Tech to transform safety, efficiency

5th May 2023

The mining industry is becoming an increasingly hi-tech sector that employs sensors, data science and information technology to drive safety and efficiency. Helping to drive this new trend is the evolving field of telematics, says JSE-listed technology firm Altron subsidiary Netstar CTO Cliff de Wit.

Telematics uses satellite navigation, sensors, onboard diagnostics, telecommunications, and data analytics to track vehicles, gather data and enable insights to enhance safety, boost production and ensure legal compliance.

He says that globally, telematics and data technology are taking root in the mining sector.

For mining to be viable, teams must move earth as efficiently as possible, by constantly monitoring fleets, designing routes and usage rosters, conducting training and managing performance output to ensure the most effective deployment of staff and the mine fleet – all in real time.

However, mines are dangerous environments, and the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy (DMRE) requires that mining companies adhere to stringent health-and-safety regulations. The Mine Health and Safety Act requires that employees be protected against collisions with trackless mobile machines, which has made collision-avoidance systems mandatory for all mining vehicles.

For instance, Netstar’s telematics-equipped Collision Avoidance Proximity System (CAPS) uses sensors that can trigger automatic slowing down (level 8) and stopping or avoidance (level 9) procedures when pedestrians, vehicles and machinery enter a certain proximity. The system also collects real-time data, interprets it, then audibly and visually warns vehicle operators of a potential collision (level 7 intervention).

De Witt explains that by October 2022, only 38 South African mine fatalities had been recorded for the year, down from 74 mine fatalities the year before. Mine deaths have been dropping consistently over the past two decades, owing to ongoing safety interventions such as telematics technology.

Telematics can also prevent unauthorised use of equipment, and can function as an historic record of an incident. There is also an opportunity to further enhance mine security and help combat illegal mining through the tracking of miners and equipment in legitimate mines.

Inside regular mines, using access cards to clock in as regular mine employees. In future, telematics can be used to identify irregular movement, and ensure work teams remain stationed in allocated shafts.

De Wit highlights that human error accounts for 90% of driving accidents, often owing to fatigue. Wearable Internet of Things (IoT) technology, such as health monitor watches, and AI-based driver-fatigue monitoring systems, addresses this.

Telematics deployment is growing at a significant rate and mining operations across the world have seen the importance of extracting this data. It is not only about making mining safer, but about building a more efficient company, he concludes.