Anti-collision technology: Automated Safety

Smart Business

Anti-collision technology: Automated Safety

While improved safety is the main benefit of anti-collision systems in mining, construction, and ports, many operations also see productivity and efficiency gains as a result of the technology investments. At the same time, anti-collision technology can be a stepping stone to remote control and even full automation of machines, vehicles, and equipment.

by Stian Overdahl

Tower cranes play a crucial role on many construction sites, both for logistics and construction, and their productivity can make or break a project’s timeline. “Hook time” is highly sought after and allocated sparingly to a project’s many subcontractors. Cranes are also safety-critical: a tower crane’s height means any accident, especially collisions with other cranes or buildings, can result in serious injuries or death, whether for the crane operators, the workers below, or even members of the public. Beyond loss of lives and lost work time, tower crane accidents also bring negative publicity to a work site, affecting the reputation of the contractors and even their client, the developer.

Anti-collission Technology - Watch you Dust

Watch Our Dust: Compared with normal construction, mining equipment is usually bigger and working conditions more harsh.Dust, steam, or other obstructions pose additional problems.Increasingly, industrial radar systems are being used to ensure safety.

The emphasis on safety has led to anti-collision technology that are among the most advanced available and they are often essential elements in construction tenders. In some cases, this has been driven by regulation – in France, for example, mandatory regulation was introduced in 1987 and today it has led to its companies dominating the supplier space.

Now based in Dubai, SK Solutions started up in France and its Navigator software is distinguished by inclusion in the Key French Technology list. Though tower crane positioning was the initial focus, CEO Severin Kezeu now describes his invention as a universal anti-collision system to manage “everything that is moving.” Navigator now covers site equipment such as mobile cranes, placing booms for concrete, excavators, trucks – even people. Beyond construction sites, the solution is now used in mining, oil and gas, utilities, and ports.

For tower cranes, the anti-collision technology system relies on precise sensor data, including the placement of the crane jib, its height, and the load on, and position of, the lifting hook. Wind speed and direction must also be measured – if the wind is coming in at a right angle to the boom the crane will need to increase its braking distance. “The load is critical, and the moment of the load,” explains Kezeu. “If the load is close to the center of the crane, or at the end of the jib or boom, the impact is completely different.”

The cranes are connected in a mesh network, with the safety calculations taking place at the edge. The system has a safety integrity level (SIL) of 2, says Kezeu (where 4 would be the highest dependability factor), and a cloud-based enterprise version is also available to help optimize and prioritize operations.

Apart from increasing safety, there are also distinct operational advantages, says Kezeu. Tower cranes are normally positioned with overlapping work spaces and special care has to be taken in “no-go zones,” areas where potential collisions can occur. Normally, only a single crane can operate in this zone, coordinated by a “banksman” on the ground, but cranes can be operated more freely when an anti-collision technology system is in place, he explains. Kezeu estimates that inefciencies created by no-go zones can add as much as 10 percent to a tower building’s overall project cost, meaning that the anti-collision system will help pay for itself.

There are also indirect savings: crane operators feel more relaxed and experience less stress when working with the system, meaning they can work more efciently over a long shift. Kezeu compares it with an autopilot system on an airplane, which takes away the need for highly skilled pilots to concentrate continually throughout a flight. “Using autopilot reduces stress, so the pilot can focus on more strategic tasks. It’s the same with a crane operator: there’s less stress, so they can focus more on productivity,” he says.

Beyond Building

Pushes from regulations and worker unions in sectors such as ports, mining, and bulk material handling has led to anti-collision technology systems being used increasingly to reduce the dangers associated with the use of large and heavy equipment. From the contractor’s viewpoint, it satisfies their desire to improve productivity and to protect their reputations.

Christian Augustin is the cofounder of Indurad, a mining safety specialist, and the managing director of Yardeye, which offers anti-collision technology for container terminals. He explains that ports, bulk material handling, and mining are sectors where “machines are relatively expensive. Compared with smaller construction equipment, they are huge and they operate usually in harsh conditions.” Both companies ensure safety through the use of industrial radars because the harsh conditions of dust, fog, steam, or other obstructions preclude the use of lasers or cheaper radars.

Beyond improved safety, the high precision radar systems have also enabled the development of other productivity solutions, such as facilitating volumetric load measurements and carrying out 3D volumetric inventory controls, which all help to make work-site processes safer and more efcient by reducing the exposure of workers to hazardous conditions and decreasing energy consumption.

Anti-collission Technology - Looking at the Future

Looking at the Future: Port automation has been slow to take off because of cost and scale. A single gantry crane can require up to ten cameras. With as many as 30–40 cranes, networking capability is essential.

Collision avoidance and remote operation or automation often go together, given that an automatic solution normally requires collision avoidance. Augustin says, “Once you have collision avoidance, you’re already one step into automation because it helps to ‘see’ the environment.” He adds that he’s noted a clear trend, which is particularly strong in container shipping companies using large shiploaders, where customers start with a small collision-avoidance system and develop from there. “They then expand it to operator assistance on the machine, to remote operation, and then to full automation. This is a good approach as it reduces the project risk,” he explains. Remote operation is becoming increasingly popular. In some cases, there are simply benefits of having an operator work out of the control room rather than sitting on the equipment. For example, in port applications, it’s seldom that all rubber-tired gantry cranes will be used simultaneously. Rather than having a driver in each crane, where they may sit idle for part of the day, having the operation carried out remotely means fewer “drivers,” or controllers, are needed. It’s a similar story in mining, where full automation of equipment, especially dump trucks, means that a single controller can manage a large fleet of up to 30 vehicles.

Augustin sees this trend across both ports and mining operations. At a port in Vancouver, by removing the two-ton operator cabin from a shiploader and rebuilding its boom, the remotely run machine had greater throughput capacity. In Chile, a copper mine is currently equipping its stockpiling machines with Indurad technology because it wants to operate the entire stockpiling system from Santiago, roughly 1,500 km away. “We see a general trend to have people running equipment from far, far away – and the vision is zero-entry mines,” observes Augustin.

Towards Automation

Despite advances in automation technology, there tend to be pronounced differences between countries, influenced by factors such as the underlying cost base – including labor costs – as well as regulation.

In the ports sector, while the technology for automation is available, overall adoption has been slow, according to Jarno Kuipers, senior manager for terminal development at Kalmar: “There are huge variations between continents. For example in Australia, terminals are not able to stay competitive without automating their operations. On the other hand, in many other locations automation has not yet gained the critical mass that would force every single terminal to automate their operations to stay competitive.

“Typical factors that play a role in the adoption speed, outside the automation technology readiness, are investment horizons, labor relations, organizational focus on processes and overall organizational skills, and attitude toward modern technologies. The changes take time but, overall, the readiness to adopt automation technology is improving every year,” says Kuipers. Automating a work site can be a massive undertaking, depending on the existing infrastructure. In the case of a port, alignment can be needed across elements as disparate as the foundations, pavement, fencing, gates, electricity network, servers, and wireless and wired data communication network, says Kuipers.

Converging technology

Rajant is a kinetic mesh network manufacturer whose systems are widely used in mining, ports, and other industrial applications. They are also a major supplier to the US military, which uses its applications to link military convoy vehicles. Chris Mason, Rajant’s EMEA director of sales, describes the situation found in a typical automated port where a single gantry crane can have up to ten cameras transmitting back to the operations room. With as many as 30–40 gantry cranes, networking capability is essential. “Because you are controlling and directing industrial pieces of equipment, the combination of low latency and high bandwidth, and multi frequency resilience, is a massive consideration when you deploy those networks,” he says. The applications that can be run over a mesh network are extensive, such as Industrial IoT solutions monitoring aspects such as engine temperature, tire pressure, fuel levels, and driver alertness while providing highly accurate location information. Many of these third-party solutions are plug and play – for example, AeroScout from Extronics can run over a Rajant mesh network to provide a real-time location system (RTLS) to track workers and equipment.

Anti-collission Technology - Plug and Play

Plug and Play: Mash networks enable companies to gather real-time information and track both workers and equipment.

When it comes to anti-collision technology, a Rajant network can support latencies of around a millisecond per wireless network hop. Mason says, “The critical aspect of collision-avoidance systems is that they have to work extraordinarily rapidly, and they have to work in environments that are largely isolated from other production-type networks.”

Mason says that the emerging direction for safer anti-collision solutions is to have them hard-wired into the equipment. “Most collision-avoidance systems are based around processing being on the vehicle itself, rather than needing to go back to a central switch, which is a point of vulnerability,” he says.

Short memories

Despite the emphasis on safety in all modern industries, when a company is planning to invest in high-tech safety equipment, such as an anti-collision system, it’s still very much a business decision. “Normally people say that ‘safety has no price’ but they are always looking at the price tag on the system anyway,”” says Christian Augustin, co-founder of Indurad. Augustin agrees with Severin Kezeu, CEO of SK Solutions, that interest in a safety system often comes as a response to an incident. “Unfortunately, one of the main reasons they come is after an accident – when it’s too late – when they have already had fatalities and need to do a new risk assessment,”” says Kezeu.

Interest in safety often comes after an accident – but then it’s too late.

Severin Kezeu, CEO of SK Solutions

Severin Kezeu - CEO of SK Solutions

A company’s interest in a product can wane as the memory of an incident fades, suggests Augustin. In one case, an organization spilt 30 tonnes of hot liquid steel inside its plant due to a sensor failure. Managers began looking at safety solutions, and even tested a radar solution, but, ultimately, the company decided not to invest, believing that lightning couldn’t strike twice. Four years later, it happened again – and then they implemented a safety solution. “They just forgot about the risk,” Augustin says

Action Needed

A major and fundamental distinction in the world of anti-collision technology is between avoidance systems, which automatically prevent collisions, and alerts that use sensors that notify the driver when evasive action needs to be taken. Nanotron Technologies, a Berlin-based company owned by sensor manufacturer Sensera, produces a chirp spread spectrum (CSS) radio chip that can be used for anti-collision detection as well as tracking. The main applications are in the mining sector, says Thomas Förste of Nanotron, a systems integrator whose customers include Schauenburg Systems in South Africa, Becker Mining Systems in Germany, and Meglab in Canada.

Most applications just provide alerts instead of helping to avoid collisions in the first place.

Thomas Förste, vice president of marketing and products at Nanotron

Iot Made in China: Thomas Förste - vice president of marketing and products at Nanotron

Nanotron released its first CSS radio chip unit in 2008 and it now takes less than a millisecond to get a fix on a single location. To calculate the distance between two points only takes two milliseconds, claims Förste. Units can be installed on mobile mining equipment or stationary objects – it can even be worn by workers. In mining applications underground, the chip needs to work in the presence of dust and moisture, and has to resist other signals and high magnetic fields. “It’s a hostile environment and it needs to work under very severe conditions,” he says. Applications commonly provide alerts rather than avoiding collisions in the first place, says Förste. Nanotron’s system offers a number of advantages: it allows the drivers of the huge machines used in mining to have full control over their equipment and avoids the need for sharp braking, which can damage machines or injure their occupants. Förste adds that Nanotron’s offering can be used both for tracking and productivity solutions at a time when mining companies are typically seeking to reduce the number of technologies carried by their vehicles and people. “While the vehicles and the people are protected by collision avoidance, they are tracked at the same time,” he says.

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