Olympic Dam was originally opened by WMC Resources in 1988 and was acquired by BHP Billiton in 2005. Located in South Australia, North West of Adelaide, Olympic Dam is the site of the fourth-largest copper deposit and the largest uranium deposit in the world. The current mine capacity is 235,000 TPA of refined copper and 4,500 TPA of high-grade uranium oxide. In the underground workings the copper uranium ore is extracted and then hauled by means of an automated train and trucking network that feeds the operation’s underground crushing, storage and ore hoisting facilities.
Heavy vehicle (HV) proximity incidents are a major risk in underground mining. Olympic Dam, with more than 300 people deployed underground in 500 km of mechanized workings was no exception. BHP Billiton turned to MinLog for a personnel and vehicle proximity awareness solution for their fleet of heavy vehicles that would enhance safety with the minimum amount of user interaction, at the same time providing for their future production management and management information systems requirements. Whilst investigating options with regard to shift execution, Olympic Dam management was made aware of MineSuite’s deployment of RFID and onboard computing technology that provided automated production tracking and enabled additional safety control in a similar underground mining environment. Given the intention to reduce the risk posed by heavy vehicles, BHP Billiton investigated the then current technologies, only to find that the detection ranges provided by traditional RFID tags were insufficient for Olympic Dam’s purposes. This resulted in MinLog, together with Olympic Dam, electing to combine the MineSuite offering with the latest Wi-Fi technology for tracking and tagging of cap lamps, Light Vehicles and Heavy Vehicles.
While vehicle proximity detection and collision awareness are reasonably well covered in surface operations where there is usually good visibility and access to the prevailing communication network, technical challenges in the underground environment mean that there are few proximity awareness offerings to choose from. HV-related incidents account for a large portion of safety events underground. From a HV safety perspective, awareness of personnel and vehicle location therefore remains a priority, with a secondary requirement for blasting and evacuation activities or zone management. In contrast to surface operations, underground proximity detection solutions are required to operate outside of communication network coverage and therefore require on-board detection and processing of all at-risk elements (light vehicles and on-foot personnel), broadcasting their presence. Other challenges associated with an UG environment are read-ranges, which are critical considering line of site constraints associated with UG workings, as well as the need to limit operators’ distractions by consolidating the on-board platform.
In order to meet BHP Billiton’s requirements an integrated Proximity Awareness solution was developed. Given the progressive nature of the system, a trial was conducted using eight trucks and loaders and approximately 20 light vehicles and cap lamps. The trial included zone detection, zone suppression and the use of additional “blind spot” video cameras on the heavy vehicles, tracking of tags past a few key points to determine the usefulness of the last-known-location capability and some basic reporting and analysis functionality.
As per the MineSuite Fleet and Production Management system the primary interface used by vehicle operators remains the on-board MineSuite FMS tablet computer mounted in the cabin. The Human-Machine Interface (HMI) was developed with knowledge of theoretical human factors, in combination with production experience at Australian mines, to provide a user friendly and effective experience for the operator. Operators are alerted to zones, vehicles and personnel around their operating area. Alerts are individually named, and are both audible and visible. The system includes simple tests and built-in consistency checks and will display errors if system failures are found.
In addition to vehicle operator functionality, the system provides, via its FMS utilities, a control room interface that can be used to view information and maps of the last known location of tagged personnel and equipment as well as for reporting via its MIS utilities. MinLog’s unique DSF communication system ensures that data changes are forwarded via vehicles passing data to other remote equipment and vehicles, so that even systems that are out of network range are regularly updated, captured and logged via the transiting vehicles.
The initial trial proved that the technology was able to provide useful additional controls in both proximity awareness and zone tracking. As an example, in one series of monitored ore dump trips the truck operator received approximately 30 alerts. Though the Operators were in most instances aware of the vehicles in proximity, making use of the system only to confirm its actual identity, there were some instances recorded where it was not the case, with the Operators alerted to the presence of equipment in proximity by the system. Another example was a bogger operator whom was made aware of the proximity of a shift trainer around a corner as he could see him on the proximity screen.
Following the successful trial, the system was rolled out, tagging more than 1500 cap lamps, 300 light and ancillary vehicles and 50 mining trucks and loaders. The on-board platform has been designed and implemented in a manner to allow the future introduction of production management information or shift management systems. This was possible since the MineSuite Production and Fleet Management System provides, in addition to the Proximity awareness module, various other modules that comprise a seamlessly, integrated multidisciplinary solution.
The successful deployment of the MineSuite Proximity Awareness System was not without the usual change management challenges, but was successfully implemented due to the strong conviction and leadership of production, the facilitation of the engineering, the support from maintenance and a good communication program leading up to the installation, all contributing to ensuring user acceptance.