Safety system set to save lives in mining

YUMARR's Nicky Guenther

YUMARR's Nicky Guenther

Debuting in 2016, YUMARR Automation – a technology company that develops and manufactures automation and control systems for mobile mining equipment – was founded by directors Nicky Guenther and Holger Salow as well as two other like-minded friends. They saw a gap in the market for a safety application at the face of an underground mine – thus JumboGuard was born.

The product is a laser scanner-based operator assistance system that protects the front-line crew of mobile underground drill rigs known as Jumbos. The system has won the Australian Mining Magazine’s Prospect Award for Excellence in Mine Safety, OH&S, as well as a PACE Magazine Zenith Award for Safety System Innovation.

“Jumbos drill the boreholes for the explosives to develop the tunnels and they support the wall by drilling rock bolts into it utilising steel mesh or concrete, which then supports the structure,” said Salow. “The machines have up to four large moveable hydraulic booms for drilling and bolting. During the bolting cycle the machine offsider is required to reload the booms with rock bolts, which means he or she has to walk in and out of the operating area of the rotating drill strings and moving booms, the so-called danger zone. There have been numerous incidents where people have been entangled in moving parts of the drill, which far too often ended up with injuries or even fatalities.”

Consequently, the industry put administrative controls in place to protect the personnel, but due to human factors the problem didn’t go away. Other engineering solutions in the past were often causing inadvertent delays and unnecessary machine shutdowns due to false detections under the harsh conditions underground, particularly when exposed to heavy water spray and dust.

This is where JumboGuard came in. At its most basic – it monitors the sides of the Jumbo. It detects, recognises and tracks the people working on the machine. Should a person enter the danger zone, the system immediately cuts the hydraulic pressure to stop the boom movement and rotation of the drill. One of the difficulties that needed to be addressed was given through the typical but complex situation that there are scenarios where a number of people work on the drill entering or leaving the danger zone on either side at different times or simultaneously. Guenther said they developed a smart software that reliably detects and counts the number of people in the danger zone and only allows the reactivation of the drill when all persons have left this area.

The overwhelming feedback from mining companies using the system, as well as winning numerous awards in 2017, raised a lot of attention for YUMARR Automation. This meant new customers and created new business opportunities.

Besides Downer EDI Mining, who were the first to allow YUMARR onsite to develop, trial, prove and roll out JumboGuard, the take-up of the system continued with contract mining companies like Pybar Mining Services. In Pybar’s Mine of the Future project at Oz Minerals’ Carrapateena mine in South Australia, which is endeavouring to become Australia’s first fully autonomous mine, JumboGuard has become part of a corporate safety initiative.
Guenther said that YUMARR is also doing what the team is very passionate about – they are working on a number of innovative projects with engineering companies for whom they develop highly specialised and customised solutions for safety.

Furthermore, they succeeded to work with large companies on the vision of an autonomous mine. As such, they have become technology partner with Rio Tinto in their “drill of the future” project, developing the situational awareness system for autonomous drills.

With their cooperation with one of the leading mining equipment manufacturers, Epiroc (formerly Atlas Copco), they have developed the object detection and ground profiling system Pit Viper Guard, which is designed for full automation of Epiroc’s Pit Viper rotary blasthole drill rigs.

With YUMARR’s vision to develop and provide systems that reduce the risks faced by people in mine sites all over the world they have ambitious plans over the next 12 months. As such, they are gearing up to satisfy the international demand and to establish their out-of-the-box systems as a standard in mines sites overseas.