The design, construction, and maintenance of roads heavily impact safety, productivity, energy, and costs. That’s why the management of road functionality plays a pivotal role in the total cost and safe operation of roads, as well as ensuring legal compliance.
In the current business operating environment where there is a sustained focus on improving safety, productivity, and energy efficiency, ensuring that equipment and people operate in good road conditions has become more important than ever before.
Mining operations can manage their haul roads effectively only if they are equipped with relevant and actionable information. That is why they need to use digital systems to support effective management of road functionality.
However, ‘traditional’ road inspection and reporting methods fall short of enabling mining operations to meet this objective. Thus, this calls for modern digital methods that have been tried and tested in challenging conditions to be explored.
This is the sage advice of Dr Mark Rawlins Pr Eng, Executive Chairperson and Chief Engineer at Energy & Combustion Services Group (ECS), to mining companies through an interview with Mining Business Africa.
The ECS Group has built a reputation for providing smart road condition monitoring solutions to companies in mining and other sectors.
Rawlins recommends adopting digital systems such as SmartRoad™, enhanced by Machine Learning and advanced analytics, to manage road functionality. This is based on it being successfully used at different operational sites.
‘Traditional’ road inspection and reporting
The strong business case for adopting SmartRoad™ in the effective management of roads becomes clear when the challenges of ‘traditional’ inspection and reporting methods are examined.
‘Traditional’ inspection and reporting methods may include:
- A competent person driving on the roads making mental or written notes of road conditions and then giving written or verbal feedback to others;
- Taking photographs of road conditions or taking notes and then sending a report via WhatsApp or email;
- Dispatch controllers getting feedback from vehicle operators as they identify issues, mainly dusty or wet conditions; and
- Truck vibration monitoring systems reporting excessive vibration but without any situational context on road conditions, which still require an inspection.
Challenges of ‘traditional’ methods
‘Traditional’ inspection methods are too time and labour-intensive, making it difficult to report, review and schedule maintenance and repair.
The key challenges with inspecting mining haul roads for functional condition assessment are related to frequency, completeness, and repeatability.
- Frequency: how often inspections can be done for the same section of road
- Completeness: the percentage of the total road network inspected in a period
- Repeatability: how an inspector scores the road condition from one period to the next.
Moreover, once a defect has been identified, there’s no effective way of reporting, reviewing, and scheduling maintenance and repair.
Unfortunately, manual systems can’t provide geospatial images or visual location-based information for reporting and improved insight and transfer of information for maintenance scheduling. In addition, keeping track of maintenance or compliance-related workflows or job cards is cumbersome and error-prone.
So, mining operations find that applying the standard practice of condition monitoring and predictive maintenance on mining roads, as they do on their plant and machines, is difficult and mostly ineffective. This is because they need a readily accessible and complete history of road functional condition and repair.
Rawlins underlines the importance of accurate information to allow reliable conditions and predictive maintenance of roads.
“Road conditions can change rapidly due to weather changes, resulting in rain-damaged or slippery roads or dusty conditions,” he says.
“So, being able to readily assess the condition of the roads before resuming production is important, and ensuring historical evidence of legal compliance is essential.”
In the long run, ‘traditional’ inspection and monitoring greatly undermines mining operations.
Improvement in safety and productivity, as well as reduced costs (fuel and tyres), can only be achieved with effective management of road quality. This is attainable through the integration of monitoring and reporting of road conditions with the production, engineering, road construction and maintenance teams.
How SmartRoad™ addresses shortcomings of ‘traditional’ methods
A modern digital road management platform, ECS’s SmartRoad™ has proved effective in integrating key aspects of road management.
It facilitates both a readily accessible and complete history of road functional and safety conditions and repair.
When deployed in challenging conditions that require road inspections and functional quality management, SmartRoad™ excels. This is thanks to features that directly address the shortcomings of traditional methods. These include:
- SmartRoad ARID™ (Autonomous Road Inspection Device) mobile units for autonomous visual and dynamic inspection of the roads
- Cloud databases for managing the data
- User portal for managing the system, reviewing, and reporting on road conditions
SmartRoad ARID™ performs autonomous road inspections, eliminating the specialist labour needed for inspection. It also inspects many kilometres of road in a short time.
Road inspections are supported by AI and Machine Learning algorithms with autonomous defect and condition assessment with visual and vibration data. This enables repeatability in condition assessment for the entire road network.
Job review, scheduling, assignment, and close-out are standard features of SmartRoad™. There is also a feature that can navigate the maintenance team to a specified defect needing repair.
Moreover, SmartRoad ARID™ enhances safety in three areas:
- Autonomous and rapid inspections ensure inspection safety
- The inspection units can be used in low-light and night-time operations
- They can also be used in applications for dust monitoring in specific mining locations (load and dump areas)
Road performance dashboards and portals
SmartRoad ™ has Road Performance Dashboards and portals that enable easy identification of the problem areas via geospatially pinned information on maps of the roads.
These Dashboards have powerful analytics and ways of showing the road condition – from detailed defect information to overall condition and road quality via heat maps.
This enables retrieval of the inspection records, analytics, and reports, with photographs, and services for digitally managing the corrective action workflows or escalations needed.
The Dashboards provide a complete history of the road inspections for all states, including acceptable and compliant conditions, together with unacceptable and non-compliant conditions.
This enables trending of road performance and comparisons between periods. An important aspect of this history is the ability to review the road life performance and make design and construction changes over time.
The convenience of SmartRoad™ is that it is set up to accommodate the specifics of each mine road network, with the setup of bespoke road maps and operational zones.
SmartRoad™ reporting is layered in detail, whereby the analysis is designed such that not only are the important information and trends reported, but it also allows for deep diving into the details when needed.
For mining companies, there are massive benefits to switching from their conventional approach to road condition monitoring to SmartRoad™.
Modernising road condition monitoring and management by exploiting advances in 4IR, IIoT, Machine Learning, and AI enables significant savings in energy usage and related carbon emissions, tyre consumption, and water usage.
SmartRoad™ ensures that complete and actionable information is provided to the right person at the right time.
“Ultimately, miners want safe and compliant roads with the least cost of ownership, and SmartRoad™ is a key enabler for this,” says Rawlins.
- This is an edited version of the original feature published in the September-October 2022 edition of Mining Business Africa