Caterpillar has launched a new era of safety for longwall mine workers, with its staff proximity detection system Cat Detect Personnel. The system uses radio frequency identification (RFID) tags to accurately and reliably identify the presence of people on a longwall system or near a continuous miner, and then transmit the personnel location information to a control system.

The control system will then take appropriate actions including inhibiting machine movement and providing warning signals to avoid potentially unsafe situations. RFID tags are worn by personnel and detection units can be mounted on mining machines or on roof supports, allowing data to be transmitted to the control system.

Workers would simply delay advancing roof supports when people are detected in the affected area. Each RFID tag worn by underground personnel incorporates a battery-powered transmitter and receiver. Each tag also has an identifier that is configurable with the mine’s own software.

The tags can be configured, for example, to identify each person wearing a tag in the mine and/or to identify the wearer’s job title and specialized skills. That information can then be transmitted to the longwall gate ends and to a mine office underground or on the surface for use in scheduling and assignment of personnel.

Cat says both the tags and readers are small, intrinsically safe and have very low power consumption. The tags are easy to wear, and the readers are easy to install on equipment, because no explosion-proof enclosures are needed. The system is also highly accurate and because each roof support controller acts as the local controller there is no delay, unlike systems that rely on communications via gate end controls to process data.

The new system is being trialled in Europe and the USA and commercial sales are expected to begin by the end of the year.

A personnel detection system for continuous miners is still being developed by the company. It will detect the presence of people within a certain distance of the machine and in potentially unsafe locations, and then provide a warning signal to such personnel and the machine operator as well as inhibiting machine movement until the area is cleared.

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