Smarter and Safer

Neil Ferreira, Modular Mining Systems Inc., US, explains how contemporary fleet management systems optimise both production and safety.

Mining companies have been using fleet management systems for more than 30 years. Today, the technology has become increasingly central to operations: for instance, few greenfield sites consider starting operations without first installing a fleet management system. Historically, the main attraction of these systems has been their ability to perform production-related tasks and general tracking of equipment and personnel. Proven productivity improvements following the implementation of a system range from 5 – 30%. Fleet management systems have also always been prolific data gatherers. Mining engineers have been able to use this data to further optimise other processes associated with keeping the fleet moving, such as minimising idle time during fleet change.

Today, however, fleet management systems can do a lot more for an operation than optimise haulage and provide reports. They can enhance mine safety by monitoring and correcting operator behaviour; improve operator situational awareness; help manage fatigue; and reduce equipment downtime by providing real-time equipment health feedback to maintenance engineers. This article explains how some major mining operations have been able to successfully use the DISPATCH® fleet management system to improve safety and reduce costs through positive feedback to equipment operators.

Preventing equipment abuse

Since their introduction, fleet management systems have been designed to keep equipment operators better informed. In recent years, it has become clear that a powerful mechanism for achieving operational improvements is feedback to operators on their personal performance. One important way that new technology improves safety and equipment health is by helping mines prevent equipment abuse. Alerting operators to undesired behaviour is a powerful tool for enforcing procedural compliance, as most operators will correct themselves when they realise their performance is being monitored. This is the logic behind the DISPATCH FastFeedback™ module and its use of ModularReady® OEM interfaces.

In one case study, a customer identified the problem of haul truck operators applying the service brake while driving at speed. Proper operating practices dictate the use of the dynamic retarder to regulate speed; use of the service brake to slow the truck down is reserved for emergency situations only. When best practices are not maintained, the results can be costly – avoidable service brake applications cause increased maintenance costs and downtime, and they also reduce the amount of braking capacity available during an emergency. Before the study, the site had a problematic identification process to find the operator responsible for a given service brake application event. Feedback and follow-up to correct behaviour were delivered days or even weeks after the event occurred.

To help the customer address this problem, the FastFeedback module was configured to capture the number of events when the service brake was applied at speeds in excess of 8 mph (about 13 kph). Field data was automatically sent to the DISPATCH fleet management system to provide real-time feedback whenever this event occurred. The aim was to reduce the number of service brake applications and the severity of these applications.

After measuring the baseline and completing training sessions with the workforce, operator feedback was enabled and an incident review was completed (Figure 1).

Figure 1. The FastFeedback results graph illustrates the reduction in service brake application with the use of the module.

Ready time between service brake abuse events increased by more than 100%. The implementation of operator feedback also increased tyre life, as well as the mean time between brake repairs. These improvements helped the mine become more efficient and thus more productive, realising a return on the FastFeedback module investment of less than one month.

Managing mobile equipment speed

Excessive mobile equipment speed is a major safety concern in mining. It increases not only the risk of an accident but also its severity. Again, real-time feedback to equipment operators can be used to reinforce desired behaviour. The DISPATCH SpeedAlert™ module continuously measures the GPS velocity of mobile equipment.


Figure 2. The SpeedAlert Module manages mobile equipment speed in real time using onboard GPS.

As a haul truck passes through points of interest (a virtual speed trap), the SpeedAlert module compares its instantaneous speed with pre-configured upper and lower speed limits for full and empty conditions. Operators exceeding the limit are alerted by a message and an audible warning on the mobile computer screen, and the dispatcher and foreman can also be notified. Furthermore, an objective log of over-speed events is automatically generated and centrally stored.

Proximity detection

Safe and efficient production is a common goal for all mining operations. Even with comprehensive regulations and site-specific policies and procedures, however, there are several fatalities each year as a result of mobile equipment-related collisions. The major contributing factor in these collisions is poor operator visibility. As mining equipment has increased in size, the ability to identify and react to potential hazards has been reduced because operators simply cannot see them.

Several commercial products using various sensing technologies have been designed to address the issue of visibility. However, most lack integration with onboard fleet management and equipment health systems, and are unable to provide enough information to enhance warnings. On their own, these basic sensing technologies can provide a reasonable level of proximity detection. Because of sensor-specific technological and operational limitations, proximity detection systems should employ two or more complementing technologies to be effective.

The IntelliMine® proximity detection module utilises existing onboard hardware and onsite wireless communications infrastructure, eliminating additional onboard systems mounted in the operator’s cabin.

Figure 3 MineCompass mobile screen showing proximity warnings.

Dual-purpose equipment reduces capital, maintenance and supply chain costs. The fully-integrated proximity detection module utilises existing equipment records, operator information, equipment operating state and road topology. This context-rich information improves the situational awareness of equipment operators.

Extensive data logging capabilities can be used to generate site-specific incident reports for safety or regulatory compliance reporting. By capturing and quantifying near-miss events, mine managers, supervisors, trainers and safety personnel can identify high-risk areas, undesirable work practices or unsafe operating conditions. The playback functionality gives users the means to perform a geospatial graphical analysis of events, providing a unique training support and analysis tool.

Fatigue risk management

Fatigue is the primary fitness-related concern in mining today. Long work shifts, coupled with schedule rotations, can make it difficult for operators to always be engaged and alert. In addition, fatigue is not an instantaneous concern; it is a slow degradation in performance that occurs long before one falls asleep at the wheel.

Modular has joined with renowned sleep experts at UK based Fatigue Management International (FMI) to incorporate the Advisory System for Tired Drivers (ASTiD) into the DISPATCH FatigueAlert™ module. ASTiD is the only system that actively evaluates fatigue risk, while remaining unobtrusive to the operator. It does not rely on camera-based analysis of facial features, nor does it involve sensors on the body – with all the accompanying barriers to operator acceptance. Instead, ASTiD measures the vehicle dynamics of the moving haul truck in real-time, combining historical data with electronic gyro sensor readings. The end result is a fatigue score that can be calculated for any operator at any time. Based on operator alertness levels, mine personnel can make decisions to prevent fatigue-related accidents.

Figure 4. FatigueAlert with ASTiD continuously measures the vehicle dynamics of the moving haul truck, combining historical and gyroscopic data to create a fatigue score for any operator at any time.

Real-time operator fatigue scores also enable fatigue risk optimisation, which can be integrated with haul truck assignment optimisation to deliver safe production. For example, operator breaks or fuel can be scheduled based on fatigue risk. The combination of Modular infrastructure and FMI technology can also deliver comprehensive fatigue risk management. This includes, for example, reliably maintaining individual operator fatigue scores even as operators switch between multiple equipment.

A key difference between the FatigueAlert module with ASTiD and other technologies that detect operator fatigue is that ASTiD is a continuously predictive approach for determining the risk of operator tiredness. Since the factors contributing to this risk are known, and can to some extent be measured and controlled, they can complement DISPATCH assignments and optimisation algorithms.

An integrated solution for fleet management

Among its many proven benefits, the DISPATCH fleet management system allows operations to adopt a holistic, multi-layered approach to mine safety. Modular technology continuously detects safety hazards and informs mine personnel to initiate immediate action. It provides mines with the reporting and analysis tools necessary to establish procedures that minimise risk. No safety system is failsafe; Modular therefore follows a multi-layered approach that relies on integrated solutions to empower mine personnel. When operators are alert and informed of how best to operate their equipment, they are better equipped to achieve safe operation and zero incidents.


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