When analogue radio solutions were no longer sufficient, SIMEC Mining turned to Sepura to optimize communication and security in its iron ore operations in South Australia.
SIMEC Mining owns and operates iron ore mines in South Australia, including the Iron Baron, Iron Knob and South Middleback Ranges sites.
These operations have a combined total production of over 10 million tonnes of iron ore each year. The sites are mined for hematite, which is mainly exported by rail and sea, and magnetite, which is used locally in steelworks in Whyalla.
An iron mine is a dangerous working environment, with a multitude of environmental and logistical challenges to overcome on site.
Large machines dominate the sites, vehicles with limited visibility are constantly on the move, and the widespread nature of the operation means that staff often work in solitude.
Extreme heat and dust can also cause problems at mining sites, which can also affect machinery and technical equipment on site.
Critical communication requirement
Shutting down production for a security incident or other disruption has a significant impact on ECRC’s productivity and bottom line.
An effective critical communications solution is vital for worker safety and to ensure operations are not compromised.
SIMEC had already used analog radio solutions at its previous sites, but with the reopening of Iron Baron in 2011, the limitations of analog were identified.
Analog systems suffered from many black spots in coverage, which meant there were times when neither vehicles nor individuals could be contacted.
There were also issues with radio users talking to each other, blocked calls, and no feedback as to whether a call had been made when the audio quality was poor.
The improved functionality to evolve the system was also not available.
Enter Sepura’s TETRA solution
Investigating the options for deploying a critical communications solution, SIMEC turned to TETRA, identifying features that could dramatically improve on-site safety and efficiency.
Responding to SIMEC’s requirement for total site-wide coverage, TETRA offers superior coverage to previous analog solutions.
It also offers the choice of mobile base stations and gateway functionality for temporary construction sites or limited potential excavation sites.
TETRA’s initial rollout was for Sepura’s STP and SRG terminals and the feedback was instantly positive, with praise for the powerful sound, rugged design, and intuitive user interface of the radios.
Coverage is significantly better, sound clearer, and the innovation of GPS positioning means team leaders can locate and manage their assets quickly and safely. The TETRA solution also includes an emergency response capability.
Less critical conversations are not blocked as before, but queued, so information can still be relayed to critical users when possible.
The system is intended to be deployed across entire sites. For example, the railway line and the port facility could be key users on a TETRA system, giving team leaders full visibility to the site, on a unified system, where individuals or teams can still communicate with each other. , wherever they are.
More recently, radio users from different ECRC operations received the SC series radios from Sepura on a trial basis, the aim being to further improve the operating environment through greater functionality of new terminals such as live programming (OTAP).
SIMEC attacks Sepura’s SC20 and SCG22 radios
Following the test, SIMEC invested in SC20 portable radios for operational teams and SCG22 mobile radios for vehicles.
With an easy-to-clean design, the SC20 can self-clean water and dust from the speakers, ensuring reliable sound even in extremely dusty site environments, while sound remains consistent in particularly noisy locations such as side of the drilling equipment.
The protective ability of the radio connector was also seen as a key benefit, protecting the battery connections from damage when the radio is placed in a wet or muddy location.
All Sepura SC series radios, including the SC20 and SCG22, feature identical user interface and functionality, which means the risk of user error is low and training costs are minimized.
The final piece of the solution was the deployment of the OTAP function, allowing the radios to be updated or reprogrammed when in contact with the site’s trusted and secure Wi-Fi network.
With OTAP, all radios can be updated as a fleet, without having to take radios or vehicles out of service. Previously, programming the site contractor’s vehicle fleet took more than two weeks.
Updates can now be done instantly, at a set time, and then changed as needed.
Advantages for SIMEC
Sepura’s TETRA solution offers SIMEC a real critical solution; users in the field are always in contact with the control room, their location can be monitored via GPS, and smart apps such as ‘man down’ can be used to trigger an alarm if a lone worker is in distress.
The radios are more robust, more reliable and more powerful than the previous analog solution, with much improved sound.
They can also, via OTAP, be deployed more flexibly according to operator demand.
Importantly, the emergency broadcast feature means that all users can be instantly contacted in an emergency, improving the safety of everyone on the site.
SIMEC plans to create a Wi-Fi mesh for the main areas of the site, which could connect the radios to additional data sources and allow the sharing of critical data on the TETRA network.
There are also options for placing applications on radios supporting maintenance and operation tasks. This could include start-up notifications, maintenance reminders, and ensuring that safety checks have been completed.
With at least another 20 years of production at ECRC’s mines in South Australia, there is significant scope to expand the solution further.
This article also appeared in the November issue of Safe to Work.