February 2009

Hands off

A survey of new products that offer the automation advantage

By E. Moore

Boart Longyear’s 4200 surface diamond drill

Since human beings first used primitive tools in an attempt to extract the earth’s bounty, we have been on a mission to make the work easier, faster, safer and more lucrative.

Thanks to new developments in automation and wireless technology, we appear poised to usher in a new era in mining. And automation fever is likely to reach epidemic levels as increasing workforce shortages, more rigid safety standards and pressures to reduce costs drive industry’s efforts in this area.


Heavy lifting, irritating dust and very large, very powerful machinery on the move — an increasing number of products promise to sidestep these potential health and safety hazards through automation.

The design of Boart Longyear’s newest drill is squarely pitched at increasing the safety of drill helpers. This group suffers the largest percentage of injuries in the industry, according to Boart’s global product manager, capital equipment, Craig Mayman. The 4200 surface diamond drill rig features a hands-free rod handling system. With the aid of a wearable two-kilogram console, the operator can remotely pick the rods up, set them in place, break the joints and set the rods down after use, all from a safe distance away from the rig’s moving parts.

“Rod handling has been the most requested rig improvement from drilling contractors and mine operators,” said Mayman. “This technology alleviates the most difficult aspects of the helper’s job, presenting both a safety and productivity advantage. Whereas manual rod handling tends to slow down over the course of the day, this design allows for the continuous repetition of the same motion without operator fatigue.”

TR Minecom’s DACS600 collision avoidance system uses wireless technology to provide early proximity warnings to heavy vehicle drivers. Vehicles and personnel are assigned multipurpose ultra high frequency radio frequency identification (UHF RFID) tags. A dynamic anti-collision system (DACS) fitted to a heavy vehicle continuously searches for active tags in the area, which can be identified as long as the vehicle’s key is in the ignition. When tags come into range, the DACS sounds a pulsing alarm and flashes LED lights, alerting the operator. It also generates digital readouts indicating the number of objects in close proximity. Operating at 403 megahertz, the RFID tags emit signals strong enough to travel around corners. Operative distances of 50 to 100 metres are achieved with unobstructed lines of sight.

According to TR Minecom’s Mirza Kozarcanin, the system was developed to avert serious collisions between heavy and light vehicles, a particular problem in underground mines where vehicles have no manoeuvring room. He claimed that some mines in South Africa require the fitting of collision avoidance systems on all vehicles. The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration recently approved TR Minecom’s communication system as “intrinsically safe,” a designation that, according to Kozarcanin, is quite rare.

In 2009, Caterpillar will release an Integrated Remote Control System (ICRS) for its D10T, D11T and D11T CD track-type tractors. The system will allow operators to start the engine, steer, brake, control the blades, flash the lights and sound the horn, all from a safely remote console. The basic system includes a primary transceiver and antenna, a remote control electronic control module (ECM), a relay block for auxiliary function control, an in-cab emergency shutdown switch and remote control mode indicator, an on-cab beacon that indicates when the machine is under remote control, and a ground-level service centre.

For added safety, the system will immobilize a remotely controlled tractor when one of the emergency shutdown switches is activated, the off-board transceiver loses power, or other pre-defined disruptions occur. An optional avoidance system uses GPS to create electronic fences, identifying three-dimensional worksite boundaries that can be overridden for up to three minutes.

Caterpillar spokesperson Sharon Hollings explained why the IRCS is unlike aftermarket add-on systems. “Because it is fully integrated, it is designed to work with all the idiosyncrasies of a specific vendor’s control systems. It is installed, supported and warranted by Cat, so the local Cat dealer would actually maintain the equipment, if needed.”

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