The Top 3 Challenges of Implementing Collision Avoidance Systems (CAS) in Underground mines

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Miner working in underground mine.

Implementing Collision Avoidance Systems (CAS) in underground mines is, to this day, still a complex feat.  

Why, you ask?  

Currently Proximity Detection and Collision Avoidance technologies are divided into three different levels, which were determined by the Earth Moving Equipment Safety Round Table (EMESRT), a global initiative involving major mining companies which was established in 2006. Since its formation, EMESRT has established nine levels of Incident Preventative Controls, but it is levels 7 (Operator Awareness), 8 (Advisory Controls) and 9 (Intervention Controls) that are the most relevant.  

Level 7 provides a form of situational awareness that helps machine operators see their entire surroundings while operating; Level 8 provides operators with audible and visual alarms to alert them to potential dangers; and Level 9 is a system that is able to detect potential hazards, provides warning, and as a last resort can take action to prevent a collision.  

There are several Level 7 systems on the market, fewer Level 8 and no true Level 9 systems currently available. 

There are a few reasons we could explore about why Level 9 hasn’t been successfully achieved yet, but the top three challenges can be summarized by: 

  • Change Management 
  • Location Awareness 
  • Communication 
Truck driving through an underground mine.

1. Change Management 

Change management is almost always the most challenging part or phase to any company-wide implementation, and when it comes to safety systems, even more. 

It takes a lot of concerted effort to bring about significant changes in culture and behavior in an organization. This is especially true in places where some of the workers have been working in a particular way for, in some cases, decades and must suddenly adopt new ways of doing things they had already built habits around. 

Yet it is crucial to be proactive is accompanying clients who are adopting CAS on this change management journey. The success of CAS depends on the mine site having a firm grasp on what’s happening down in their mine and understanding the importance of monitoring behavior to better understand how to adapt it to this new reality. 

2. Location awareness 

Implementing an underground mining CAS solution requires thorough understanding and usage of cutting-edge technologies. 

Since GNSS technologies do not work underground, different kinds of sensors should be considered and tried in order to qualify and determine the object location properly. Location awareness and the usage of RTLS techniques are therefore required. 

Also, underground mines are considered more dangerous than their open-pit counterparts for the simple reason that visibility is decreased, and space if confined. As some might wrongly suggest, implementing CAS in underground mines is not as easy as adapting what is on done on surface and expecting it to work.

Miner installing a Solution in the underground mine.

3. Communication: Radio Frequency and Multiple irradiation patterns (multipath) decrease system accuracy 

Almost all physics and mathematical modeling available in scientific literature covers signal propagation and communication in open environments. 

There is little research being done in confined spaces, and with limited access these kinds of confined environments, the process of development systems designed for them become difficult because extensive testing is required to ensure success. 

The first thing to check off the list is choosing the frequency, antenna, and also RF irradiation strategies (sector, omni-directional). 

In order to choose the best antenna model, is it necessary to conduct a complex mathematical modeling and signal propagation simulation which requires expensive tools and specific RF knowledge. 

Another challenge is creating the installation standards that match all the irradiation requirements and to ensure that all the external devices (antennas and cables) are able to withstand impact from fallen rocks (robustness) and do not interfere with  the equipment operation and maintenance. 

Additionally, minimizing the nuisance alarms without decreasing the system accuracy is of utmost importance. The performance of the system needs to be consistently accurate, as false positives can lead to the operator ignoring the technology.  

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