Hexagon recently introduced the HxGN MineProtect Operator Alertness System Light Vehicle (OAS-LV), a fatigue- and distraction-detection unit that continuously monitors operator alertness inside the cab of light vehicles. The solution was launched at HxGN LIVE 2019, the company's digital solutions conference that took place in Las Vegas, US, in the second week of June.
Rob Daw, CTO of Hexagon Mining, described it as an exciting launch for the company. "Not only does it continue to expand our offering, but we're looking at now expanding into other areas of mining operations," he told Mining Magazine. "Traditionally we've covered about 20% of vehicles and more importantly people in a mining operation, and now we can expand that out to get full coverage on the fatigue and distraction side of things.
"It's really an operator alert system covering both distractions and fatigue. It's nice to know that our technology is in there at mining operations and it's helping to protect and save lives."
While other manufacturers provide systems for operators of heavy trucks, this is the first mining solution specifically designed for drivers of light vehicles. "We have competitors that use wearables, and things like that, that come with their own inherent risks," Daw explained. "They always come with the risk that people have to be involved in the process, whereas when we take it out of the hands of people and create a solution like this, that's going to cover us a lot more."
Juergen Dold, president of Hexagon Geosystems, stated in his keynote presentation at HxGN LIVE 2019 that 65% of all open-pit mining incidents are related to fatigue. Daw explained that this figure covers all vehicles at open-pit mines, rather than just light vehicles, and that it covers both distraction and fatigue events.
Distraction events are activities that divert the driver's attention away from the road; for example, checking a mobile phone or even reading a book.
Daw noted: "Some operators might do that while driving a truck slowly up a ramp, but it is highly risky as it is a lot of weight and a lot of movement. The ability for us to be able to pick up distraction events and highlight [them] is important."
From a change management point of view, it is important for a mining company to show its operators or drivers that a fatigue- and distraction-monitoring solution such as this is as a positive thing rather than them being under surveillance.
Daw said: "It is about how we educate our workforces, not using it as a stick but more as a carrot, and how we can improve the outcome for operators as well."
He gave the example of Conuma Coal Resources, a Canadian metallurgical coal producer that has three surface mining operations and associated facilities in British Columbia. Earlier this year, Conuma invested in a multi-year contract with Hexagon Mining to protect employees and equipment at its mine.
The safety package integrates systems for collision avoidance, fatigue monitoring and tracking radar with a web-based reporting and analytics enterprise platform. Cody Bartkoski, continuous improvement and technologies manager at Conuma Coal, gave a presentation at HxGN LIVE 2019 explaining the benefits of going digital and why spending on loss prevention is earning the company long-term security.
"The way [Conuma Coal] went about it was really effective," commented Daw. "They did the events analysis, they understood what they'd done in the last 1-2 years and they had examples; then they launched this initiative at a Christmas party for the miners and their families.
"It's not about monitoring them; it's about protecting them. You've got to be really strong with that message to make sure that people are aware this is a protection solution, and that the main aim is trying to help get everyone home safely."
HxGN MineProtect OAS-LV is available globally, and Daw thinks that it offers mines the chance to be more efficient, more productive and safer. He added: "It really hits that piece of that puzzle."
HxGN MineOperate Reverse Assist is another Hexagon Mining technology solution that was launched in June, the week before HxGN LIVE 2019. It is a high-precision positioning application that can guide truck operators with the optimum reversing path.
"That technology is effectively enabling mines to reduce or shorten spot times, to improve those efficiencies, skill up their operators and give them technology that enables them to do their job better," said Daw. "It also does the analytics on how we can train our operators better to reverse under excavators much more effectively, and to operate longer and in harsher conditions as well.
"Whenever you have machine-to-machine interactions the risk scales up, looking at dust events and things like that, so we're minimising that risk. There is a big cost improvement too; traditionally, operators can reverse too far, they can back up to the face or shred their tyres. Those tyres can cost US$50k a pop, so the more of those we can save to get more tyre wear, then the better it is for the bottom line."
At the beginning of 2019, Hexagon Mining released HxGN MineOperate Asset Health, a platform of servers and data loggers designed to extend the life of mining equipment. Asset Health can help maintenance and operations staff to identify machine health trends in real time, empowering them to improve efficiencies and minimise equipment downtime.
"It plugs into the machine health system and logs all this information," said Daw. "We do analytics over the top of that to understand better how we can increase the life of our assets and improve maintenance."
Asset Health addresses concerns such as unplanned equipment failures, visibility of equipment health and provides analytics to make smart decisions in real time. By solving these issues and addressing potential failures before they happen, Asset Health can increase production via equipment uptime and lower maintenance costs.
"It can be used as a black box, depending on network communications," said Daw. "But effectively it's more around real-time logging to find where there is an issue as soon as we can. We're not in the predictive-maintenance space yet, but that is a direction we're heading in. For now, it's more about how we get that information and how we use it to do the analytics."
Daw noted that Hexagon Mining is expanding its capabilities all the time and these technologies are examples of that. "We'll continue on that roadmap to expand as well," he said. "Then the enterprise over the top of a lot of this is connecting all the data together now, so we get a lot of insights into whether a safety event was caused by a fatigue event, or was it because the brakes didn't work, or something else.
"We can start to look at all these different aspects, providing more situational awareness. We don't need to just make assumptions, because we've now got a lot more data under our belt to actually be able to make and justify conclusions."
Separating out the useful data for interpretation is also important, added Daw: "It's making sense of [the data] for our clients and providing them the right information, for turning data into information, and making sure that that information is sent to the right person at the right time."
Automation and autonomous solutions have been a huge area of interest in the mining industry over the last decade, and it is an area Hexagon Mining has been developing too. "If you join the predictive path planning then that takes us into our next step, the evolution of our autonomous programme," said Daw. "Autonomous [technology] in general is a big push, but what we're really pushing for is autonomously connected ecosystems. How do we leverage our safety systems in autonomy so that we can get smart? That's the exciting part for us.
"A lot of clients are really liking the mentality of the building block approach, so they can implement technology sustainably in their own business."
Reducing initial capital expenditure is not the only advantage of the building block approach. "That's a big one for a lot of operations," agreed Daw. "But it's also about the social responsibility we have within organisations as well. How do we take operators on the journey through the technology curve?
"Some people are really scared of autonomous [technology] and some different parts of the world embrace it in different ways. By doing this, people can see the benefit of protecting workers. We can reskill and redistribute people as we need to through that technology curve."
In other words, mining companies can scale up the technology depending on what their priorities are. He added: "It's how they see the technology evolving for them as operators as well."
Hexagon Mining is also continuing to develop its planning tools and suites, according to Daw. He explained: "We have a lot of clients that we're listening to out there in terms of what they're chasing. The HxGN MinePlan portfolio is obviously a very mature solution set across the board, but we're continuing to innovate there too, so it can be an exciting part of the roadmap of what we're delivering over the next 6-12 months as well."
With another MINExpo on the horizon, taking place in late September 2020, Daw confirmed that Hexagon Mining has a lot lined up to announce then too.
The fact that Hexagon serves so many areas of industry outside of mining is an advantage, said Daw, as the company can bring in ideas and information about what has worked in other industries. "We're already working with a machine control company on bringing some of their semi-autonomous excavator work into a mining environment, things like that," he stated. "We're really quite open and interoperable between all of our different divisions. We've got resources that can help us accelerate our development."
Daw noted that artificial intelligence (AI) is an area that a lot of Hexagon Mining's customers are talking about. "When I talk to them, I'm trying to understand what their use case is," he explained. "The understanding of AI varies … Some of them have got a really good grasp of it and what they're trying to achieve, but not others.
"It's a bit of a buzzword as well, so you've got to be cautious. I think there are huge benefits for AI, but there's got to be a plan. If you've got quality data, you're going to get quality results. If you've got poor data, you'll get poor results. So, it's understanding how to leverage that."