Prospect Awards review: YUMARR Automation improves underground safety

YUMARR Automation director Nicky Guenther, Flexco managing director Mark Colbourn, and YUMARR project engineering manager Evan Cardinal

Bolstering the frontline of an underground mine is a critical part of every operation.

The risk of inadvertent contact with moving booms and entanglement in rotating drill steels continues to be an industry-wide problem for people working underground with drill rigs.

Safety procedures have been implemented to manage this hazard, but due to human factors, incidents still occur.

YUMARR Automation, a technology and innovation start-up focused on the development of safe automation systems, set out to improve these conditions by developing JumboGuard, which has won the company the Flexco Excellence in Mine Safety, OH&S Award for the company.

The underground safety solution, now installed at mines in the Northern Territory, New South Wales and South Australia, is a laser scanner-based assistance system that protects the operating crew of the mobile underground drill rigs known as Jumbos.

YUMARR, which was founded in 2016, designed the system to be retrofitted to all types of underground drilling equipment, such as rock and cable bolters, and face drill rigs.

JumboGuard integrates into existing drill infrastructure and hydraulic control as an additional layer of protection.

The system observes the machine surroundings and monitors the movement of workers. This ability helps with the installation of anchor bolts and steel mesh to support the tunnel walls, which requires personnel to enter a danger zone and work in direct proximity of moving parts.

JumboGuard detects the hazard if anyone enters the danger zone and automatically stops the boom’s hydraulics, blocking the rotation of drill and movement of the boom. It continues to prevent the reactivation of the machine if someone is in the danger zone.

This lifesaving feature of JumboGuard is possible due to an intelligent person-counting algorithm guarding the danger zone entry and exit.

YUMARR, which has more than 15 years’ experience in the application of laser scanners, radars and 3D cameras, had a vision to develop systems that significantly reduce the risks for people working underground.

With laser scanners forming the “eyes” of JumboGuard, the challenge was to develop the “brain” – a software that could perceive and interpret the complex interactions of humans, the machine and the environment.

“We decided to develop a turnkey system which increases the safety of miners and operates under the harshest conditions. Our challenge was to design a solution able to perceive and interpret the complex interactions of humans, the machine and the environment,” YUMARR’s Nicky Guenther told Australian Mining earlier this year.

“For the solution to be successful it had to work with consistent accuracy in all conditions, build trust with operating staff and blend in seamlessly with existing operations.”

The company considered the elements of the real operating environment during development, including the challenges that mud, dust, water spray, multiple operators, high temperatures and long working hours presented.

YUMARR focused on teaching the software to recognise and overcome these challenges.

It also put an early version of JumboGuard in real working conditions, which provided a short feedback loop for system performance and upgrades.

YUMARR regarded this insight from operators as essential for it to reach such a high level of situational awareness and to exceed the expectations of mining companies.

Impressed with the performance of JumboGuard, mining services company Downer decided to roll out the YUMARR system across its fleet of development drills following a trial.

JumboGuard has since been developed into an out-of-the-box product that can be installed to any kind of underground drill. This has been an important step enabling the mining industry to retrofit JumboGuard, making underground mines safer.

As part of a corporate safety initiative, mining services company Pybar were the first to install the off-the-shelf system on their drill rigs at OZ Minerals’ Carrapateena mine in SA and Auctus Minerals’ King Vol Mine in Queensland.

JumboGuard has been an exciting launching pad in mining for YUMARR, which is aiming to lead the way in sensor fusion, image processing, feature extraction and the reduction of large data sets down to relevant control signals

This article also appears in the November edition of Australian Mining.