Owing to the dangers and issues posed by fires in the mining industry, it is imperative that fire-detection systems be implemented and properly maintained, and fire-detection and -suppression provider ASP Fire offers a customised optic fibre system that is ideal for detection, ASP Fire CEO Michael van Niekerk tells Mining Weekly.
This system, The Lios Technology DE.TECT system, is supplied by ASP Fire’s partner, Advanced Automated Systems (AAS). The product’s primary purpose, as an environmental protection system, is to provide environmental temperature monitoring for the areas or objects around which it is placed using optic fibre.
The system consists of a multichannel controller with fast response optic fibre cable that is used to sense real-time environment temperature based on preprogrammed alarm thresholds. The optic fibre can also be used to interface with traditional fire alarm components, such as an audio visual warning device or a manual alarm activation point, as well as send commands to ancillary equipment to shut down or start up components depending on the fire protection strategy and system design, explains Van Niekerk.
ASP Fire has configured the system for use as a fire-detection system that can be used at all mining sites. Van Niekerk indicates that the company has been offering this system since last year.
The optic fibre detects changes in temperature and, depending on the thresholds set by the mining operator, abnormal fluctuations in temperature are communicated to the main mining system through alarms. The alarms alert the relevant supervisor that a team needs to be sent to the problematic area to investigate, and any potential threats are sorted out before they can manifest as fires.
This solution is part of ASP Fire’s unique offering of configuring proven technology from trusted companies to specific requirements for mining clients: “We don’t like living on the bleeding edge of technology, we like living on the leading edge of technology,” says Van Niekerk.
The company has completed several demonstrations of this solution to prospective clients. Van Niekerk is optimistic that there will be “very positive uptake” for the system, particularly from mining houses that have the capital expenditure for development.
He explains that, while installation of this technology does present a high capital cost, the return on investment makes it worthwhile, as it actually reduces running costs because financial losses from fires are negated.
Moreover, he indicates that, from a rand-per-square-metre perspective, this is a cost- effective solution, because the optic fibre can be distributed across a large mining area and can also be used to monitor any stationary mining equipment, such as motors, fans and pumps. The technology is also robust, consequently resulting in less maintenance.
Van Niekerk emphasises that, for mining operators, prevention is always better than cure in terms of fires; it is, therefore, integral that companies have systems in place to detect fires.
Fire detection is important to prevent, firstly, physical harm or even loss of life caused by fires and, secondly, business losses because of lost production time and/or damaged or lost assets.
The risk of fires depends on the mining operation, for example, coal mines with high methane gas emissions are particularly susceptible to combustion.
ASP Fire provides a turnkey solution for mining houses, aiming to “stop fires before they start”. This entails conducting a risk assessment study, consulting with clients and recommending the most affordable, but effective, fire-detection system.
Should a fire still break out, the company also provides systems for putting it out. If the mine has the capacity, this would ideally be an automatic system, which ensures a fast response time, thereby reducing the amount of smoke that builds up in tunnels and shafts, as smoke inhalation is the main cause of casualties from fires in underground mining, says Van Niekerk.
ASP Fire can also provide inspections for fire-detection and -prevention systems, should mining houses wish to outsource this maintenance aspect. The company conducts this on a monthly basis, and the client is provided with a certificate stating that the system is functional.
Van Niekerk says local mining operators are under significant financial pressure, either because of increasing labour costs, a reduction in commodities prices or the strengthening of the rand against the dollar. This reduces revenue, which means that less funds are available for critical aspects, which, in turn, affects fire-detection and -prevention systems. While most major mining operators have installed such systems, they tend to be neglected, as these systems are not properly maintained, owing to insufficient resources.
There should be a cursory check on a weekly basis to verify that the system is operational; a more detailed check on monthly basis to ensure that all elements of the system are working; and a thorough check and, on a quarterly or yearly basis, to replace elements that are ageing, Van Niekerk emphasises.
This regular maintenance ensures that fire-detection or -suppression systems are 100% reliable, so that, if a fire should occur, they will work when needed, he concludes.