When analogue radio solutions weren’t cutting it anymore, SIMEC Mining turned to Sepura to optimise communication and safety at its South Australia iron ore operations.
SIMEC Mining owns and operates iron ore mines in South Australia, including the Iron Baron, Iron Knob and South Middleback Ranges sites.
These operations have a combined total output of more than 10 million tonnes of iron ore every year. The sites are mined for hematite, which is primarily exported by rail and sea, and magnetite, which is used locally within the Whyalla steelworks.
An iron ore mine is a dangerous working environment, with a multitude of environmental and logistical challenges to overcome on site.
Large machinery dominates the sites, vehicles with limited visibility are constantly on the move and the widespread nature of the operation means staff are often working in solitude.
The extreme heat and dust can also pose difficulties on mine sites, which can also affect machinery and technical equipment on site.
Critical communications requirement
Stopping production for a safety incident or other disruption has a significant impact on SIMEC’s productivity and profits.
An efficient critical communications solution is vital for worker safety and to ensure operations aren’t compromised.
SIMEC had previously used analogue radio solutions on its earlier sites, but with the re-opening of Iron Baron in 2011, the limitations of analogue were identified.
Analogue systems suffered from numerous coverage blackspots, meaning there were periods when either vehicles or individuals could not be contacted.
There were also issues with radio users talking over each other, blocked calls and no feedback as to whether a call had gone through, while the audio quality was poor.
Enhanced functionality to evolve the system was also not available.
Enter Sepura’s TETRA solution
Investigating the options to deploy a critical communication solution, SIMEC turned to TETRA, identifying functionality that could significantly improve safety and efficiency on site.
Achieving SIMEC’s requirement for total coverage across the site, TETRA provides superior coverage to previous analogue solutions.
It also offers the choice of mobile base stations and gateway functionality for temporary worksites or dig sites with limited potential.
The initial TETRA rollout was with Sepura’s STP and SRG terminals and the feedback has been instantly favourable, with praise for the radios’ loud audio, robust design and intuitive user interface.
Coverage is noticeably better, audio clearer and the innovation of GPS positioning meant team leaders can locate and manage their resources quickly and safely. The TETRA solution also includes emergency response capability.
Less critical conversations are not blocked as before, but queued, so information can still be relayed to critical users when possible.
The system is intended to be rolled out across entire sites. For example, the rail line and port facility could be key users on a TETRA system, giving team managers complete visibility across the site, on a unified system, where individuals or teams can always communicate with each other no matter where they’re located.
More recently, radio users from different SIMEC operations were given Sepura’s SC Series radios on a trial basis, with the goal being to further improve the operational environment through the greater functionality new terminals such as over-the-air programming (OTAP) provided.
SIMEC takes on Sepura’s SC20 and SCG22 radios
Following the trial, SIMEC invested in SC20 hand portable radios for operational teams and the SCG22 mobile radios for vehicles.
With an easy clean design, the SC20 can self-clear water and dust from speakers, ensuring reliable audio is maintained even in the site’s extreme dust environments, while the audio remains consistent in particularly noisy locations such as next to drilling equipment.
The radio’s Connector Protector capability has also been seen as a key benefit, protecting the battery connections from damage when the radio is put down in a wet or muddy location.
All radios in Sepura’s SC Series – including the SC20 and SCG22 – feature an identical user interface and functionality, meaning the risk of user error is low and training costs are minimised.
The final piece in the solution was deploying the OTAP function, enabling radios to be updated or re-programmed when in contact with the site’s approved, secure Wi-Fi network.
With OTAP, all radios can be updated as a fleet, without having to take radios or vehicles out of service. Previously, the site’s fleet of contractor vehicles had taken over two weeks to be programmed.
Updates can now be done instantly, at a set time, and then further amended as required.
Benefits for SIMEC
Sepura’s TETRA solution offers SIMEC a true mission-critical solution; field users are always in contact with the control room, their location can be monitored via GPS, and intelligent applications like ‘man down’ can be used to raise an alarm if a lone worker is in distress.
The radios are more robust, more reliable and more powerful than the previous analogue solution, with much improved audio.
They can also, via OTAP, be more flexibly deployed according to operator demand.
Critically, the emergency broadcast function means all users can be instantly reached in an emergency, enhancing the safety of all on site.
SIMEC is looking at creating a Wi-Fi mesh for the main areas of the site, which could connect the radios to additional data sources and allow mission-critical data to be shared across the TETRA network.
There are also options to place applications onto radios that support maintenance and operational tasks. This could include start up notifications, maintenance reminders and ensuring that safety checks have been made.
With at least another 20 years of production across SIMEC’s South Australia mines, there is significant scope to expand the solution further.
This article also appeared in the November issue of Safe to Work.