Tag Archives: mine safety

SafeGauge to continue ELW journey with launch of MultiTool Pro at IMARC

SafeGauge, which has a goal to eliminate live work (ELW) in heavy industries, such as mining, defence, construction, agriculture and oil & gas through the use of wireless/Bluetooth testing solutions, is set to unveil a new product at next week’s IMARC event, in Sydney, Australia, that, it says, promises to elevate vehicle maintenance to unprecedented levels of efficiency and effectiveness.

The MultiTool Pro allows technicians to connect to 12 SafeTest gauges simultaneously, from up to 100 m away. SafeGauge has a range of SafeTest Pressure Transducers (PT Series), Dial Indicators (DI Series) and Tachometers (TM Series), which, it says, are the go-to solutions for heavy industry applications.

The intuitive ‘plug-and-play’ touchscreen on the MultiTool Pro interface comes packed with a host of new features, including data-logging and graphing, with the ability to generate comprehensive reports that can be exported and shared via in-built cloud connectivity, according to the company.

Fit for heavy-duty applications, it comes with a rugged IP68 designed casing, with attached stylus pen.

Luke Dawson, Managing Director at SafeGauge, said: “We are thrilled to be a part of IMARC 2023 and share our latest innovations with industry professionals. SafeGauge is dedicated to transforming the landscape of heavy vehicle maintenance, and our wireless testing solutions are a testament to our commitment to safety, efficiency and innovation.”

By eliminating the need for technicians to work in close proximity to operational heavy vehicles (inside the machine footprint) through the use of such tools, SafeGauge says it ensures both the safety of technicians and the efficiency of maintenance procedures.

Martin Engineering addresses conveyor safety misconceptions

Martin Engineering is disputing the idea that putting conveyor equipment out of reach or inconveniently placed away from workers – known as “guarding by location” – is a valid form of safety.

After decades of safe equipment design and comprehensive conveyor safety training in the bulk handling industry, Martin Engineering experts have witnessed where “guarding by location” has led to a lapse in workplace safety, resulting in injuries and – in some cases – fatalities, the company says.

Most people readily accept that conveyors and other machinery require safety guards when positioned near workers or walkways. Guarding by location is the assumption that when hazards, such as moving conveyor belts, are positioned beyond the normal reach of a worker they don’t require a guard. Yet they can still present a serious hazard.

Worker risks from guarding by location

Some regulations define a general safe height for components based on the average height of workers. This means taller employees (1.82 m in height or more) can easily suffer an injury reaching up into a moving component that is 2.13 m above the ground. Working above machinery that is considered guarded by location exposes workers to increased severity of injury if they slip or fall to a lower level.

Most regulations do not account for the potential buildup of spillage underneath the conveyor or in walkways, which can easily change the distance between the working surface and a hazard. It’s also fairly common practice to purposely collect a pile of material or fill a bin to gain access for service or inspection of an elevated component. Using tools and methods that extend a worker’s reach while the belt is running is a hazardous activity that can contribute to serious – and possibly fatal – accidents.

Height prevents a worker from reaching hazardous areas until the reality of bulk operations proves otherwise

Hazards from above

By not requiring a physical barrier, guarding by location creates what is considered by some to be an exception to the general requirements for the guarding of hazards in the workplace. Several hazardous locations are beyond the normal reach of staff when working or walking under or around elevated conveyors. These hazards are commonly found in or around nip points between the belt and return rollers or drive components such as pulley shafts, couplings, drive belts, gears and chains. Additional hazards from falling components may be inadvertently ignored if considered guarded by location.

Guarding best practices

The logical solution to guarding by location is to simply install guards and baskets to protect workers from lateral and overhead hazards, while still offering safe and easy access. For maximum risk reduction, all nip points, shear points and moving or rotating components should be guarded, regardless of location or access. However, there is also no global standard for guard mesh sizes and mounting distance from the hazard. Most standards use a gauge to measure the distance which varies by mesh size. When a bulk material handling guard is placed relatively close to a hazard it greatly reduces the ability to inspect components without removing the guard, thereby encouraging guard removal for routine inspections.

It would be far better (and safer) to standardise on a few mesh sizes and mounting distances allowing maintenance workers to build guards to a short list of materials, using standard mounting distances and eliminating the use of the gauges. Below is the recommendation included in Martin Engineering’s book ‘FOUNDATIONS for Conveyor Safety’.

Put an end to the myth

Despite its nearly global acceptance as a concept in industrial safety, the practice of guarding by location remains a particular problem for overhead conveyor applications. It’s time to accept that as far as conveyors are concerned, ‘guarding by location’ is a myth. As such, it’s a concept that should be abandoned in order to make conveyors – and those who work on and around the equipment – safer.

Elphinstone set to put newly-acquired Beltor ‘Puller’ safety & productivity device into action

Elphinstone recently acquired the proven Beltor ‘Puller’ – an underground mine extraction device designed to safely recover buried equipment – as part of its ongoing commitment to safety and mine productivity.

Operator safety and mine productivity have always been a priority at Elphinstone, which has a long and successful history designing and manufacturing underground hard rock mining equipment from its headquarters in Burnie, Tasmania.

This was demonstrated in March of this year when it announced the acquisition of MED Pty Ltd, the owner of the IP for the underground Mine Extraction Device (MED) also known as the “Beltor Puller”, developed by the founder of Beltor Engineering, Aldo Beletich, back in the 1980s.

The MED was invented in response to a need by underground miners to extract buried or bogged equipment in a safe and efficient means without damaging the mine or negatively impacting production.

When Beletich invented the first Beltor Mine Extraction Device back in the 1980s, mining equipment was much lighter than it is today.

The first MED, with a pulling capacity of 90 t, was introduced to the market in 1988 to meet the needs of the underground thermal coal miners in and around Newcastle. With the increase in the size and weight of underground mining equipment, there was a need for larger extraction devices to recover buried or bogged equipment.

As a result, higher capacity MEDs were introduced to ensure that underground mining operations could return to full production with minimum delay. Subsequently, the 150-t (MED150) and 210-t (MED210) versions of the device were introduced in line with the industry’s growth.

In addition to the retrieval of buried equipment, the higher capacity models are also capable of extracting drill rods embedded in the rock face.

The expansion did not stop there. In 2020, the largest version of the extraction device was launched, the MED360, with a pulling capacity of 360 t for much larger underground coal and hard-rock machinery.

The MED range has revolutionised the way buried underground equipment is extracted and made this process safer, according to Elphinstone.

“What makes the (Elphinstone) MED unique is that it eliminates the need, damage and disruption of using other production equipment to remove the buried machine and operates in a more controlled and safe way,” Tim Mitchell, Elphinstone’s Global Sales and Marketing Manager, says.

“When the MED is towed into position in the mine, the boom is raised against the roof and the wheels are lowered on the floor, effectively wedging the machine into position. A bridle assembly is interlocked into the teeth of the MED racks which are then pulled via hydraulic cylinders.

“The process is conducted in relative silence allowing the operators to hear and see exactly what is happening during the extraction, a stark contrast to the traditional method with wheeled or tracked tow vehicles that produce noise and dust.”

The MED will be sold and serviced by Elphinstone direct to end users from the company’s manufacturing facility in Burnie.

Murray & Roberts Cementation highlights training evolution in mining sector

Training within the mining sector is a fast-changing field, driven by technological advancements, evolving safety standards and the need for a more skilled workforce.

Keeping up with these demands has been the focus of the Murray & Roberts Cementation Training Academy near Carletonville, South Africa, combined with ongoing attention on raising safety levels in pursuit of Zero Harm.

According to Tony Pretorius, Education, Training and Development (ETD) Executive at Murray & Roberts Cementation, this has meant constantly pioneering effective strategies that build excellence and discipline in the workplace.

“An important foundation for us has been the integration of technology in our training programs, incorporating tools such as virtual and augmented reality, e-learning, and online resources,” Pretorius says. “These technologies enhance the learning experience, improve knowledge retention, and facilitate the development of digital skills essential for working with advanced mining equipment and systems.”

At the same time, he highlights the promotion of a safety culture in mining. To achieve this, the academy places a strong emphasis on cultivating a safety-first mindset among trainees. By prioritising safety in all aspects of training, the academy helps instil a culture of vigilance, risk assessment and continuous learning – aligning with best practices for workplace safety in the mining industry.

“We also ensure that our training programs align with relevant mining regulations,” Pretorius says. “This equips workers with the knowledge and skills to adhere to the latest safety guidelines while keeping their workplace compliant with regulatory requirements.”

As an example of how digital technology has been leveraged in the learning space, he points to the academy’s use of virtual and augmented reality in the training process. These immersive technologies allow trainees to experience realistic, risk-free simulations of mining environments and scenarios.

“This approach not only improves knowledge retention but also enables the identification and correction of potential mistakes before they occur in real-world situations,” he explains.

Another important aspect of the modern training approach has been towards competency-based training. Here, the focus has shifted away from the mere completion of training programs, to the more detailed assessment of competence of workers in their specific roles. The focus, therefore, is on the development of practical skills, knowledge and attitudes that lead to improved job performance and overall safety. Pretorius also points to the vital role of what were previously referred to as ‘soft skills’ – competencies which are today proving to be as important as technical skills.

“In addition to technical skills, the mining industry recognises the importance of developing skills such as communication, leadership, teamwork and problem solving,” he says. “These skills are vital for maintaining a safe working environment, especially in high risk situations where effective collaboration and decision-making can prevent accidents and save lives.”

Beyond the daily work tasks, workers are also having to become more aware of sustainability and environmental issues. This is inevitable, as the mining industry faces increased scrutiny regarding its environmental impact.

“Training programs now include modules on sustainable mining practices, resource conservation and waste management,” he says. “This helps ensure that workers are aware of their responsibilities and the role they play in minimising the industry’s environmental footprint.”

Wabtec’s latest generation collision avoidance solution gains traction with new orders

Wabtec’s Digital Mine division says it has received a series of orders for 3,500 of its new Generation 3 Collision Avoidance System (Gen 3 CAS) from three major global mining companies.

The capabilities of the new system will drive performance and safety improvements at the customers’ mining operations, the company says.

When Wabtec launched this system in June, it said its innovation focus was on shifting from traditional proximity detection to true collision avoidance.

Nalin Jain, President, Digital Intelligence for Wabtec, explained: “These orders demonstrate the Gen 3 CAS’s value and rapid market adoption since we launched the system in June. The Gen 3 CAS is the only solution aligned with the industry’s best practices that also meet the functionality requirements of our customers.”

Installing Gen 3 CAS across a customer’s mining operations will improve safety, bolstering their zero-harm objectives, according to the company. By minimising the risk of vehicle interactions, the Gen 3 CAS will contribute to reduced downtime, increased productivity and optimised resource utilisation.

Wabtec says its customers can confidently rely on this innovative solution to drive performance and achieve their operational objectives.

Wabtec Digital Mine’s Gen 3 CAS offers a range of class-leading advanced capabilities not seen on any other solution, according to the company. These include predictive beam curving, context-based definitive voice-based alerts, real-time self-test, superior accuracy via Ultra High Precision Global Navigation Satellite Systems and the most advanced rules and intelligence engine in the industry. The system’s brand-new user interface, validated by Professor Robin Burgess-Limerick, a human factors expert, has been designed so that vehicle operators receive appropriate feedback from the Gen 3 CAS, Wabtec says. It replaces “beeps-and-buzzer” technology with sophisticated, discreet, directional and audible warnings, enabling operators to work without distraction and respond instantaneously to audible alerts.

Jain added: “We are improving safety and operational efficiency, so we have entered into agreements with several global mining companies who recognise the potential of Wabtec Digital Mine’s Gen 3 CAS to transform their mining operations. These customers are installing the Gen 3 CAS to enhance their mining fleet’s safety standards and performance.”

Henro van Wyk, Vice President and General Manager of Wabtec Digital Mine, said: “We are thrilled that multiple global mining companies have selected Gen 3 CAS for their operations. These deals represent a significant achievement for Wabtec’s Digital Mine team positioning the business as the global leader in mining technology by redefining the meaning of true collision avoidance. Mining operations using the Gen 3 CAS will achieve new levels of safety, efficiency and productivity across their mining operations.”

ICMM report highlights fall in mining fatalities in 2022

ICMM has, today, released a report that benchmarks the 2022 safety performance of its members, highlighting that 33 people from ICMM company members lost their lives at work in 2022.

This number compares to 45 in 2021 (after an additional two were retrospectively added to the count) and 44 in 2020.

ICMM says its members are unwavering in their commitment to operate responsibly, as they work to eliminate fatalities towards a goal of zero harm.

To support this commitment, ICMM compiles, analyses and publishes the safety data provided annually by company members, which collectively represent a third of the global mining and metals industry. The full report, ‘Safety Performance: Benchmarking Progress of ICMM Company Members In 2022,’ is available here.

The report analyses fatalities from ICMM company members based on the cause (or ‘hazard’) and provides safety performance metrics by county and company. In 2022, nine of the 33 fatalities were related to mobile equipment and transportation, and five fatalities were caused by falling objects. Company member operations in South Africa had the highest number of fatalities (seven), accounting for 21% of the total fatalities across ICMM members. Thirteen out of 26 members reported zero fatalities.

Rohitesh Dhawan, President and CEO, ICMM said: “Everyone deserves to work free from harm, within a safe and healthy industry environment.

“ICMM has remained steadfast in our belief that we can always find new ways to improve, and as we enter a period of unprecedented demand for minerals and metals, we will continue to focus on identifying new ways to eliminate fatalities from mining and metals operations.”

ICMM began collating and publishing data on members’ safety performance in 2012 with the intention of driving knowledge-sharing, transparency and continual improvement across the industry. This data is compiled using ICMM’s ‘Guidance on Health and Safety Performance Indicators’ which was updated in 2021.

Hexagon’s Mining division expands with dedicated underground mining portfolio

Hexagon’s Mining division has, today, introduced HxGN Underground Mining, an integrated sensor-software portfolio built for the unique challenges of underground environments, at its HxGN LIVE Global 2023 event in Las Vegas.

Featuring what it says are robust systems for collision avoidance, drill optimisation and production planning, the new portfolio helps mines to achieve the best results while protecting drivers, pedestrians and equipment in the most demanding environments.

For Hexagon’s Mining division, meanwhile, it enables the company to further diversify its revenue stream, which is currently skewed towards the open-pit mining sector.

Hexagon says today’s announcement responds to industry demand as more mines push deeper beneath the surface for deposits and face ever more complex conditions. The aim is to provide mines transitioning from open-pit to underground operations – or those mining orebodies from surface and underground simultaneously – with a holistic solution for the life of mine.

HxGN Underground Mining, the company says, effectively creates a seamless technology transition from open pit to underground mining. Its safety suite, for example, leverages collision avoidance and operator alertness systems proven in more than 40,000 vehicles worldwide in open-pit environments.

Similar integration is at work in the portfolio’s operations suite, which helps mine operators and supervisors to manage underground fleet equipment and to optimise production in real time via a dynamic activity scheduler and fleet management system (HxGN MineOperate UG Pro fleet management system). Engineers, via the HxGN MinePlan Underground Engineering product, can avoid flawed mining processes and minimise downtime by using 3D visualisation, and CAD tools to create mine designs and activity-based schedules, the company says.

The portfolio’s optimisation software for production and development enables mines to achieve consistent blasting outcomes with high-precision drilling and optimal set-up processes. The company added to this portfolio recently with the incorporation of Minnovare. The Australia-based company has established four solutions – The Azimuth Aligner, Development Optimiser™, Production Optimiser™ and Minnovare Core – to improve the speed, cost and accuracy of underground drilling.

Beyond benefitting business, better drilling practices are good for the planet, reducing CO2 emissions and supporting sustainability goals, Mateus Quintela, Hexagon’s Head of Product, Underground Mining, said.

“We know mines are looking for ways to mine smarter, safer and in more environmentally and socially conscious ways,” Quintela says.

“HxGN Underground Mining will help our customers answer this search by increasing the efficiency of machines and miners throughout the operation. Well-choreographed scheduling will minimise the downtime of working areas, like headings and stopes, and there’s a real opportunity to reduce diesel emissions through better truck-to-loader planning.

“Perhaps most importantly, our new portfolio offers ways to ensure operators and supervisors are capturing and using safety data, so whether above ground or below it, everyone gets home safely.”

GeoMoby to accelerate rollout of location intelligence platform with new funds

Mining location technology company GeoMoby has secured A$3 million ($2.03 million) to fund the further rollout of its technology to the global mining industry.

The money will be allocated towards expanding its sales and business development team, as well as adding to a strong team of staff focused on technology development.

The funds have been largely sourced from multiple European investors, GeoMoby said. The capital raise was also supported by existing shareholders as well as a strategic GeoMoby partner – Agreement Hub – and a grant from METS Ignited.

GeoMoby – the name of the company and product – uses wireless, cable-free and reusable beacons to geofence sites, track assets and check on workforces, providing a layer of safety and efficiency never seen before, the company says. The technology allows surface-to-underground communication through smart devices, meaning, for the first time, photographs and video can be sent to the surface from remote tunnels in deep underground sites.

GeoMoby is targeting long-term contracts with Western Australian-based underground mining companies, but its technology can also be applied to surface mining operations and construction sites in Australia and globally, it says.

And, through its strategic partner agreement hub, it is also working with several mining and renewables companies to use the location intelligence technology to protect cultural heritage sites.

Founder and CEO, Chris Baudia, said: “Australian mining companies want to keep their workers – often in remote areas – safe, and this technology is the best, most reliable way to do that right now in the world. This latest funding now enables us to provide Australian miners with a gold standard location service and we are working hard to educate the mining sector about our cost-effective technology.

“We are now Australia’s most advanced location intelligence platform with a specialisation in live tracking and geofencing technologies for the mining and construction industries. We provide a 360° view platform that helps our clients to visualise their assets – trucks, light vehicles, machines – and the most important one, people. This is done in real-time whether it be in a multi-storey building, a remote area or even deep down an underground tunnel.”

Agreement Hub’s Managing Director, Kellie Swanson-Hill, said: “We are really excited to be partnering with GeoMoby to introduce its location intelligence technology to the mining industry in relation to cultural heritage protection. We are calling this application Protect. We are working with companies across the industry, from big iron ore to juniors, to make Protect the new best practice in cultural heritage protection.”

BCX Wireless, Huawei, MPI, Umnotho and Dahua bring 5G to Nungu mine

BCX Wireless Solutions, one of the largest systems integrators in Africa and a division of Telkom, has partnered with Huawei, MPI Holdings, Umnotho Technologies and Dahua to bring 5G connectivity and 5G-enabled technologies to the Nungu Mine in Elandspruit, South Africa.

The deployment of the latest 5G-enabled technologies is set to radically enhance the mine’s operational efficiencies and safety, according to BCX.

“This is a game changer for the entire industry and the hundreds of thousands of people it employs,” Neo Phukubje, Managing Executive at BCX, said.

The mine’s improved wireless connectivity has enabled data analytics and automation for video monitoring via drone technology, integrated connectivity with handheld devices and tablets, and a facial recognition proximity detection system, the company said.

Wireless technology in the form of 5G creates possibilities to transform every area of the operation, from workplace safety to improved productivity through predictive intelligence, BCX says.

Gert Venter from MPI said: “The importance placed on the partner ecosystem in the project helped develop vital innovations in safety. This includes 5G-enabled proximity alert between two heavy vehicles for collision prevention, which can mean the difference between life and death.”

Frenndy Wang, Channel Department Director at Huawei South Africa’s Enterprise Division, says in addition to improved safety and operational efficiency, another differentiator is that 5G allows for AI-based real-time data analytics, a key to smart mining.

Wang said: “Data is a valuable asset for miners, enabling ‘data-driven decision making‘ in the critical mining environment. Fifth generation connectivity will make the South African mining sector globally competitive. We are excited about working together with our partners like BCX to drive digital transformation in the mining sector, which is such a crucial industry in the economy.”

The project at the Nungu Mine consists of two phases: above-ground and underground. In phase one, BCX deployed 5G-enabled cameras at critical points at the mine to enable:

  • Proximity detection, enabled by IoT sensors and digital processing technologies;
  • A stockpiling monitoring system, enabled by footage collected via drones and processed via the digital edge computing systems;
  • In-cab connectivity to monitor driver fatigue and collision prevention to minimise the number of incidents and collisions; and
  • Pedestrian Protection System, enabling the safety and monitoring of miners on site.

Phase two will see the extension of connectivity underground to enable a fully connected smart mine that will increase security, supply motion sensors that trigger an alarm and enables the mine’s control room to monitor underground activity effectively, according to BCX.

Phukubje concluded: “As proven with this launch, wireless technology can be harnessed in powerful ways that make a lasting difference. It builds on our confidence and excitement to work in partnership with all industries from finance, aviation and agriculture to healthcare so they too can benefit from becoming 5G-enabled, fully integrated and connected to a new world of infinite possibilities.”

Sandvik setting the battery system safety standard in underground mining

In the three-and-a-half years since Sandvik acquired Artisan Vehicle Systems, the mining industry’s appetite and demand for battery-electric vehicle (BEV) solutions has grown exponentially.

From conversations that were concentrated to mainly North America and involved the trial of BEVs, the sector has moved on to discuss commercial, fleet-sized applications to be deployed across the globe.

Sandvik, itself, highlighted this in July with the award of its biggest BEV contract to date – a 20-strong equipment order from Foran Mining in Canada.

With this increased industry focus on underground electrification with the help of battery-electric equipment, the discussions around battery system safety have also stepped up in terms of both the number and complexity of conversations.

These are conversations Sandvik Mining and Rock Solutions’ Battery and Hybrid Electric Vehicles (BHEV) Business Unit is more than prepared to have, according to the unit’s VP Strategy and Commercial, Jakob Rutqvist.

“It’s on us as an early adopter to spread the learnings and help educate the industry in terms of battery safety and engaging with the stakeholders involved in the supply chain,” he told IM.

Sandvik, with the help of Artisan, has clocked up hundreds of thousands of operating hours in terms of BEVs in mining over the last decade or so.

This has been underwritten by the Artisan battery system architecture, which has been designed to move with both mining market demands and battery technology.

Brian Huff, Vice President of Technology for the BHEV business unit, expands on this: “We produce in-house battery systems, which gives us a lot of capability in terms of controlling the design. We can be much more reactive to the field in terms of making changes to the design, versus an OEM that is using batteries designed for automotive or industrial applications where those higher volumes tend to drive design decisions.

“We don’t have that diversion of focus; we do what is right for mining.”

Doing what is ‘right for mining’ has led to Sandvik investing in a state-of-the-art battery system facility in Camarillo, California, boasting 100 MWh of annual battery production capacity. This same facility acts as a training and customer visitor centre with a test ramp that has a 20% grade and a whole area for mucking on the property.

Sandvik’s state-of-the-art battery system facility in Camarillo, California, boasts 100 MWh of annual battery production capacity, as well as acting as a training and customer visitor centre with a test ramp that has a 20% grade and a whole area for mucking on the property

Huff said on the latter: “We will test every product that leaves the shop and do a lot of development work – our development cycle has, as a result, sped up.”

Beyond this, Sandvik’s mining sector commitment has seen the company invest in a battery system platform that – when it comes to safety – recognises the realities of operating machinery at underground mines.

Quality cells with the right chemistry

The inherent safety of Sandvik’s battery system starts at the cell level.

Artisan partnered with China-based CALB all the way back in 2015 as it looked to shore up a reliable and high-quality battery cell supply that could seamlessly fit into its battery system architecture.

Seven years on – half of that under the guise of Sandvik – Huff sees no reason to change.

“What matters from a battery system safety standpoint is consistency and high-quality cells,” he said. “That is achieved through high-volume manufacturing tied with automation and production controls that ensure the quality of production.

“CALB, which makes a lot of batteries for stationary and bus applications in China and globally, has all the compliance and testing completed on their cells and meet all the requirements from a safety standpoint.”

The battery cell manufacturer was also one of the early movers in the lithium iron phosphate (LFP)-based battery space, and Huff is keen to point out the safety benefits that come with using such battery chemistry.

“Our approach to battery safety, which is part of the standardised Sandvik approach for safety with ISO and other standardisation bodies, is to look, first, at reducing the severity of a potential incident or eliminating the hazard,” Huff said. “For us that means reducing the severity of a thermal runaway, which is primarily a chemistry choice.”

Thermal runaway is categorised as a chain reaction within a battery cell that occurs when the temperature inside a battery reaches the point that causes a chemical reaction to take place inside the battery. This chemical reaction produces heat, which drives the temperature higher, causing further chemical reactions to take place and further heat generation. Excessive heat generation at an accelerated rate can cause batteries to melt or be damaged beyond repair, or, in extreme circumstances, ignite and start fires.

With the potential to cause such an incident, thermal runaway preventions are often the first thing battery companies mention in safety briefings.

When plotting the main commercial battery chemistries against the heat-release-rate (HRR) on a graph, it is easy to see Huff’s point (see graph below). The rate of temperature rise (left) indicates the severity of a thermal event, with the higher the HRR, the harder it is to contain an incident, Sandvik says.

Taking all this into account, the LFP rate of temperature rise is over 100 times lower than other batteries with chemistries such as nickel-manganese-cobalt (NMC), lithium-cobalt oxide (LCO) and lithium-nickel-cobalt-aluminium (NCA), making containment more achievable, according to the company.

In thermal runaway tests, LFP-based cells have emitted a flammable gaseous electrolyte but do not self-ignite during standardised safety tests, Sandvik clarified.

Tests on batteries looking at the release of harmful emissions have also highlighted the safety benefits of using LFP-based batteries. A US CDC nail penetration test showed minimal emissions of the likes of carbon monoxide, nitrous oxides and hydrogen fluoride, compared with much higher levels emitted from NMC- and lithium-ion-manganese-oxide (LMO)-based batteries.

Passive and intrinsic safety

The battery chemistry choice fits into the ‘severity reduction’ basket in terms of safety controls, but it is not where Sandvik’s battery system safety approach ends.

“We then move to reducing the likelihood of the hazard occurring through design controls,” Huff said. “This is where the engineering comes in, with the best design controls often deemed to be passive and intrinsic – where you don’t have to do anything in the case an event arises.”

Sandvik has more than a handful of such controls in its locker, starting at the cell.

The cells in Sandvik’s battery systems are equipped with high-reliability vents that prevent pressure build-up in case of thermal runaway. This eliminates the risk of a case rupture/burst, according to the company. They also come equipped with a laser-welded aluminium housing that offers thermal conduction and mechanical safety with mylar and polycarbonate insulation.

A shutdown separator coating, meanwhile, is designed to melt if the temperature inside the cell reaches 110-130°C, blocking the ion flow, interrupting the current and preventing further temperature increases. An additional porous ceramic separator coating melts at 160-175°C, bonding with a polypropylene electrode separator to help block dendrites and provide structural support to prevent shrinkage and maintain the separation of electrodes.

Huff expands on this: “Dendrite growth is an effect of overcurrent, overcharging, charging at cold temperatures and a side effect of ageing. Excessive growth can result in an electrical short as well, which can then lead to thermal runaway.”

In Sandvik’s battery system design, a battery cell (far left) is placed into a battery module (second from left), which is then incorporated into a battery pack (second from right). This pack is then enclosed in a cage (far right)

These cells are placed into a battery module, which operates at low voltage for safe servicing, comes with isolating foam potting to block moisture and prevent isolation faults, offers thermal conduction to draw heat away from a hot cell and distribute it across the entire module to moderate temperature rises, and offers environmental and mechanical damage protection, according to Sandvik.

These modules are then incorporated into a battery pack, which comes with mechanical protections such as a 6-mm plate steel enclosure; a non-conductive coolant to manage temperature during charging; and gore vents and drains to prevent pressure build-up, allowing vented gases to expel air in the enclosure and fluids to drain rather than collect, all while limiting ingress of dust and contaminants.

The redundant configuration of the battery pack contactors allows the circuit to be broken in the case of over/under voltage, isolation fault, over temperature or overcurrent, the company says. This may also be triggered by a high-voltage interlock loop (HVIL) system. Lastly, the inclusion of 600 A fuses provides protection against overcurrent and damage from external shorts.

Finally, this battery pack is enclosed in a cage that offers, Sandvik says, robust mechanical protection, mobility and swap-ability, plus quick access to the pack modules without cage disassembly.

Beyond design controls

“We start with the assumption that, however good, design controls should never be believed to be 100% effective,” Huff said. “You cannot just approach the issue by never considering the likelihood of thermal runaway, for instance. It is unrealistic, especially in a mining environment where accidents happen, damage occurs and mistakes in servicing can arise.”

This leads the company on to the active controls it includes in its battery systems.

“All this starts with monitoring,” Huff said. “It could be looking at temperatures – the case temperature, terminal temperature, as well as the temperature of the conductors – and voltage.”

The Battery System Controller (BSC) is responsible for protecting the battery – calculating the limits and thresholds, monitoring the HVIL, isolation, temperature and currents and connecting the battery and communicating the status – but it is not the system that implements the controls and limitations.

“The battery system controller communicates what the limits are – only 400 A in discharge due to heat, for example – but the master controller unit (MCU) is the one responsible for accomplishing those limits,” Huff explained. “If the MCU fails to do that – drawing too much current, for instance – then the battery system controller opens its connectors and disconnects power as a last resort.”

The battery monitoring system (BMS) monitors the cell voltage and temperature (case temperature, terminal temperature and conductor temperature, for instance), manages the cell balancing and communicates data to the BSC.

This monitoring will be further enhanced with the incorporation of Akkurate (a battery analytics company acquired by Sandvik earlier in the year) and its remote battery diagnostic and prognostic platforms into the BHEV business unit, with Rutqvist saying that “embedded” monitoring software on the battery and “remote health monitoring” applications are the first development priorities, post-integration.

Jakob Rutqvist says “embedded” monitoring software on the battery and “remote health monitoring” applications are the first development priorities for Akkurate, post-integration into Sandvik

Such monitoring can go a long way in ensuring safety from within the system, but you cannot always limit external threats, Huff said.

“In terms of electrical failure modes, you can prevent overcharging and over-discharging through monitoring-based functions, but you can’t prevent deformation, mechanical damage or penetration from foreign objects,” he said.

This is where the ‘suppression’ element comes into play.

Sandvik uses a potassium-based, electrically non-conductive chemical emulsion for its fire suppression system. It acts by filling the battery pack interior with an aerosol agent that chemically interrupts combustion and stops a potential fire in its tracks.

“We’ve had a couple of incidents in the past, which were minor, and these suppression systems came in and did the job we prescribed for them,” Huff said. “They are not designed to put out a widespread battery fire, where, instead, the chemistry selection and the other passive controls we have designed in are the safety barriers.”

No expense spared

This three-step safety approach is indicative of the company’s focus on risk reduction for its customers, with Huff saying the company often looks beyond industry standards and regulations when designing features in.

“The volume and value proposition of our products change the battery system design requirements,” he said. “We’re not trying to save a dollar here by reducing the thickness of, say, the enclosure, or amending some design feature for cost effectiveness.

“Safety and reliability are way more important than the cost of manufacturing the system.”

There are plenty of examples of this safety-design-over-cost philosophy on board its battery systems.

For instance, the company has minimised the use of cables, designing as much as possible with busbars to avoid potential electrical shorting. All these busbars are powder coated and protected from an electrical perspective, meaning any “casual” contact from operators or service technicians will not result in the live conductors being engaged.

When it comes to isolation monitoring, the company has also designed in safety precautions.

“Isolation monitoring was originally mandated for battery systems to notify technicians about the potential for an electrical shock if there was an isolation fault,” Huff said.

“Beyond that, it can be used as an early warning for a higher current short circuit where an isolation fault occurs that is lower than a certain resistance.”

Huff and his team have carried out some research and chosen 5,000 ohms as the relevant threshold for this particular risk.

“If you have a 5,000-ohm isolation fault in a location and have a direct connection from another point to the chassis, you can create a short circuit with enough power to melt some of the protective materials in the battery system and potentially accelerate this to a much higher current short circuit,” he said.

This second isolation monitoring consideration requires a differentiated response.

“Shock hazards are a warning situation – you need to notify people there is a hazard and behave differently,” he said.

“You need to handle a short circuit risk – a low impedance isolation fault – differently. For us, it means shutting the machine down and isolating the fault through removing the modules or locating the fault and transferring the modules.”

With Artisan’s battery systems designed to be broken down into individual batteries and transported individually as needed, the company can do exactly this.

“There have been a few battery fires reported in mines over the last five or so years, involving different types of equipment,” Huff said. “The two I know about had nothing to do with a BMS response and everything to do with isolation faults. How you handle a battery with this issue is, therefore, a key consideration.”

Backward-compatible benefits

Huff, a co-founder of Artisan, can contextualise the mining proposition better than most considering his experience in both electrifying the automotive sector and heavy-duty commercial vehicles – two sectors Artisan served prior to shifting focus to underground mining.

“A key difference is the level of serviceability required,” he said. “Mining is a very different world; you are separated so much from a nice clean shop with all the facilities and space to do work. With cars, there is such easy infrastructure in place; mining is not like that.

“At mine sites, there is huge pressure to do the work in-situ with the tools you have in your backpack and, if you don’t have the specific tool, you are typically going to make the tool or do without it. You have to have a product designed for that environment, and that is exactly what we have done.”

Rutqvist said the standardisation and commodification of Sandvik’s battery systems comes at the cell level, which leaves the company open to adapt and customise according to mining industry demands.

“If you take the market at a battery system level, mining customers don’t count in thousands, they count in hundreds,” he said. “Our average customer is big, and they expect to be very close to us when it comes to the product and the product development; our largest customers are very big and expect to have a say in the development and the requirements on the battery system.

“We’re happy to be middlemen for the battery cell, but we don’t want to be middlemen for the battery system design.”

Over the past decade or so – and going forward – this has enabled the company to take advantage of battery technology developments as they happen.

Sandvik says it is able to incorporate new technology and advances into its battery system platform

Haley-Anna Blinn – currently a BEV Applications Specialist at the Sandvik BHEV business unit and previously an Electrical Engineer at the Macassa gold mine in Ontario, Canada, which has one of the biggest battery-electric fleets in the world – has been on the receiving end of this.

“So much is changing in the battery space all the time,” she said. “I have only been involved for five years, and I have seen a lot of change.

“We recognise that, so it is important we design our systems to accommodate future design changes or even battery chemistry improvements when it comes to energy density.

“With the older vintage of equipment, there was a change of cell supplier at one point that resulted in cells with a different form factor.

“While this changed the number of cells in a module based on their characteristics, it was a change that was carried out seamlessly when the cells were due to be refreshed. The module had a similar form factor, so was backward-compatible from a battery system design perspective.”

The new cells also ended up improving performance by about 20% or so, according to Blinn.

With the average battery cell life being 3-5 years, battery performance continuing to improve exponentially over a similar timeframe and the internal funding capabilities of the Sandvik Group, Sandvik BEV customers could be in line for similar step-change improvements in the future.

There are more subtle changes the company can make to its battery systems tailored to the operation at hand, too.

Leveraging sophisticated modelling software and a databank that goes back to the start of Artisan’s BEV journey, technicians can tweak the system at the factory to the conditions they will likely experience underground.

This goes beyond implementing a simple speed restriction to protect the battery system and the operators.

“Some mines might be more conducive to a slower charge than others based on the duty cycle, so we can configure these parameters at the factory,” Blinn explained. “Other mines may impose a temperature limit based on the operating conditions underground that goes beyond the standard limits we program. We can make those changes to ensure the system engages differently during operation.”

Having solved the obvious teething problems that came with introducing BEVs at underground mines over the last decade-or-so, Sandvik is moving into a consolidation phase where refinements to its system design will take place as opposed to major overhauls.

At a time when mining companies require improved performance and uptime from these machines to achieve their own electrification and productivity goals, the company’s mining-focused, safety-conscious battery system design philosophy continues to set it apart.