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Collision avoidance system for Cortez vehicle fleet will enhance safety on site

Forty-one percent of vehicular incidents at Barrick, including collisions, are due to a driver’s lack of visibility. But what if there were a technology that could help drastically reduce the potential for these risks?

Cortez is trialing and fine-tuning the use of collision avoidance technology on its haul truck and light vehicle fleet to see if it can find a solution.

“By rolling out a large pilot project, we hope to reduce the risk of vehicle incidents and get that much better at ensuring that our people go home safe and healthy every day,” says Don Dwyer, Manager of the Cortez Open Pit.

The system, which has been installed on nearly 200 vehicles, uses a combination of Global Positioning System and radar technology to identify nearby mobile equipment and vehicle proximity. The system also tracks the size and speed of these objects.

Haul trucks are outfitted with both of these technologies and also use two forward-facing radar panels to detect smaller vehicles in front of them. Light vehicles are equipped only with GPS because it’s easier for their drivers to see what’s in front of them. The GPS identifies specific types of vehicles, such as light trucks or heavy vehicles such as bulldozers, shovels and haul trucks. These are displayed on a monitor in the cab of the vehicle.

Operators can detect everything in a 360 degree radius around their vehicles

Operators can detect everything in a 360 degree radius around their vehicles by using a dial of light-emitting diodes located in the cab of their vehicles. The dial is arranged in a clock-like fashion to indicate which direction mobile equipment is located in relation to them.

If a vehicle starts on a collision course, one of those red LEDs will begin to flash in the direction that the threat is coming from. If the operator does not veer from the collision course, the flashing speeds increase and eventually an audible alarm will be triggered. When there is no threat of a collision, the LEDs stay green.

“This is not a system that automatically stops your vehicle—it’s more of an advance warning system,” says Casey Erickson, a mining engineer at Cortez and one of the leads implementing this project.

False alarms

Earlier trials of similar technologies were eventually discontinued because they sounded too many false alarms.

“You want a system that’s going to provide accurate information with regard to collision avoidance, so you’re not giving the operator a sense that the system doesn’t work correctly, and a reason to ignore those alarms,” Dwyer says.

Ongoing testing for the current collision avoidance technology system has resulted in fewer false alarms. The data produced by this system is currently fed into SafeMine’s network, the supplier of this technology, and eventually sent back to project leads on site.

If the site decides to keep using this technology, the short-term goal would be to feed this data back through the mine’s dispatch system for analysis to identify high risk areas for collisions. Mine planners would be able to use this information to reassess the way the mine work areas are developed and redesign those higher risk areas.

“We’ll be able to generate a pretty detailed report on everything from costs to maintain this stuff to how it’s working,” Erickson says. “When all that is said and done, the company will make a decision whether to move forward on a global-scale rollout.”

Training and tune-ups

Leander Sloan, a haul truck operator at Cortez, has become a resident expert on the system, and has been assigned the task of training other operators to use it.

“First I teach them about the 360-degree detection, then I go over the user interface—what the lights mean—and the differences between the GPS and radar systems,” he says. “It took me about two weeks to get everybody trained.”

As part of the training, operators also have the opportunity to provide feedback anonymously to let project leads know what works and whether or not they like the system. This allows the project leads to make adjustments and correct issues. Sloan says he finds the system useful, particularly at night, and expects that the same will be true during winter when there is less visibility. Life without it can be jarring once you’ve gotten used to it, he says.

“There was this one time that I was driving this truck where the collision avoidance technology system was not activated, and I felt lost because these haul trucks have large blind spots,” Sloan says. “It’s like not having your cellphone on.”