Increasingly larger heavy equipment has helped mines remain profitable as the cost per ton has dropped with the economies of scale. The problem, however is that with the increasing size of equipment comes an increasing risk of injury. Large equipment makes it harder for the operator to see other vehicles or equipment, which means a greater chance of an accident. No wonder one of the largest accident categories for a mine is associated with heavy equipment. The operator of a large haul truck could run over a pickup truck and not even know it.

This increased risk has led to the push for object detection by heavy equipment manufacturers. These systems range from cameras placed on equipment, to radar, to locator tags for mine employees. Together, they dramatically improve mine site safety.

Cat has been a leader in this technology, in part because of the remote control and autonomous systems developed for its MINEGEM system for semi-autonomous operation of load-haul-dump machines. The system enables the machine to autonomously steer during the hauling and return portions of the production cycle.

Cat also was actively involved in military programs to develop smart, autonomous vehicles that could maneuver safely around a course. This, in turn, gave them the technology and experience to bring to their heavy equipment design.

One area of concern has been object avoidance. Needless to say, it was critical to prevent remote controlled or autonomous equipment from running over people or other vehicles. At the same time, since this is one of the biggest safety risks for manned heavy equipment, developing a system would not only be a step forward to taking the operator out of some equipment, it would also help make manned equipment safer.

This led to Cat's Integrated Object Detection System, which aided the operator's awareness of his surroundings by providing information about objects around the truck. It combines cameras, radar, and alarms to warn the operator when an object is close to the machine, and not in the operator's field of vision. There is a display screen in the cab show the objects detected by radar, four cameras are always on to help the operator keep an eye on blind spots.

Radars detect objects during critical machine movements. It activates during an initial forward travel of 20 meters or a speed threshold set by the mining operation. It is always on during reverse travel. The system also reactivates when machine has come to a stop for the configured time period or the transmission is shifted to neutral.

The latest CAT object detection system is called DETECT. The idea behind Detect is simple: The more equipment operators know about the working environment around them, the more safely they will be able to operate their equipment. Detect helps keep operators informed about nearby people and objects and can also be configured to provide valuable information about site conditions and other equipment or assets working in the area. Touch screen displays on mobile equipment alert operators when on-board cameras or radars indicate that objects have entered critical areas near their machines. Detect is also able to alert operators to avoidance zones, known site hazards, and people or equipment equipped with locator tags.

Detect improves productivity in addition to safety. With better site awareness, operators can run their equipment with more confidence. Detect can boost haul truck cycle times by assuring operators that loading and dump areas are clear as they get ready to pull away - allowing them to work more smoothly and efficiently. In underground applications, Detect helps protect the people who work near heavy equipment.

In addition to radar and video cameras, Detect also offers locator tags that can be placed on miners, visitors, and even equipment. This allows the mine to be aware of potential situation before they become a problem, personal in unauthorized areas, and even unsafe behavior by workers. It can automatically halt operations when unauthorized people enter restricted areas, while allowing service and maintenance personnel to work as required around operating equipment. Unlike other monitors, these devices do not need recharging.

While larger and larger heavy equipment helps make mines more productive, this increased size and power creates additional safety issues. Object detection helps to alleviate these problems while giving operators the opportunity to make their equipment more productive.