The South African mining fraternity has covered significant ground in the past 12 months when it comes to PDS development, OEM/PDS supplier collaboration and general end user education on the technology and related legislative requirements. One of the frontrunners in the PDS sector, Booyco Electronics, shares some of the key developments thus far, writes Munesu Shoko.     

The Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) promulgated the use of proximity detection systems (PDSs), collision avoidance systems (CAS) and motion inhibitors on surface mines in February 2015. By now, every surface operation should have done its risk assessments on trackless mobile machinery (TMM) to determine their level of risk, and if significant, they should have installed suitable warning devices or proximity detection solutions. The deadline for collision avoidance systems was initially set for 2019, but industry has subsequently asked for this to be pushed to December 2020.

The road to PDS compliance

What does the regulation say as far as the adoption of these technologies is concerned? The PDS needs to warn the driver that there is another person or machine in its proximity which the mine itself must have identified as an unwanted event. Your risk assessment determines your adoption.

The regulation further says, if the driver of the vehicle does not respond to the warning, the vehicle needs to come to a slowdown and standstill (CAS). This is the part operations need to comply with, if your risk assessment and user requirement specification indicates the need.

Initially there was reluctance and resistance in the industry to adopt these technologies. However, Anton Lourens, MD of Booyco Electronics, one of the frontrunners in the South African PDS sector, says a lot of ground has been covered over the past 12 months, with the industry, supply chain and the legislator collaborating to find solutions.

Lourens says one of the key challenges was the lack of consistency among the PDSs initially available in the market. Lourens says there was a big disconnect between what some PDS manufacturers claimed their systems could do and what they could actually deliver.

One of the key challenges was the lack of real specifications or set guidelines on PDS technology. There was previously no standard globally of what the PDS should do. However, this has since been rectified with the establishment of the Earth Moving Equipment Safety Round Table (EMESRT) PDS Committee which has driven an international agenda to get functional specifications for PDSs.

“EMESRT Best Practices define the scope of the functionality requirement of any PDS globally,” says Lourens. “This has lifted the game in terms of functional standards, while levelling the playing field in terms of compliance, allowing customers to compare apples to apples.”

Lourens says the Minerals Council (formerly Chamber of Mines) has since appointed working committees that have adopted the EMESRT scenario as best practice in South Africa. The Minerals Council has appointed the University of Pretoria to develop a simulation model on behalf of the Council.

All PDS/CAS suppliers have to go for simulation and evaluation assessments through the University of Pretoria whereafter they receive a report that indicates if their PDS functionalities are as per specification. This is a costly exercise for the PDS/CAS suppliers and if they are willing to do this you know they are serious in getting their units compliant.

“The simulation model was released about a year ago. Booyco was one of the first companies that used the simulation model to verify its products. We gave information to the University of Pretoria on the functionalities of our PDS system. The PDS supplier has to define the functionalities of its system to the University, which then takes the information into the simulation model and also conduct physical tests at the Gerotek testing facility in Pretoria,” explains Lourens.

Test results

Test results are then compared with what the manufacturer claims the product can do. The University of Pretoria then issues an independent, third-party test report, stating what the product can and can’t do against the deferred test criteria.

“We have done the tests for both surface and underground scenarios. It was an interesting learning curve for us. We have subsequently gone back for the second and third time to improve on our test reports. The past 12 months have been a massive learning period for all of us in PDS industry in determining what can and can’t be done. The tests actually verify the full range of the Level 7 to Level 9 compliance. Level 9 is the intervention performance that is driven by industry,” says Lourens.

Lourens explains that from a compliance point of view, EMESRT works on nine levels. Level 1 to 6 deals with administrative and engineering controls, to make sure that operations have the right equipment for the right site. “Level 7 is a collision warning system, to be able to warn the operator that there are potential hazards. Level 8 is advisory systems, where the system has to advise the operator to slow down or stop. Level 9 is a fully automatic intervention where the system takes control of the vehicle. Levels 7, 8 and 9 are the ones that deal with the PDS,” explains Lourens.

“We have achieved very satisfactory results at Gerotek to an extent that we have received an order from one of the big blue-chip companies to supply their surface PDS,” says Lourens. The contract was awarded directly as a result of the tests Booyco did at Gerotek. Lourens says the exercise is good for the industry as it affords customers a platform to see independently who can do what.

Collaboration is key

Lourens says while a lot of work has gone into the tests, the interface specification has also received much attention. The interface specification is based on ISO 21815, which deals specifically with the interfacing between the OEM’s equipment and the PDS equipment. “We have been working closely with some of the leading OEMs, mostly Bell Equipment, to make sure that whatever the specification calls for, we can comply,” says Lourens.

A key challenge as far as collaboration is concerned is that some OEMs are less helpful  in terms of involvement in the process and the approving of these various PDS/CAS units because the MHSA Section 21 Manufacturer law makes the manufacturer liable if the unit fails. Lourens reasons that it’s also a costly exercise and some of the international OEMs are just reluctant to commit large investments into this exercise, given that South Africa is a tiny portion of their global businesses.

The regulator has since facilitated various meetings with industry, OEMs and PDS suppliers to find solutions. The outcome is definitely a better understanding from industry on the requirements and risk evaluation process and user requirements for PDS/CAS. OEMs are also now starting to liaise with the Minerals Council and PDS suppliers. Many PDS suppliers now have regular y meetings with OEMs to assist in finding operable reliable solutions for PDS/CAS.

Change in approach

Lourens believes that there has been a change in approach to the legislation from a customer point of view, saying most mining houses now understand that that the implementation of PDSs is assessed and risk-based. Whatever each mine’s risk assessment identifies as significant risk, that’s what needs to be addressed with the PDS solution.

“There has been a massive drive through the Minerals Council to educate customers to fully understand what this means. There is now better commitment to the entire process. Mines are taking time to attend the various workshops regarding traffic management and PDS/CAS systems to get a full understanding of the process of compliance,” says Lourens.

“The market is continually getting educated on the PDS. In the past, the biggest challenge was that the industry didn’t understand the implication of the legislation and the technology. They were also making buying decisions influenced by price – with cheapest solutions gaining favour,” says Lourens.

He adds that the Minerals Council’s good work when it comes to risk assessments has made it easier for mining houses to understand what they need. “I can see the difference compared with five years ago. The market has matured in the past 12 months and it’s a major step in the right direction,” adds Lourens.

Lourens says the testing process has also ushered in a new era in terms of product development. He says there is a big difference between the PDSs that were available in the market five years ago and today’s systems. “The market has definitely matured from both a supplier and user point of view,” he says.

Booyco has also done a lot in the past three to four years in terms of its own product development. “From a solution point of view, we have established a hardware platform that is similar for all our solutions. All the enhancements to the systems are mainly software driven. We have reached a point where we can offer a solution to the customer today, install it and all the future enhancements made to the system can be loaded as a software upgrade. We have adopted the mobile phone approach, where upgrades don’t necessarily mean that you have to change the hardware, but only enhance the software,” concludes Lourens.

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