Safe area monitoring for equipment

In an increasingly automated industry, Pilz Australia enhances the safety of mining equipment with its radar detection solution.

Mining companies are susceptible to a plethora of hazards that naturally arise from the harsh conditions they operate in.

Whether it be heavy and complex machinery or zones that are vulnerable to the unpredictability of nature, companies are increasingly looking for new ways to protect staff while maintaining productivity.

As the mining industry shifts towards autonomous machinery, German-based company Pilz is leading the way in providing safer monitoring systems to companies around the world.

A prevalent issue within mine safety has been companies’ limited ability to utilise technology capable of productive area monitoring that withstands the rigorous ‘rain, hail and shine’ nature of mining operations, while also effectively protecting staff working in proximity to hazardous zones within sites.

Pilz, however, has a solution for this through the use of the PSENradar, Safe Radar system, which in its own words “allows for safe area monitoring in harsh environments.”

Previously, many companies have used safety scanners that incorporated infrared technology in applications that require area monitoring.

In these instances it was found that the devices can be susceptible to environmental factors, such as dust, moisture and sunlight, often rendering them ineffective on mine sites.

The PSENradar, Safe Radar system, on the other hand, uses radar technology that is perfect for use in harsh environments.

The system consists of up to six sensors and a control unit that monitors areas of up to 15 metres wide and four metres deep. It is capable of achieving up to Safety Category 2 (3 for outputs), SIL 2 or PLd.

For Pilz national sales and marketing manager Rob Stevenson, the biggest advantage of the product, apart from its ability to be used in harsh environments, is its versatility, as the device can be mounted to mobile or fixed equipment. The detection area can also be easily configured to cater for the shape and size of the required area to be monitored.

“It can be mounted on a moving vehicle where in the mining industry you often want a safe perimeter,” he says.

“In the event a person comes into an unsafe area, it sets off an alarm and/or shuts down the equipment within the monitored area.”

Pilz is currently working closely with a major stacker/reclaimer OEM for an order of machines being delivered to one of Australia’s major mining companies. In this instance they were looking for a solution to replace the mechanical “cow catcher” they currently use.

The “cow catcher” relies on physical contact with an object or person to alert them of a safety issue. The Pilz radar system was the perfect solution for this application as it alerts of a safety issue without contact and brings the machine to rest prior to a collision occurring.

Given the prominence of advanced machinery and robotic systems, the radar system combines two safety functions to ensure both machinery and operators are protected.

The detection function consists of a pre-alarm zone, which is used to alert approaching objects and/or to prepare the machinery for shutdown.

This is followed by the hazard zone, which places the machinery into a safe condition when someone enters the dangerous area, while the restart function inhibits the restart of the machinery if there are operators still within the dangerous area.

The size of the protection zone can be configured to be wide or narrow, in both the vertical and horizontal plains depending on the area that is being monitored, and if required a muting function of the entire system or individual sensors is possible.

A smart sensor being used accurately detects and tracks motion through computing the distance of moving personnel in real-time when they may be approaching unsafe areas.

Most notably for mining companies, however, is the device’s ability to withstand the elements, including smoke, dust, shavings, machining waste and splashes.

The result is a dramatic reduction in false alarms at mine sites, which often lead to the freezing of production and prevention of plants operating at optimum efficiency.

Pilz plans to release additional models of the PSENradar, Safe Radar System later this year with enhanced network, IO and safety features.

For Pilz, the opportunity to safely protect mining companies’ personnel and machinery has always been a priority and the ability to do this in a way that withstands the rigours of mine sites has opened the door to greater opportunities.

“It’s about providing solutions. Where we couldn’t fully do this previously because of environmental factors, this device has given us the ability to offer a solution more suitable to the harshest of environments,” Stevenson says.

While the small radar heads may pale in size when compared with the magnitude of machinery on mine sites, their purpose remains imperative to the safe and efficient operation of mines around the world.

This article also appears in the April issue of Australian Mining.

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