By Donna Schmidt, Field Editor

As the old adage goes, a rolling stone gathers no moss. That is especially true in the area of collision avoidance, where the everyday improvements in technology such as global positioning, radar, digital imagery, and even performance monitoring quickly make their way into the mining sector to enhance safety and accuracy, and even production uptime.

Much of the advancement the underground side of the industry has seen has correlated fairly directly to increasing regulation, but much of what is changing — rapidly — at the surface in terms of collision avoidance systems (CAS) design and what makes the best even better has arguably been spurred more organically and in a relatively more proactive manner in comparison.

The constant transformations, new research, partnerships and other pursuits going into collision avoidance is, quite exciting to watch evolve. Always aspiring to remain at the crest of innovation, some of coal’s main providers of the technology are eager to share where they are headed.

In the open-pit mining environment, according to SAFEmine, approximately 65% of truck haulage accidents are directly related to driver fatigue or exhaustion. In response to this alarming number,  the company last fall announced its FatigueMonitor, which integrates data from fatigue detection and collision avoidance units to minimize accidents involving mining vehicles.

FatigueMonitor Safemine
SAFEmine’s FatigueMonitor integrates data from fatigue detection and collision avoidance units to minimize accidents.

The operator-friendly FatigueMonitor helps operators maintain levels of attention that are required during mining operations, while providing the management with driver fatigue profiles and traffic-related data. Based on scientific research done by the Universities of Zurich and Hospital of Berne, the system uses intelligent fatigue assessment algorithms to estimate driver fatigue levels and also predict fatigue development. The black-box recording technology, which includes video, provides a reliable tool for analyzing incidents. The design also allows for the operator to be free of any additional equipment, such as caps or glasses.

“Traffic safety in the open pit can be significantly enhanced by closely monitoring vehicle movements, operator fatigue and operator distraction,” SAFEmine’s Todd Ruff said. “SAFEmine’s FatigueMonitor accomplishes this by integrating data from multiple inputs: attention-level detection (camera vision), body clock (circadian rhythms) and individual traffic behavior (from the collision avoidance system).”

On the back end of FatigueMonitor is a comprehensive live Web platform that provides dispatchers with real-time fatigue analysis associated with the entire fleet. In addition, reporting services provide supervisors with updates via email or text messages. When mine management is alerted that an operator is experiencing early stages of fatigue, they can dynamically manage and reassign operators to maximize levels of safety and efficiency.

SAFEmine officials said the Fatigue-Monitor technology is a simple upgrade to any existing SAFEmine CAS to integrate physiological and traffic data, both real-time and historical, to prevent vehicle collisions and improve mine efficiency. It currently is protecting more than 20,000 vehicles in more than 45 mines worldwide.

“SAFEmine offers an array of products and services that include CAS as well as real-time fleet tracking,” Ruff said.

The company first introduced and demonstrated the integration of FatigueMonitor and its collision avoidance solution last September and it will showcase the technology at Haulage & Loading 2015 during May in Phoenix (see p. 23).

Modular’s CAS focuses on vehicle-to-vehicle collision prevention
Modular’s CAS focuses on vehicle-to-vehicle collision prevention, and utilizes ranging sensors and GPS receivers to determine collision risk based on vehicle travel paths, speed, distance and other factors.

Modular, since its inception in 1979, has focused on its commitment to helping mines combat operator safety issues. That dedication, and the company’s developments in risk mitigation and safety, led to the release of Modular’s first-generation proximity detection system in 2006.

Responding to a changing industry, which in turn has been progressing parallel to regulatory changes and a growing culture calling for zero incidents, the company is currently on its fourth-generation CAS.

Modular’s CAS, which focuses on vehicle-to-vehicle collision prevention, utilizes ranging sensors and GPS receivers to determine collision risk based on vehicle travel paths, speed, distance and other factors.

“A radio connection provides direct communication among vehicles, removing the need for wireless network infrastructure,” Vice President of Product Innovation Michael Lewis said. “Unlike other systems that rely on shared bands to transmit risk messages, Modular’s CAS communicates on a dedicated safety band. This key element of the Modular system eliminates interference and ensures message receipt.”

The newest-generation CAS enhancements now address more than 60 of the most common vehicle collision scenarios, including forward path (front-to-rear, head-on), take-off, speed limit violations, overtaking and intersections. Modular’s multilayered approach to safety incorporates both radar and GPS in the CAS. As a result, Modular is able to design systems that are ready to leverage new constellations that have recently come online or are scheduled for commission in the next few years, including BeiDou and Galileo.

According to Lewis, each technology has benefits and limitations; however, the synergy results in a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. “By incorporating multiple, [complementary] technologies in our CAS, we are able to deliver an extremely consistent solution with high availability and reliability.”

Modular’s CAS is also designed to predict potentially hazardous situations and notify operators of impending vehicle-to-vehicle collisions via real-time audible and visual alarms.

“Unlike systems that focus solely on proximity, our CAS differentiates between actual and artificial safety threats, virtually eliminating nuisance false alarms,” he said. “This built-in intelligence helps avoid [alarm] desensitization, which can leave operators vulnerable in dangerous situations.”

As a fully functioning stand-alone application, the Modular CAS has no reliance or dependencies on external applications or central servers. Instead, a dedicated in-vehicle CPU stores sensor data, which can be downloaded for use in analysis, reporting and training. When integrated with Modular’s DISPATCH Fleet Management system (FMS), data is transmitted directly to the system’s central server for immediate and future use.

The DISPATCH system integration also gives mines access to additional safety-focused technologies, including the Fast Feedback module; the speed management module; Active Tire Management; and the Prestart module, which ensures operator accountability for systematically verifying all necessary safety and equipment maintenance items.

Imagine: a surface coal operation, operating 24/7, using a new shovel to load haul trucks from both sides. As one reversed into load position, the operator misjudged the clearance the shovel would need to swing to load the truck on the opposite side. When the shovel made its swing, the reversing haul truck made contact with the back end of the shovel, causing serious mechanical and electrical damage to the shovel.

The result was nine days of downtime for the shovel and support vehicles, including six haul trucks, a dozer and road grader. Luckily, nobody was injured, but the costs of downtime and revenue loss totaled nearly $500,000, almost half in equipment repair alone.

Unfortunately, the scenario was a real event. However, the mine found a partner to step in with a solution, and that partner was Preco Electronics and its PreView Radar blind spot safety system.

Preco’s PreView uses radar sensors to provide visual and audible warnings to the operator.

PreView, which uses radar sensors, has varying detection zones (from 10 ft to 32 ft) and proximity ranging through an in-cab audible and visual display. The proximity detection system uses patented pulsed radar, not just cameras, to detect items of all sizes surrounding a vehicle.

PreView Radar is made up of three main components: the pulsed radar sensors; an in-cab display; and robust cables to connect the two. Additionally, PreView utilizes standard protocols and can easily integrate it to trigger other safety systems, such as backup alarms, lights, cameras and monitors.

The sensors, typically Xtreme PreView or WorkSight Preview in surface mining, are mounted on the vehicle and angled to achieve the desired coverage. PreView is available at the OEM/initial build level or as an aftermarket addition to the machine. Moreover, the recommended system is based on the machine type and work site environment; in the case of the shovel above, Preco said, the system included three Xtreme PreView sensors set at 32 ft/10 m each to cover the dangerous blind areas.

To put it into perspective, the company’s solution “incorporates passive technologies with the active approach of PreView radar to create a complete safety solution,” said Preco Vice President of Sales and Marketing Peter Evans.

“When a stationary or moving object is detected by the PreView sensor(s) in the operator’s blind spot, he received an audible and visual warning through the in-cab display. An internal relay in the PreView system can trigger a backup alarm, safety light and/or cameras to activate.”

With many sites desensitized to standard backup alarms, this can help with awareness by all of a site’s crew since the lights and alarms activate only when someone enters the detection zone, as the backup alarm changes speed or volume when someone enters the detection zone.

Today at the mine where the above accident occurred, PreView Radar is installed and the shovel operator receives an audible and visual notice about the approximate range of an object in his swing radius. The result for the operation has been a zero-accident rating for the equipment that has PreView Radar installed.

Overall, Evans noted, those using the PreView system have reported more than a 75% reduction in blind spot accidents.

Preco and Georgia-based Strata Worldwide are working on the final details of a collaboration to make Strata an authorized dealer for PreView systems. Strata’s backing as a respected mining supplier is a benefit to Preco moving forward in the industry, Evans said.

“Strata’s strong reputation in the mining industry is the key in identifying them for future growth opportunities for Preco Electronics and the PreView Radar safety product family.”

The Cat Detect display inside a truck cab shows the operator his surroundings.
The Cat Detect display inside a truck cab shows the operator his surroundings.
Radars, part of Caterpillar’s Detect system, are mounted on equipment such as this Cat 993K.
Radars, part of Caterpillar’s Detect system, are mounted on equipment such as this Cat 993K.

Being a supplier of collision avoidance technology is one thing, but being an OEM — especially a substantial outfit like Caterpillar — that also maintains its own system technology brings with it a completely different perspective. For Cat, it is all about responding to its customers’ needs now and anticipating their requirements into the future.

“I think site managers and equipment owners are looking to do anything they can just to make the site safer and prevent vehicle accidents and worse, injuries,” Caterpillar Marketing Consultant Gary Cook said. “With the advances of the automotive industry and what it is doing now with safe following distance tracking, lane departure notifications, etc., we are getting a lot of interest over the last few years in having our machines be able to do that. That’s how customers are driving this technology.”

The Cat MineStar System includes the Detect capability set, which offers different levels of object detection and collision avoidance technology. As Cook explained, the solution can start with cameras, adding in radar and GPS capabilities for proximity awareness while keeping the technology scalable. “A scalable approach allows us to give a customer the level of collision avoidance detection they need. If they just want vision with cameras to display on an in-cab monitor, we can do that. Then we add radar to detect objects and provide the next level of avoidance with visual and audible warnings.”

Proximity Awareness, a GNSS-based product system that allows the machine to see the location of the other vehicles on the in-cab display, is also available. If a machine’s path of travel intersects with another machine’s path, the operator is notified with a quick audible alert and visual information.

It is particularly beneficial for large mining trucks with longer stopping distances, as it permits operators to get a solid look at their surroundings before moving in any direction. Speed zones and limits can be set for specific areas on the job site using the system, which works on a wireless network infrastructure.

Cat introduced object detection in 2010, and in the years since, it has evolved appreciably thanks to customer feedback.

“We’ve made some hardware improvements, such as reducing the number of radars while retaining the same amount of coverage, but mainly we’ve improved functionalities such as eliminating a physical acknowledgement of a detected object,” Cook said.

For example, he noted, the original system required the operator to interact with the screen by pressing to see what was detected. The feedback the company received on that feature was negative, so it was removed.

“Another feature change was to enlarge the camera view to occupy 90% of the screen. We’ve also added proximity bars to let the operator know the approximate distance of the detected object. The original detection product only indicated a general zone location — front, left or right, side or back,” he said.

More recently, Cat has added software upgrades to provide No Alarm Zones, which it said are designated areas on a map that will not alarm when an object is detected; for example, when a truck is backing into a covered hopper, radar is going to pick it up as an object and alarm, but with Caterpillar’s zoning capability, that can be avoided.

Safety is paramount when it comes to collision avoidance systems, but as Cook noted, there are additional benefits from these integrated monitoring systems.

“With the proximity awareness system, we have the ability to capture incidents,” he said. “Anytime body-to-body avoidance occurs, the incident is available for playback and reporting. Mine managers will be able to use that information to track performance improvements over time.”

Another OEM with its eye sternly focused on collision avoidance and worker safety is Komatsu. The equipment maker has been working as of late on a rollout of its KomVision technology, a fully integrated object detection system that combines both cameras and radar for a complete 360˚ view around haul trucks.

A total of six cameras and eight radars work in tandem to create the complete picture and uses image “stitching” technology, which can be displayed on  a monitor for an operator to provide a quite literal “bird’s eye view” of the truck and its surroundings.

Should an operator need to view something specific in its path, KomVision has the ability to override control logic to view specific cameras as desired or even view a split screen of more than one zone simultaneously.

“KomVision improves operator awareness,” Komatsu officials said of the system, which also includes an audible alarm. “Layers of awareness provide more comprehensive information than mirrors alone.”

The system logic also sets a priority hierarchy that specifies the most hazardous objects position depending on a truck’s operating mode.

The OEM currently has a fleet of 730E-8’s at a coal mining operation in Texas that are equipped with KomVision. At press time, details regarding the complete results of the project were not available.