Setting the standards for proximity detection systems

Avoiding collisions on a mine site remains an ongoing challenge for the mining industry. While there are numerous collision management systems available, there is limited ability to confidently prove the accuracy and reliability of these systems in production environments. With imminent legislation afoot that will enforce the installation of some form of proximity and/or collision detection system on above and below-ground moving equipment and vehicles, Mining3, in conjunction with Australian Coal Association Research Program (ACARP) and Earth Moving Equipment Safety Round Table (EMERST), is looking at developing an open, industry-accepted testing protocol that will assist mining companies in their decision making.

A proximity detection system (PDS) is a series of sensors that are placed within a vehicle to detect potential unwanted events (PUEs) such as collisions with objects or people, and is a vital component of an effective collision management strategy. A PDS cannot eliminate PUEs but they can reduce deaths and significant damage to assets, as well as loss of productivity due to downtime following an incident.

The problem is that there are many systems available to mining companies—all claiming assorted capabilities based on the varied sensors they contain. Suppliers’ methods of evaluating systems and determining performance accuracy, consistency, and reliability varies—leaving mining companies ill-equipped to decide which system type and functionality is best suited to their particular needs. Simply put, mining companies and suppliers do not have a consistent assessment protocol available to put the systems through their paces to determine how well a particular system might work for a given site.

PDSs use multiple and varied sensing technologies including radio frequency, infrared, radar, ultrasonic, light-based, magnetic, GPS, and combinations thereof. Within each sensing technology, there are varied levels of precision (some use higher precision sensors than others). With most PDS testing undertaken in predominantly static situations or small-scale, highly contained and controlled site conditions, there is little known about the actual strengths and weaknesses of the various sensing technologies in dynamic and complex environments of different mine sites.

The lack of technology competency, application understanding, and authentic test criteria (and validation) presents a risk of mining companies and suppliers making assumptions about system capability and functionality. Further, there is significant risk of operators becoming desensitised or dependent upon the PDS to ’protect them’ based on erroneous claims or marketing information stating that the PDS is reliable.

Further, neither mining companies nor suppliers really know how to scientifically test PDSs in a realistic, scalable, and achievable manner. An additional complexity is that PDSs use proprietary hardware and (often) a closed communications architecture. Also, proprietary to most systems are the logging and warning system and methodologies that may or may not easily integrate into site systems. Finally, reliability claims made by suppliers are largely un-validated and are not relative to any known framework or methodology (such as the EMESRT PR5A vehicle interaction (VI) scenarios) that stipulates what the PDSs should be able to detect.

The result may be a decision that costs more than dollars when trying to figure out which PDS provides reliable (repeatability, consistency, and precision) results and is best suited to site-specific needs and conditions. The Mining3 PDS project aims to build upon the EMESRT PR5A body of work to:

1.      Assess and clearly state the technical, functional, and capability aspects of proximity detection systems.

2.      Cut through the complexity of the various sensing technology categories available.

3.      Identify strengths and weaknesses of the various sensing technologies relative to environmental, situational, technical, and human factors.

4.      Develop and validate an open specification test regime targeting performance reliability and suitability.

The overall objective is to provide industry with a rigorous testing platform for current and future PDS systems to ensure they perform as required for the given scenario.

It will de-risk the purchase and implementation of a PDS by ensuring an expected level of system capability is clearly understood by all key decision-makers.

The project will also provide equipment manufacturers with a tool to ensure design decisions enhance system level performance in areas that directly improve risk reduction for the end users.

As the industry becomes increasingly reliant on technology to keep people safe, ensuring an effective method of testing PDSs is vital to certifying that their benefits to mining companies outweigh their costs.

For more information about this project, email