. “In line with this problem, we have designed the second system which is a mobile unit,” Diehl says.
“It means that the contractor does not have to install a unit in each vehicle. The mine purchases and keeps the mobile units, and when the contractor arrives at the gate, the gatehouse will programme a unit and hand it to him. The contractor will plug it into his vehicle and drive onto the mine. When he leaves, he hands it back and the gatehouse de-programmes and stores the unit.
“So the mine will have to purchase a number of these units for use by contractors coming to work on site, and it will also have to install units in each of its own vehicles, because they are all permanently on the mine,” Diehl adds.
“We are looking to introduce our system to the market for about R20,000 – that is 20 to 25% below the cost of the cheaper imported units. Cost savings are achieved in the software – the hardware is pretty well standard throughout the world.
“If you take a mine like one of BHP Billiton’s larger operations using about a thousand vehicles, they have installed the top of the range collision avoidance systems costing some R48,000 each,” says Diehl. “This means a total outlay of R48 million, which could have been cut to around R25 million if the new locally designed and manufactured units had been available at the time.
“Another advantage of the locally designed system is that if a big customer wants special adaptations introduced to the system, being local we can do so quickly and effectively with a minimum of fuss, bother and additional cost,” Diehl assures.
“A further benefit is that the unit is not hard-wired into the vehicle – it is plug-and-play. If it does go down it will take five minutes to replace – the down-time on the vehicle will be minimal.”
Capacity is not a problem for MPI’s new intelligent safety systems. “Our engineering design consultants will be manufacturing for us, and for them to produce a thousand units a month is no problem,” Diehl says.
“Everyone we have shown the product to is very interested and very keen on supporting a local company and product, and we have had no negative feedback at all. We normally do get a measure of negative response, but not in this case. I think that with the current widespread focus on cost saving in the mining industry, if a buyer can save R20 million or more on a single product, he will jump at the chance,” Diehl reasons.
“As far as quality is concerned, all our products, including the intelligent safety system, are tested and certified by the SABS. If they are going to another country, they are also tested and certified by that country’s standards or regulatory authority.”