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HxGN Mine VIS: Your First and Last Resort

Improving the Collision Avoidance System, VIS takes control of a vehicle when its operator cannot – preventing accidents, saving lives and reducing operating costs.

BK:  Welcome to HxGN Radio. My name is Brian, thanks for joining us today.

Successful mines are safe mines. Mines depend on proven safety technology to address blind spots, fatigue and other potential dangers. Hexagon Mining brings many years of development and the mining safety sector together to create [Hexagon’s] latest solution, HxGN Mine VIS.

Today I’m here with Fabien Kritter, product manager at Hexagon Mining, and in today’s episode, we will be talking about HxGN Mine VIS. Fabien, thanks for joining us.

FK:  Thank you for having me, Brian.

BK:  All right, so tell us a little bit about your role at Hexagon Mining.

FK:  So, as you said, I’m a product manager, based in Switzerland in our Safety Department, coordinating with clients and R&D, or PD, on the development of new products and where they should go. Mine VIS started as a journey, which started three years ago with a request from a customer. Now, after much investigation, development and collaboration with OEM—we’ll certainly talk a little bit more on what is Mine VIS—we have a fantastic product out on the market.

BK:  Love it, good to hear. So tell me a little bit about this project you’re working on.

FK:  So Mine VIS is actually putting another layer of safety on top of our collision avoidance system, where we provide the whole truck’s operators, and any vehicle in the mine, situation awareness and an alarm if there is a risk of collision between two vehicles. What you need to know is in mines, it’s a little bit complex, the traffic. You have terrible, poor visibility, long operation shift, and at any time, our minds need to be proactive or accidents happen.

What we came up with was a system, which was called CAS, in 2008. We were the first to implement that in the industry using GPS technology, and now we are the first to interact with the vehicle in case there’s actually any collision. The goal is a little bit like your car, to avoid a collision. Your car is, you have your automatic cruise control. If you put on your cruise control, it will safely adapt the speed to keep the distance from [the care in front of you]. And what we do is a little bit similar, depending on the scenario. We interact with the truck, where we can actually cut propulsion or activate the service brake in an unsafe situation if the operator doesn’t react properly to an alarm. So we still have an operator, which is in control of the machine, and we assist him and we provide another layer of safety to make his journey safe.

BK:  That’s a very, very important thing, so it’s great to hear that. Tell us about some of the safety regulations that are coming out, 2019 South Africa, for example.

FK:  Well, South Africa is interesting in terms of mining and regulation because you will expect that they’re probably behind all the developed countries, like Australia or the U.S. In fact, they are far [behind], they have had a lot of accidents; they need to regulate.  What will happen is, what is enforced now, is that any mines must have a collision avoidance system to assist the operator for those terrible blind spots. They want to enforce that mines have also vehicle intervention. So if the operator fails to react properly, the vehicle will actually take over and come to a safe stop. This will be, actually, enforced by June 2019, and all mining vehicles, based on the risk base, will have to be equipped with such systems. And all trucks.

BK:  That’s good.

FK:  Everything depends on risk, so you need the money to do your risk assessment and assess if you can meet the rates of risk using procedure or using technology.

BK:  So they’re regulating that in South Africa. Is that being regulated elsewhere?

FK:  I think a lot of countries are looking at what South Africa is doing. I have no doubt that it will be regulated in other countries like Australia, the U.S., or Chile, in a couple of years. I think, probably, the first one who will adapt that will be Australia and other countries will follow. It’s a little bit like the car industry, if probably the German ones were the first to implement airbags and now you cannot buy a car without any airbags.

BK:  So do you agree with the regulations, and you think they’re good for the mines to keep people safe?

FK:  You want technology to help operators to accomplish their tasks in difficult environments. So you need to understand that operators have long shift hours, like a 12-hour shift.

I mean, driving a whole truck at 20k an hour, doing 12 hours from A to B, and B to A, and A to B, it’s tiring and accidents happen. It’s not when you are driving or racing, you don’t get accidents at test drives, or not the same type of accidents.

BK:  Sure. That makes a lot of sense, and that’s great to have safety put into that. So describe the process of implementing VIS in a mine.

FK:  First of all, as we interact with the vehicle, we need to have an agreement. That’s actually a three-part journey. There’s many vehicle types and many OEMs. So the first thing is to have an agreement with the OEM when they can actually provide the interface where we can hook up. What we are good at, and what our business is, is to sense the environment, process the situation and actually provide an output, either to the operator or to the machine, to bring the machine to a safe state.

Each type of machine is a little bit different, so each model is a little bit different, having another braking system and so on that needs to be validated. So the process is first to engage with the OEMs to validate and test everything, and then to engage also with the mines. That’s actually a three-part journey. To implement that, we need to have OEMs and us, and then it’s really important to carry out change management correctly at the mine so the operator understands the technology and the benefit of the technology, because if you don’t do that correctly, then people have the tendency to reject new things, and then that’s a failed deployment. If you take some time to do your correct change management, then it’s easier.

So the mines need to be equipped with a collision avoidance system that’s basic on all vehicles. What we do on whole trucks is we interact, we have an interface depending on OEMs. So if the OEM doesn’t want to work with us, we may work with a third-party solution provider and interact with the machine; we validate that everything works perfectly, and the machine is put back into production.

BK:  Excellent, excellent. So what sort of feedback have you gotten so far from some of the operators?

FK:  Very good question because the operators are always in the centre.

BK:  Yes.

FK:  So last year, we did an extensive full trial with 10 machines in a productive environment because such systems need to react only when needed and not [produce]false stops or false alarms. Otherwise, it will impact production and annoy the operator. So what we did over two months was have 10 vehicles fitted in a productive environment and we conducted, we monitored everything, and we also conducted an operator survey. The result of that was extremely good. The operators liked the system, so probably 95% of them specified that if they had the choice, they will drive a truck fitted with such system, compared to a few of them who are always reluctant to new technologies, that’s fair enough. Some feedback read like, if such a system is implemented, we may not reach our top production target. Yes, because if you are over speeding, we actually prevent you from over speeding. Production is one thing, but safety is first.

And if you don’t apply the safety rules, which are enforced in the mine, then you break them, and you may impact production. If you have an accident, the mine is closed for investigation; there’s a huge impact on production. So I understand this concern from the operator. So what we can do as system providers, is make sure that we intervene only when it’s necessary. But the feedback was very positive, and when we removed the system at the end of the test phase, management said, “Could you keep it? We want to have it. We don’t want to have such trucks without the system.”

So that was extremely positive, because usually you have to fight to implement new technology in mines. Mines are very conservative about that.

BK:  Like you said, it takes a while to adopt new technology, so that’s great. It’s good when you start hearing those success stories.

FK:  Yes, definitely. The most important feedback is that the operator recognizes that the system was there to help them. If you discuss with the operator and you say, “Have you been in such situations before where a system could have helped you to prevent an accident?” It was astounding to say that, I think, 20% said that it would have helped them more than one time, and 40% say yes, it would have helped me at least one time, and the rest say no.

There are accidents out there, or sometime it’s very close.  I was discussing with one of the operators, and she told me she was queuing, waiting to be loaded on the shovels, and in fact, she was tired. She almost forgot to put on the service brakes, and the truck was on a slight incline and start to roll out, and she just woke up, like, a couple of seconds before hitting the truck which was in front of her. So such system would have prevented that, and, in fact, we had an accident on other vehicle not equipped with the system in a similar case. So that’s actually happening in mines, and when people recognize that such a system can prevent that, then they like it.

FK:  It’s like having … Would you buy a car without a safety belt and an airbag today?

BK:  Well I understand that. That’s definitely a huge thing to consider is that safety thing. So now, customers are going to be able to lower their operating cost by using this product as well. How’s that going to work?

FK:  When you have an accident, there is a cost-factor impact. First of all, depending on the severity of the accident, you have to stop the operation in the region of the mine or shut down the mine completely, which is tremendous. So the first aspect is preventing accidents from happening, and that by itself, pays for the system.

BK:  Absolutely.

FK:  The second thing is, well, mines have put some process or regulation in place to keep the system safe. Just one example, if you don’t want to speed, what do you do to prevent speeding? You put up a stop sign at intersection or in the middle of the ramp. We could remove that, and we can with the system, we can fluidify the traffic. So, for example, removing stop signs, you need to take a lot of time, so a couple of seconds to slow down the trucks and to stop and then to accelerate cost you on the braking, on tires and on fuel.

And then you have production because you can decrease your cycle time. So if you compare and have a global view, the system is providing, first of all, an additional layer of safety, but has a positive impact on production. What we tested, also during the field trial that we conducted last year, is if the system has a negative impact on production? And the answer was, no. The system didn’t impact anything on production. Now we can actually fluidify the traffic and implement that correctly, and then you will have a very positive impact on production, no doubt about that.

BK:  Excellent. That’s a very important thing that I think can get overlooked or not even thought about. Those are things that we can reduce, and this is fantastic and can help.

FK:  And usually, when discussing with customers, customers have better idea in understanding where they can use the technology.

BK:  Yeah, that’s fantastic. So what sets VIS apart from the other solutions that are out there?

FK:  We are the first to have implemented such a system on whole trucks, on five-ton, hundred-ton machines. Nobody has done that so far. I’m sure competition will come, but for the moment, we are the only ones which can provide a real solution on such machines.

BK:  Excellent, that’s great. All right, well, Fabien, thank you so much.

FK:  Thank you.

BK:  I really appreciate it. Thanks for being here and taking your time today. And of course, you can learn more about HxGN Mine VIS at hexagonmining.com and be sure to tune in to more episodes of HxGN Radio, hxgnradio.com, iTunes, SoundCloud, and Stitcher radio. Thanks so much for listening, thanks for being here. Have a great day.

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