Autonomous vehicles didn’t eliminate fleet management in the mining industry, but they did turn the discipline on its head. The good news is that there has been a marked decrease in injuries and fatalities since the introduction of autonomous vehicles into the industry in the late 2000s.

The concerning news is that post-COVID, we’ve seen an uptick in injuries and fatalities. It’s hard to pin down the exact reason, but significant workforce turnover is one likely driver proposed by mining industry experts. Regardless of the reason, the need for reliable safety and security measures in mining fleet management is clear. 

New smart technologies can be highly effective tools for automating critical fleet and mining equipment security processes. They can manage the tracking and distribution of important equipment faster and more reliably than human operators, no matter whether they’re a new hire or a twenty-year veteran. 

This article explains how three of the leading types of smart systems work—mining fleet management, key management, and asset management—and how you can identify which combination of systems makes sense for your company. 

  

Mining industry smart systems improve regulatory compliance 

In an industry as hazardous as mining, every employer carries the large burden of protecting their workers’ health and safety. Key regulatory bodies and pieces of legislation in the US include: 

The Federal Mine Safety and Health Act (Mine Act)   

The Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977, commonly known as the Mine Act, aims to protect the health and safety of miners. Administered by the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), the Mine Act outlines comprehensive safety and health standards for all mining operations to ensure a safer working environment and reduce the risk of accidents. Specifically, it includes provisions for:   

  1. Inspections—Mandatory inspections of mines by MSHA inspectors. Underground mines must be inspected at least four times yearly, while surface mines must be inspected twice yearly.  
  2. Mandatory training—Comprehensive training programs for miners, including new miner training, annual refresher training, and task-specific training.  
  3. Accident and injury reporting—Immediate reporting of accidents, injuries, and illnesses to MSHA, with detailed investigations following serious incidents. 
  4. Health and safety standards—Implementation of safety and health standards to prevent accidents, including ventilation, equipment maintenance, emergency response, and hazardous materials management standards. 
  5. Enforcement and penalties—Strong enforcement mechanisms, including penalties for non-compliance, closure orders for unsafe conditions, and criminal penalties for willful violations. 

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)    

OSHA oversees workplace safety for all businesses in the United States, including the mining sector. OSHA regulations require mining companies to:  

  1. Ensure workplaces are free from recognized hazards that can cause death or serious harm. 
  2. Provide employees with training on hazards and safety measures. 
  3. Keep records of work-related injuries and illnesses. 
  4. Conduct regular inspections and safety audits.

OSHA's regulations for mining are detailed in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), specifically in CFR Title 30. These regulations cover various aspects of mining safety, including ventilation, fire protection, equipment maintenance, and emergency response.


International Labour Organization (ILO)     

The International Labour Organization (ILO) is a United Nations agency that provides global guidelines and standards for occupational safety and health in the mining sector. The US is the ILO's largest member state and donor. The ILO’s Safety and Health in Mines Convention, 1995 (No. 176) and its accompanying Recommendation (No. 183) outline the measures to prevent mining accidents. Key provisions include: 

  1. Implementing a comprehensive occupational safety and health policy. 
  2. Establishing systems for monitoring and inspecting mines to ensure compliance with safety standards. 
  3. Providing training and information to workers on safety and health risks and preventive measures. 
  4. Ensuring effective communication and consultation between employers and workers on safety matters. 

 

What is a mining fleet management system?

Two Big Self-Driving Mine Trucks in a Mine 

Mining fleet management systems help you oversee the performance and maintenance of mining vehicles. They’re useful for fleet managers but typically provide valuable functions for business leadership, vehicle operators, mechanics, and other personnel. These systems track vehicle locations, monitor fuel usage, and ensure teams follow maintenance schedules for all different mining fleet types. All of these factors contribute to improved operational efficiency and reduced downtime. 


Advantages of using smart technology fleet management systems 

Cost control

Effective management can reduce insurance premiums, fuel bills, and repair costs. 

Informed decision-making

Better data allows for more informed decisions regarding mining vehicle management, purchases, deployment patterns, and operator training.

Reduced paperwork

Streamlined processes result in less time spent on paperwork and lower maintenance bills.

Accident reduction

Improved management practices decrease the likelihood of employee accidents and increase your mining vehicle tracking.

Operational efficiency

Professional driving reduces running costs, and drivers experience less fatigue and better health.

An FMS can identify bottlenecks, such as poor road conditions or truck congestion at dig sites, and suggest solutions like deploying a grader to repair roads or rerouting autonomous trucks. This data-driven approach ensures that mining operations run smoothly and efficiently.

What is an asset management system? 

A mine employee reviewing the main assets to make sure they are all charged and ready

Asset management systems track the usage and condition of all stored equipment, such as the Cat Command A-Stop devices for mining fleet safety, tablets, and toolkits. These systems help schedule regular maintenance, predict potential failures through digital asset surveillance systems, and ensure compliance with safety regulations. 

Developing a comprehensive program for asset management in mining offers numerous benefits for mining companies.

Improved operations 

Enhanced control over workflows involving managed equipment boosts organizational performance by ensuring that all operations run smoothly and efficiently. 

Better risk management 

An asset management system's tracking and auditing processes help you make informed decisions about purchasing, deploying, and handling equipment. This mitigates risks associated with equipment use and ownership. 

Loss prevention 

Continuous monitoring of equipment transactions and usage ensures a complete 'chain of custody' record is maintained. This facilitates the swift investigation and recovery of missing assets for better asset protection in mining. 

Cost reduction 

An asset management program ensures more efficient use of equipment. It guarantees that functional assets are always available, and regular condition checks ensure timely maintenance. 

Encourages accountability 

Training personnel to pay close attention to the care and use of organizational assets fosters a culture of responsibility and accountability, leading to better management practices. 

What is a physical key management system? 

A security manager aduting the mine and data center keys

Key management is the systematic process of controlling access to various organizational locations and assets by controlling who can access their physical keys. Depending on a mining organization's specific risk profile and regulatory requirements, key management systems in mining may also record detailed information about key usage. 

There are multiple ways to implement a key management system. Some businesses use simple pegboards and pen-and-paper logbooks to track keys. Others opt for more sophisticated smart key management systems for better control and insights. Using one of those, physical keys can become valuable business intelligence sources. 

Key management systems help mining companies to:

Reduce costs

By ensuring keys are always accounted for, rekeying costs decrease, and productivity remains high as staff no longer waste time searching for misplaced keys. 

Manage risk

Real-time tracking and auditing of key usage allow immediate awareness of whether keys are not returned or if unauthorized access attempts are made.

Prevent losses

Complete ‘chain-of-custody’ transaction logs to hold personnel accountable for secured asset usage.

Learn More:

Equipment Tracking Systems: How to Choose the Right Tech for Loss Prevention

Improve operations

Tighten control over facility activities. Access can be restricted to specific shifts, timed key returns can be set, and key reservations can be made for time-sensitive tasks.

 

How do you choose the right smart tech management systems for your mining operation? 

Fleet management, key management, and asset management systems all have a role in supporting mining activities, especially the use of autonomous vehicles. But should every mining operation use all three? Definitely not. 

Each organization will have its specific needs. One company may employ a large number of workers who need to move around and between autonomous trucks, so they might want more asset management for Cat Command A-Stop devices and have less interest in physical key management. Another company might dispatch workers in regular vehicles across distributed work sites. They might care more about fleet and key management. 

Consider the following twelve factors to make an informed decision about purchases for your company: 

 

1.Compatibility with existing systems 

Ensure the new smart management systems seamlessly integrate with your current technology stack. That is essential for a smooth transition and ongoing operations. 

2.Scalability 

Opt for systems that can scale alongside your growing operations, accommodating increased data volumes and additional devices without requiring significant upgrades or replacements. 

 

3.Ease of onboarding 

A user-friendly and easy-to-implement system will ensure quick adoption and minimal disruption to your operations. 

4.User-friendly interface 

Systems with intuitive interfaces that require minimal training will reduce your staff's learning curve, ensuring swift adoption. 

5.Training and support 

Evaluate the provider's training and support services. Comprehensive training programs and reliable customer support are vital for a smooth onboarding process and promptly addressing any issues. 

6.Customization and flexibility 

Systems that offer customization options to fit your specific operational needs will enhance efficiency and effectiveness. Flexibility in configuring the system ensures it can be tailored to your workflows. 

7.Conduit a cost-benefit analysis 

Conduct a thorough cost-benefit analysis to ensure that the investment in the new system will yield significant returns. 

8.Evaluate initial and long-term costs 

Consider both the initial costs and the long-term savings from improved efficiency, reduced downtime, and enhanced safety. Evaluate the total cost of ownership, including maintenance and support expenses. 

9.Return on investment (ROI) 

Analyze how the system will contribute to your operational goals, such as increasing productivity, reducing losses, and improving mining fleet safety. Quantify these benefits to assess the system's overall value. 

10.Vendor reputation and reliability 

Research the vendor's reputation and reliability to ensure that you are partnering with a trusted provider. Look for reviews, case studies, and testimonials from other mining operations. 

11.Future-proofing and innovation 

Choose a system that meets your current needs and is capable of adapting to future technological advancements. 

12.Innovative features 

Look for systems incorporating the latest technological advancements, such as IoT integration, asset surveillance, and predictive maintenance capabilities. 

 

Smart technology can make the mining industry safer and more secure 

Real Time Networks offers several solutions if you need help to improve your mining fleet management. Our smart key and asset management systems enable fleet and equipment managers to track their keys, electronics, Cat Command A-Stop devices, and toolkits more efficiently, cost-effectively, and safely. 


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