A busy haul roads illustrates the growing need for proximity detection, collision awareness and avoidance systems in surface mining operations. (Photo: RCT Global)

Collision avoidance systems for mining fleets have come on leaps and bounds over the past five years. E&MJ looks at some of the latest developments.

By Carly Leonida, European Editor

Collision avoidance systems (CAS) and vehicle intervention systems (VIS) for mining applications have matured significantly over the past five to 10 years, most notably in the shift from collision awareness to collision avoidance capabilities. These technologies are a natural progression from proximity detection systems (PDS) and have evolved to meet the complex, real-time safety and production needs of hazardous heavy industrial applications, such as mining.

It’s worth noting that while CAS and PDS have similar functionalities and technologies, they complement each other in mining operations with the primary focus on detecting vehicles, equipment, or obstacles within the operational environment.

Anton Lourens, Chief Executive Officer of Booyco Electronics, explained: “These systems aim to prevent collisions between objects which could endanger personnel and/or cause damage to equipment. The primary challenge with PDS and collision awareness technologies is that they require operator awareness and responsiveness. If operators fail to react promptly to warnings or take appropriate actions, collision scenarios can still occur and therefore there’s a requirement for implementing engineering controls, such as CAS.”

CAS are deployed to automatically retard or stop vehicles in potentially unwanted event (PUE) scenarios. These systems provide real-time monitoring of the area surrounding vehicles, continuously assessing the proximity and movement of objects. They can track multiple objects simultaneously and provide up-to-date information on this to different operators.

“CAS initially generate warnings to equipment operators when potential collisions or hazardous situations are detected, before escalating to an advisory instruction to the operator, and then finally implementing an appropriate engineering control, such as retard or stop,” said Lourens. “These initial warnings and advisory instructions can be in the form of audible alarms and visual indicators, enabling operators to take prompt and appropriate action. In addition to warnings, CAS can assist equipment operators in avoiding collisions, as they may intervene by automatically retaining brakes to inhibit motion or applying brakes, reducing vehicle speed, or even bringing the vehicle to a halt.”

Capabilities and Limitations

Today, the majority of CAS use cameras and standard or moderate precision GNSS or GPS as well as multiple layers of sensors, like vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V), ultra-wideband or time-of-flight to detect and communicate the proximity of vehicles, equipment, and personnel in real time. Radar and LiDAR are also becoming more popular as these technologies become more economical off-the-shelf.

The capabilities and limitations of today’s CAS vary depending upon the specific manufacturer, the technologies used, and the implementation within each mining operation. However, Brendon Cullen, Head of Product Development at RCT, explained that, in addition to detecting the proximity of vehicles, equipment and personnel, most CAS offer the following benefits…

“CAS provide operators with a comprehensive view of their surroundings, even in challenging visibility conditions,” he told E&MJ. “Their geofencing capabilities mean that CAS can define virtual boundaries or exclusion zones within the mine site; if a vehicle or equipment enters or approaches these designated areas, the system will trigger warnings to prevent potential collisions or unauthorized access.”

He added that data logging and analysis capabilities are growing in importance as miners look to harness data to optimize their operations. “CAS can collect, and store rich data related to proximity events, operator responses and system performance,” said Cullen. “This can then be analyzed to identify patterns, improve safety protocols and provide training opportunities for operators.”

While the safety benefits of CAS arguably outweigh any downsides, there are, of course, limitations and integrating these systems with existing mining equipment or vehicles can be complex and costly, particularly for older equipment models.

Cullen explained: “CAS implementation may require retrofitting or integration with existing mining equipment. Some older machinery may not be compatible, requiring additional investments for system installation.”

CAS and their components also require regular maintenance and calibration to ensure proper functionality. Failure to maintain the system can compromise its reliability and effectiveness, and performance can be affected by poor visibility; conditions such as dust, fog, or heavy rain can limit the system’s ability to accurately detect objects or provide timely warnings.

The effectiveness of CAS also relies on the operator’s ability to interpret and respond to warnings appropriately. Training and awareness programs are necessary to ensure that operators understand the system’s capabilities and limitations, and what to do when alarms or advice are issued. Ultimately, CAS intervention capabilities should be treated as a last line of defense rather than a fall-back position when obstacles are detected.

The Booyco CPS solution providing a comprehensive solution meeting EMESRT level 7, 8 and 9 requirements. (Photo: Booyco Electronics)

The Issue With Alarms…

CAS interfaces have come a long way in recent years. Some are analogue, some are digital and, depending upon the system, warnings are usually displayed on in-cab monitors, via wearable devices, or integrated into mining equipment control systems.

While the multiple layers of sensors used by most systems mean that their accuracy is better than ever, all CAS will occasionally generate false alarms due to system limitations or external factors, such as terrain irregularities or reflective surfaces. These false alarms can lead to what’s known as ‘alert fatigue’ — essentially too many beeps or alarms — which can impact operator responsiveness.

“Alarm fatigue is a huge issue, because it creates additional layers of risk,” said Mitch Tanzer, Global Commercial Director at Wabtec Digital Mine. “The whole point of these systems is that they improve safety around mobile heavy equipment and V2V interactions, but if the alarms are too frequent or inaccurate then people switch off to them and that level of safety deteriorates.”

It’s important to have a system that supports operators in their decision-making and operating procedure compliance without disturbing them from their routine work, and CAS vendors are working hard to achieve this fine balance.

Christian Schorr, Senior Product Manager for Hexagon’s safety portfolio — HxGN MineProtect — explained: “Not every alert will fall outside of the situational awareness of the operator; they may already know that a vehicle or pedestrian is in their proximity but, in these situations, CAS alerts can offer additional information and awareness based on these interactions, and the system will ultimately intervene if the vehicle operates beyond the mine’s established safe operating procedures.” 

Regulation Fuels Uptake

Every person interviewed for this article noted that there has been a significant increase in both interest and uptake of CAS by mining companies in recent years. This is attributable to a combination of factors.

Josh Savit, Hexagon’s Global Manager for MineProtect, explained to E&MJ: “There’s a strong demand for CAS today, driven by a combination of forward-thinking from mining companies and the effectiveness of CAS.”

All mining operations must observe strict health and safety regulations to mitigate the risk of collisions between pedestrians and vehicles, and between vehicles. (Photo: Booyco Electronics)

Today, there is only one country, South Africa, with mandates in place for the use of CAS technologies. There, all trackless mobile machinery used at surface and underground operations must be fitted with level nine vehicle incident control technology during 2023.

In Brazil and Chile, as well as the Australian states of New South Wales and Queensland, regulators are strongly recommending CAS and have been actively working with mines to promote adoption of the technology. The US Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) is also considering a new safety program for surface mobile equipment which could encompass the use of CAS.

“In Australia, these efforts are more of a collaboration with the Earth Moving Equipment Safety Round Table (EMESRT) and the mines than governance,” said Savit. “These efforts are proactive in nature, encouraging the adoption of technology and driving the effective change management needed for CAS to be successful.”

Cullen agreed that the convergence of regulatory requirements, industry focus on safety, cost considerations, technological advancements, and stakeholder expectations are all drivers behind the development and uptake of CAS in mines globally.

“Mining regulatory bodies and government agencies worldwide are increasingly emphasizing the importance of safety in the mining industry,” he said. “They often require mining companies to implement measures to mitigate the risk of collisions and accidents, and this regulatory pressure encourages the development and adoption of CAS.

“The industry’s focus is also firmly on safety; mining companies understand that investing in CAS can help to reduce accidents, injuries, and fatalities.”

Safety, of course, has a knock-on effect on cost. Accidents can result in significant financial losses for mining companies due to equipment damage, production downtime, legal liabilities, and increased insurance premiums. By implementing CAS, companies can take a proactive approach to minimizing costs associated with accidents, thereby protecting their profitability.

On the flipside, CAS can enhance operational efficiency by minimizing downtime caused by accidents or near-miss incidents. When equipment operators are alerted to potential collisions, they can take proactive measures to avoid accidents, leading to uninterrupted operations and increased productivity.

Cullen added: “Recent technological advancements in sensor technologies, data processing capabilities, and communication systems have made CAS more effective and reliable. These advancements have increased the feasibility and practicality of implementing such systems in mining operations.”

Going Beyond Compliance

As awareness of collision risks grows, industry best practices and standards are emerging. Having realised that safety technology is, in this case, ahead of regulation, many mining companies are taking it upon themselves to proactively invest in these systems, rolling them out across their operations regardless of their geographical location.

Glencore Coal Australia is a good example; Wabtec Digital Mine is the company’s preferred CAS supplier and, having provided feedback for the development of Wabtec’s latest Generation 3 system (which meets EMESRT level nine requirements), Glencore is now rolling the system out proactively across its operations in eastern Australia.

The industry’s collective commitment to safety is evident in the high level of engagement and collaboration (particularly from tier one and two companies) around the topic of vehicle collision avoidance. EMESRT is just one member-based organization that’s working towards improving practices and standards in this area, and the organization’s efforts tie in with those of the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) and the GMG to name but a few.

Cullen added: “Customers, shareholders, and other stakeholders are increasingly demanding responsible and sustainable practices from mining companies. Implementing CAS demonstrates a commitment to worker safety, environmental protection, and social responsibility, thus enhancing a company’s reputation and stakeholder trust.”

Lourens agreed: “Mining companies are placing a greater emphasis on safety as a core value and strategic priority. They recognize that investing in CAS can significantly reduce the risk of accidents, injuries, and fatalities, and many companies, not just major miners, but junior miners and other operators, such as contractors, are striving to create a safer work environment for their employees, improve their safety records and enhance their reputation.”

Ensuring the safety and well-being of mining personnel is also essential for attracting and retaining skilled workers. CAS demonstrates a forward-thinking approach to worker safety which can lead to higher job satisfaction, reduced turnover rates and enhanced employee morale.

As noted earlier, technological advancements and the integration of machine learning and data processing capabilities have also made CAS more sophisticated, reliable and cost-effective. The availability of these advanced solutions has also served to accelerate their development and uptake.

“Collaboration among mining companies, equipment manufacturers, technology providers, and industry associations has contributed to the development and, in some instances, standardization of CAS,” added Lourens.

Tanzer summarized: “We’re seeing unprecedented demand for CAS,” he said. “The combination of environmental and macro-economic factors that we see today have created an opportunity for technology providers, like us, to help solve a really pervasive problem. We’re anticipating this spike in interest to continue for at least the next 2-5 years as companies look to meet regulation or get ahead with safety and compliance.”

With these factors in mind, let’s look at some of the latest CAS releases and features.

Wabtec launches Gen 3 CAS

Wabtec Digital Mine launched its Gen 3 CAS in June. This utilizes ultra-high precision GPS or GNSS to provide sub one-meter accuracy which, crucially, translates into fewer false alarms.

“Accuracy gives operators confidence,” Tanzer explained. “For us, Gen 3 represents a natural evolution of our CAS product. We’ve kept all the good parts from previous iterations. For example, our customers told us that the self-test feature, which allows them to monitor the health of our CAS in real time is important to them, so we brought that forward into Gen 3. It also offers a layer of redundancy, particularly on our V2V sensors, so mines can operate with confidence knowing that, even if there is a component failure, their machines are still visible to others.”

Wabtec has also refreshed its user interface. The company worked closely with Glencore Coal Australia for user input, and partnered with human factors experts at the University of Queensland to create and validate an interface that operators found to be easy to understand, effective and intuitive.

“We made the decision to almost completely abandon beeping and buzzing alarms,” said Tanzer. “The system now uses contextual, definitive speech. In providing these instructions, we allow operators to react faster.”

The hardware package has also been upgraded with dual antennae which allow the system to correlate the positioning of vehicles instantly and more accurately than with a single antenna. Many collisions occur in the seconds following vehicle startup, for instance, after a shift change while the CAS is still initializing, so this feature is really important.

“Dual GNSS gives us the ability to not only see where the asset and any assets surrounding it are immediately, but it gives operators the confidence that when they do take off, they’ve got instant recognition of the direction and speed at which they’re travelling; that’s a unique feature,” said Tanzer. “The dual antenna setup also gives our technology the ability to curve our beams around corners which is essential on haul roads.”

Wabtec has designed its software to be highly configurable. This means it can solve for discrete scenarios, for instance, those outlined by EMESRT in its Vehicle Interaction Discrete Scenario Storyboards; these detail the user interface requirements for PDS and CAS based on commonly occurring surface mining situations.

As mentioned earlier, Wabtec is currently fitting out vehicles at three of Glencore Coal Australia’s operations with its Gen 3 technology and, following this, Glencore has outlined plans to implement the system on more than 3,000 of its assets across its eastern Australian operations.

“Without Glencore’s support, we wouldn’t have been able to deliver the product that you see today,” said Tanzer. “They’ve been a terrific partner, and they’re leading by example when it comes to safety.”

In terms of future R&D, Wabtec is focusing its efforts under four themes…

“First, we will continue to improve our core CAS capabilities with better logic, better detection and performance,” said Tanzer. “Second, we’re looking at growth through adjacencies, including different capabilities when it comes to hazard detection. We’re also exploring opportunities around underground collision avoidance, for instance, in communications, environmental monitoring and intelligent sensing, which would be a logical fit with our CAS platform.

“Third, we’re investing in data management and analytics. The ultra-high precision GPS/GNSS provides a lot of touch points and has very high refresh rate. Our customers want to use that data for different purposes, so we’re working on a platform to accommodate that. And fourth is using that data platform as an enabler for productivity solutions. For instance, to determine the health of fixed or mobile assets, or in optimizing operations.”

CAS and PDS have similar functionalities and technologies, and complement each other in mining operations with the primary focus on detecting vehicles, equipment, or obstacles within the operational environment. (Photo: RCT Global)

Hexagon: More Data, More Insights

The HxGN MineProtect Collision Avoidance System (CAS) is part of Hexagon’s extensive portfolio of life-of-mine solutions.

Schorr told E&MJ: “We’ve spent years optimizing our CAS to alarm operators in critical situations, helping to avoid nuisance alarms and allowing ideal support for operators. The newest version of MineProtect CAS comes with a small in-cab display which can be placed in the operator’s view to provide total traffic awareness at a glance. The intuitive, icon-based user interface means that operators will not be distracted by the need to read text or push buttons.”

The latest field release for MineProtect CAS allows it to communicate with personal alert tags, providing vehicle-to-person safety on top of the standard V2V safety. The antenna is independent from the network connection, allowing constant communication between vehicles with integrated radio-frequency radio.

“For the benefit of fleet management, dispatch, and other operational tasks, our latest CAS has a variety of connectivity options, such as LTE and Wi-Fi that can be connected to a system of sensors and office software,” Schorr added. “This allows the operation to identify safety-critical features in the mine, which improves the daily work of operators based on the actionable information the CAS analytics software provides.”

CAS provide real-time monitoring of the area surrounding vehicles. They can track multiple objects simultaneously and provide up-to-date information on this to different operators. (Image: Wabtec Digital Mine)

Hexagon is collaborating with its mining clients to better understand the ways in which sites leverage CAS-generated data, both upstream and downstream. For instance, one site modified its traffic management plan based on information provided by the CAS.

Savit said: “We are using this feedback as we develop our CAS Analytics tool, and it’s also assisting in providing best practices and change management tools to the sites that are now implementing CAS.”

The MineProtect CAS connects to a web-based reporting and analytics platform which can also be integrated with the HxGN MineProtect Operator Awareness System (OAS). When used in tandem, these allow mines to monitor and control critical-risk events and trends. Live dashboards allow for visualizing all aspects of CAS from identifying collision and high-risk locations, analysing over-speeding trends, and delivering daily safety reports.

Michael Hatfield, Head of Product, MineProtect, Hexagon’s Mining division, spoke about future developments. “CAS use speed and distance as their primary inputs for collision algorithms,” he said. “We’re also incorporating additional layers of context such as location, work scenario, and operator alertness level to enhance collision alerts and advice. This leads to assisted decision-making through machine learning, providing higher quality, personalized mitigation advice to the operator.”

In the future, the integration of new 4D radars will provide even more features. Hatfield said this will enable an even higher level of data analytics.

“It will also provide more insightful information to the operators,” he added. “As EMESRT and others look for more assisted decision making to be provided by systems, we must provide the platform. Our continued efforts towards the Power of One, sensor fusion and analytics will enable growth in CAS, VIS and autonomy. We’re also looking at ways to further combine MineProtect CAS with our other safety systems, such as MineProtect OAS and Personal Alert.

Booyco: CAS for the Highest Standards

The Booyco Electronics Collision Protection System (CPS), which encompasses both a PDS and CAS, uses a specialized safety technology designed for the mining industry.

Lourens explained: “Our latest generation equipment has been designed with additional products, such as IoT-enabled sensors for real-time data analysis and a live messaging service. This facilitates the use of data in generating operational efficiencies, understanding people and machine behaviours, and creating traffic management and heat maps. It combines cutting-edge sensors, communication systems and intelligent algorithms to detect potential collisions and provide warnings to operators and workers on the ground.”

The system uses a combination of low-frequency, ultra-high frequency and RFID technologies to accurately detect and track the movement of vehicles, machinery and personnel within the mining environment.

“Our pedestrian sensors provide accurate, stable zones for detection in busy areas and situations where pedestrians aren’t always visible to vehicle operators,” said Lourens. “The Booyco CPS reporting suite — BEAMS — can also share data in real-time depending upon the mine’s infrastructure — for example, if Wi-Fi is installed — or it can be retrieved at convenient times and locations for use by various mine personnel.”

The Booyco CPS is specifically designed to meet the stringent regulatory requirements and safety standards set by South African authorities.

“We cater to a number of different mining environments and commodity types at both surface and underground mines,” said Lourens. “We have been told by customers that, if it weren’t for our equipment, there would’ve been cases of serious injury or worse on some sites. Our customers appreciate our aftermarket support and the fact that we support their operation with a support network throughout South Africa.

“As part of our rollout or deployment, we strongly advocate people engagement and training throughout the operation, and feedback from customers is that this has enhanced the deployment and adoption of the CAS technology.”

RCT Delivers on Interoperability

RCT specializes in the design and integration of interoperable machine control packages. Its Muirhead Machine Interface Control (MIC) system can seamlessly interface with any level nine CAS on the market and can be fitted to any make or model of mining vehicle. The technology interfaces directly with a truck’s systems, e.g., braking, hydraulics and electrics and, when directed, can affect control of certain areas of the machine, such as the engine throttle, transmission and hoist, if obstacles are detected in its path.

Cullen explained: “MIC includes a standardized user interface and provides proportional braking. It’s OEM agnostic, so there are no system constraints and it’s a nimble installation. We currently have deployments in Brazil, underground in Western Australia, and at mines in Chile, Peru and Zambia.”

RCT’s latest deployment in 2022, saw Muirhead technology enable level nine CAS installation at two separate open-cut operations in Queensland, Australia. The combined fleets include multiple models of Cat, Komatsu and Liebherr trucks. The mining company now has more than 140 machines running on the system. RCT said that this is the first deployment of a level nine CAS for a large-scale mining fleet in Australia, and that it will continue to add features to the MIC as customer demand drives features outside of the ISO 21815 standard, such as steering and implement lockouts.

“I see CAS being deployed at most mine sites in one form or another over the coming years,” said Cullen. “As the technology improves and regulators have further oversight, it will become a no-brainer for companies to install it.”

What’s Next?

How do you see CAS and their application evolving in surface mining over the next decade? E&MJ asked.

“The number one topic of discussion when it comes to operational technology is interoperability,” said Tanzer. “For CAS, the ability to interoperate with technologies like fleet management systems and autonomous haulage systems is an active discussion we’re having with customers and OEMs right now. We’ve got a very strong strategic relationship with an OEM that has a fleet management system as part of its overall technology stack. So, expect some exciting partnership announcements in the coming months.

“Ultimately, our end users want a future where they can run manned and unmanned operations side-by-side. The mining industry is asking its technology vendors to facilitate a future where interoperability is standard. It’s extremely complex, both from a technical and commercial perspective, but it’s exciting.

“I’m often asked whether autonomous haulage technology is a threat to collision avoidance technology. And my answer is always no, I think there’s a place for both systems. The more important question is: how can we bring people and technology together in a safe way? I think we’ll see a lot of movement on that over the next 10 years.”

Hexagon’s thinking is in a similar vein… “Our ultimate goal is, and will continue to be: no accidents, no losses,” said Savit. “By adding additional sensors on top of GNSS and advanced integrations, we’re striving to reach the highest possible level of autonomy in operation, which will allow operators to focus fully on the productive part of their work. However, that’s not possible with CAS alone. It’s only possible by bringing an ensemble of solutions together to cover the planning, analysis, and optimization of the operational function of a mine.”

Lourens concluded with some sage advice: “Technology is evolving at an ever-increasing rate,” he said. “It’s not easy to envision the exact CAS environment in another decade, but what’s crucial is that mining companies partner with credible CAS suppliers that are keeping up with, and driving, new technology all the time in a collaborative CPS journey. This will ensure they are well positioned to receive the latest and best solutions for their operations.”

EMESRT Levels 7,8 and 9 — What are These?

Despite the mining industry’s omnipresent focus on physical safety, the Earth Moving Equipment Safety Round Table (EMESRT), states that between 30%-40% of industry deaths each year are still attributable to failures of vehicle interaction controls. As part of its ongoing efforts to address this, EMESRT has developed a nine-layered control effectiveness model, the application of which is considered best practice today.

Levels 1-6 stipulate the use of administrative and engineering controls, including traffic management plans, fitness to operate measures etc. Level 7 (operator awareness) requires the use of sensor or camera-based technologies to provide situational awareness to the operator. PDS do this by detecting people/vehicles/objects within predefined radii and alerting operators via a visual and/or audible alarm when these thresholds are breached. The operator can then take appropriate action.

Collision awareness systems, which go one step further, meet the requirements of level 8 (advisory controls). These provide information to the operator on how to avoid the hazard, for example, by using visual or audible commands such as ‘stop’ or ‘slow down’. CAS or VIS add an extra layer of protection (level 9 — intervention controls) in that, if the operator fails to acknowledge the system or does not take action to avoid a collision, the system will intervene, for example, by applying the brakes or decelerating.