The Prox Proximity Detection System, launched in August, is designed to alert workers when they get too close to a piece of heavy equipment while working underground.
“There have been incidents in the mining industry where these sorts of things happen because people become complacent with using a remote control,” said Max Gray, Hard-Line’s director of sales North America and global marketing. “They get too close to it, they make an error, and all of a sudden it’s too late for them to react. This system will warn them so they can react.”
Prox, which is integrated into Hard-Line’s Muckmaster Radio Remote Control System, detects when a remote operator enters a zone around the piece of machinery being operated. When a zone is breached, the system emits an audible and visual warning alert and can be programmed to slow or stop the machine automatically.
While other proximity detection systems are on the market, they run as separate wireless systems, Gray said. But because both run on radio signals, it creates the potential for the two systems to interfere with each other, and both could fail.
Because Prox is integrated into Hard-Line’s system, it eliminates the opportunity for interference and, by extension, failure.
Vice-president Ryan Siggelkow said the company has been researching the idea for about four years, but hadn’t been able to find a system that met the company’s standards.
“We’ve seen many systems where they’re just not predictable,” Siggelkow said. “It’ll stop within 30 feet one time and within 15 feet the next time, and that, to us, wasn’t good enough. So we finally found one that actually was very predictable and repeatable, and we finally found a product that we want to launch.”
The system Hard-Line eventually chose was originally developed by Hard-Line’s partner company (which Hard-Line prefers to keep under wraps at this time) to be used in coal mining, so it had to be adapted to hard-rock mining.
Because of the nature of the rock, radio signals react differently underground in a hard rock environment than they do surrounded by coal, a softer material.
When tested at the NORCAT test mine, “it performed perfectly,” Gray said. Gray said customers have been asking for this type of system for the last two years; already the company has verbal orders for 20 to 30 systems, and it’s in the process of notifying additional potential customers that the product is ready for purchase.
“We’ve projected that we can probably sell 50 to 100 systems in the first year of launching it and that’s probably a conservative estimate,” Gray said. “Right now, we’re going to be moving this in Ontario and Quebec, which is our heaviest business density that we do in mining in Canada. And we’re negotiating right now in the partnership for our South American offices (Chile, Peru) and also for the Australian market.”
Customer needs are also behind the development of a second safety system, also launched this fall. Developed at the request of Xstrata Nickel (now Glencore), the Entry Alert system is a warning system that notifies both remote operators and mine personnel when someone enters a stope.
A light beam spans the stope entrance, while a strobe light flashes to notify pedestrian and vehicle traffic that remote mucking is in progress. If the light beam is broken by entry into the area, the strobe at the operator station is immediately activated, notifying the operator of entry behind him.
It’s a simple solution, but one Gray said can make a significant impact on underground safety.
“One death is too many,” Gray said. “It’s dangerous down there, and so the more a company can do to protect their workers, and the more the employees can do to protect themselves, the better it is for everybody.”
After the system was installed at Nickel Rim Mine, Glencore was so satisfied with the result, it now plans to install it throughout the mine. Gray said other companies have expressed interest in it as well. Entry Alert will be available worldwide immediately, he said.
Gray said Hard-Line is always looking to partner with companies on future projects, and also in setting up mutual distribution agreements.