Many people associate telematics with something plugged into a car or for applications in vehicle insurance, but the technology is rapidly becoming an essential element in commercial operations such as mining.
How is this groundbreaking technology helping the mining industry get the goods buried in the ground, increase safety, boost production, and stay on the right side of the law when it comes to inspections and legal claims?
“Production is one of your key elements in mining,” explains James Hulley, Business Development Manager at Netstar, a subsidiary of Altron.
You need to move earth and it needs to be moved as efficiently as possible to mine the precious materials underneath it. With telematics devices, you have the ability to monitor a fleet’s utilisation and the movement thereof.
“The core of it is being able to manage production in real time, from a vehicle and equipment point of view,” he says.
Hulley emphasises that with telematics, you’re not simply monitoring vehicles, although this service is essential for a hassle-free production line, but also also keeping an eye on staff.
Hulley points to the collision avoidance system as an example of streamlining actions in the name of security and swiftness. “The telematics system coupled with our collision avoidance system includes equipment but also staff and pedestrians on a mine,” he says.
With over half a million South Africans working on mines, managers need more than just their eyes to make sure personnel are safe.
“There are moveable people on the mine, so you have the ability to track people and equipment in conjunction with each other,” says Hulley.
“This ensures that there aren’t delays caused by accidents or follow-up investigations required after near-misses or close calls,” he adds. “That’s really where the personnel aspect comes in.”
On the right side of the Law
Having the wrong pair of hands behind the steering wheel is a common problem in the mining industry.
“Unauthorised use of equipment is a big issue. People who are not licensed or qualified to operate certain machines might drive it anyway,” says Hulley.
This is because drivers are paid on a certain payscale in the mining industry, he explains. “Different types of machines get different pay rates, which is why many operators aim to drive machines that pay the most – even if they aren’t licensed for that specific vehicle.”
Telematics monitoring can address this problem.
In the case of an accident, telematics provides proof of the incident and the cause of the incident. “If something does occur, telematics provides the information to go back and see whether everything that happened was within the confines of the law,” Hulley explains.
Having empirical evidence to back up incidents in a safety-conscious space is valuable, especially with regular unannounced safety audits.
“The Department of Mineral Resources have inspectors that call on various mines and sites and do random inspections of the equipment’s functionality and history to see if there is data in case of an incident,” he points out. But having irrefutable data will put a company on the right side of the stringent rules and regulations.
“The system gives you all of those benefits to prove you were a responsible employee or employer, and that you have taken measures to protect your people and your operation,” Hulley says.
Proactive risk mitigation
Delays lead to losses and a massive disruption to workflow. Hulley sees telematics as the solution in eliminating these proverbial roadblocks. “The benefit is in the saving of unnecessary downtime due to incidents or investigation of incidents or possible incidents,” he says.
This is thanks to the technology being able to alert users when machinery is not working as it should. “You can proactively determine whether the machine or a piece of equipment is faulty and not fit to be used in the operation,” Hulley says.
“You can be notified to replace that piece of equipment before you lose time and realise it’s not working.” The keyword here is proactively.
The demand of a mine’s production schedule requires that workers aren’t only reactive to problems but can eliminate them before they happen.
“That all comes around productivity and the safety of the employees,” he points out.
The mining industry is beginning to realise this too.
“Currently, our collision avoidance system is very popular,” Hulley says.
Within this holistic app-driven approach, there’s an AI function designed to get the best out of drivers who shuttle the earth’s desirables, machinery and labour back and forth across the mines of South Africa.
“We’ve got an AI artificial intelligence-based fatigue driver behaviour monitoring system,” he explains. “It’s a camera-based system that also assists with monitoring and proactively warning operators of driver behaviour, if people are fatigued or there are distractions.”
The two most popular Netstar products in the mining industry are the collision-avoidance system and AI-camera driver behaviour system.
With this particular AI tech setup, the operator of the vehicle has an in-cab display. “It displays any other vehicles, people or equipment in the driver’s proximity and warns them of possible collisions ,” Hulley explains.
Drivers have audible and visual warnings in their cab at all times.
It also allows the team to monitor the journey and ensure a safe passage of both staff and stock. “The back office can also view this data on a cloud-based software platform, which they can review to better plan routes, traffic and employee interactions with heavy equipment,” says Hulley.
Through a holistic approach to harnessing data, telematics can encourage a more responsive attitude to workflow on the mines.
“We offer full-bureau service that can analyse and review all this information in real-time for immediate action. The system really makes managers more proactive in ensuring the safety on a mine,” he says.
Telematics enables logistics teams to refine time spent on the road for their drivers. “You can now start reviewing interactions to see whether you should change the traffic plan on a mine or other parts of the operation.
Unexpected breaks in journeys and production add up. “When you add those challenges on a fleet of more than a hundred pieces of machinery then you lose a significant amount of production due to unnecessary delays,” says Hulley.
“The key areas where telematics can better the operations on a mine are in production and the wellbeing of your staff. It’s the main reason why telematics is increasingly being implemented on mining operations,” he says.
Through trustworthy analysis and management of data outcomes, you can have more of a managerial presence on a mine. “It gives managers more control,” he says.
Rolling out telematics
The mining industry is still opening up to telematics. Hulley explains several ways to approach structuring a telematics plan for potential clients.
Start by identifying the risk areas and high-risk areas, and start looking at ways to mitigate that risk. The details are in the data, and the best way to show this is to use the actual information on the mine.
“By installing telematics so that you have real data of the risks – not just the thumb-suck or a guess,” he advises.
“You can then take that real data and do a proper analysis to implement risk mitigation for various risks, including speeding, harsh cornering and travelling in areas where you’re not supposed to,” he says.
The next step
Globally, the reliance on data technology is taking root, Hulley says.
“In the mining industry, it is growing at a massive rate and all mining operations across the world have seen the need and the importance of having this data.”
He emphasises that the drawcard to information isn’t only about making it safer but also about building a more efficient company.
“It’s not just about the data for mitigating risk. There’s so much more you can do with that data, such as tallying to see production cycles and identify any bottlenecks in operations are,” he says.
A telematics-driven package for productivity is in the pipeline, he says. “It is the next step,” he says.
“There are already companies doing this, companies we’ve partnered with and are in talks with to see how we can offer a complete turn-key solution,” he says.
And this wouldn’t just be in the field of telematics. “A production software package would, for example, completely manage your production and the tonnes moved. It encompasses the whole mining operation for an employee from when they start their shift to when they finish,” he explains.
Safety regulations might even speed up the spread of data-driven tech, and while it’s not compulsory in South Africa, it’s heading in this direction in the future. Hulley explains that due to the two years of Covid-induced concessions, a lot of mines got exemption from the Department of Mineral Resources with regards to implementing the standards of regulations that telematics would enforce.
“They don’t have to comply yet, but these exemptions, the extension of compliance dates, are falling away, ” he mentions.
“In South Africa, if you fall under the mining health and safety act you have to legally comply by having some sort of telematics system in place. It’s a question of time until telematics applications on a mine will be full-scale in South Africa.” All the more reason to get up to date with data tech before that happens