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Australian Mining Contractor Prevents Vehicular Collisions

Byrnecut Mining developed a cost-effective RFID solution to improve safety during short-term mining projects.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Aug 03, 2009—Vehicular collisions are common occurrences in mines, because it's tricky to navigate underground in loud, dark, rugged environments. To improve safety, mining companies have been turning to radio frequency identification—a number of vendors sell comprehensive RFID systems in which active tags are used to track vehicles, as well as assets and personnel. While effective, these systems require a major investment—tens of thousands of dollars. In addition, production needs to be interrupted while sensors, lasers and a network of RFID interrogators are installed throughout the mine, and the vehicles are removed so they can be equipped with RFID tags. All told, these systems are best suited for major mining operations.

Byrnecut Mining, a contractor based in Western Australia, needed a way to prevent vehicular collisions in the Telfer gold mine in Telfer, Western Australia, where the scope of the project did not merit the time and resources required to install a comprehensive RFID system for tracking vehicles. The mining contractor works with nearly 15 mining companies in Australia and overseas, offering a wide range of services—from mine development and production to managing occupational health and safety, equipment management and maintenance, and purchasing and contract administration. In some cases, Byrnecut's involvement in a particular mining site lasts five or more years, while other projects have a shorter timeline.

Vehicular collisions are common occurrences in mines, because it's tricky to navigate underground in loud, dark, rugged environments.

When Byrnecut began providing excavation services within one of Telfer's mines in 2005, vehicular collusions were on the rise. "We had an increase in vehicles being damaged," says Adam Arnold, Byrnecut's electrical area manager. He attributes the number of incidents to an increase in production to keep up with the high demand for ore. As the mine got busier, it required additional underground personnel—and, thus, more moving vehicles. "Some of the protocols were falling by the wayside," he says. "Sometimes we had vehicles that were parked [in the mine], and haulers would run into them as they came around corners."

Though no serious injuries or fatalities resulted from these collisions, the trend was very troubling. In addition to the threat to human health, the financial implications of vehicle damage can be crushing. There are two main vehicle types in use at the Telfer mine: lightweight trucks (generally, Land Cruisers) and massive low-slung trucks known as haulers (or, in Australian parlance, boggers) used to pick up and remove ore once it's cut from the walls of the mine. Each lightweight truck, according to Arnold, is worth roughly US$55,000, and the haulers are much more valuable—more than US$800,000 apiece. While it's unlikely that these would be totaled in a collision, the costs of repairing a hauler can be significant.

A return on investment (ROI) for a comprehensive RFID vehicle-tracking system can be significant for very large mining projects with a timeline of many years, but Byrencut determined that it would not see an ROI for the Telfer project. In early 2008, looking for a solution that would keep costs low while reducing the number of collisions within the mine, Arnold turned to Pacific Automation, a developer of process-control and automation products for the mining industry, which Byrnecut had hired in the past for a number of electrical and safety systems for mining projects.
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