Safe area monitoring in harsh environments

As mining companies shift further towards autonomous technology, safety provider Pilz is keeping up with the pace.

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 while working in proximity to hazardous zones within sites.

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

Its purpose, according to national sales and marketing manager Rob Stevenson, is “to protect people or plant when working and operating in proximity to dangerous areas and/or machines.”

While previously, many companies have used safety scanners that incorporated infrared technology, in applications that require area monitoring, it was found that these devices can be to susceptible to environmental factors, such as dust, moisture and sun light, often rendering them ineffective on mine sites.

The LBK Safe Radar system on the otherhand utilises radar technology which 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’s also capable of achieving up to safety category two (three for outputs) and safety integrity level two.

For 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, while the detection area can 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 cases where the equipment could be stationary, it can also be used to regulate the encroachment of people. In the event a person comes into an unsafe area, it sets off an alarm and can also shut down the equipment within the monitored area.”

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 also prepare the machinery for shutdown, followed by the hazard zone which places the machinery into a safe condition when someone enters the dangerous area. The restart function can also inhibit the restart of the machinery if there are operators still within the dangerous area.

The creation of a protection zone also allows for “the safe monitoring of areas where physical guarding such as a fence may not be possible,” according to Stevenson.

The size of the protection zone can be configured to be wide or narrow, in both the verticle 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.

The 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.

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 to the magnitude of machinery on mine sites, their purpose remains imperative to the safe and efficient operation of mines around the world.

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