VAR Creates Rugged Data Collection Solution For Mining Safety Inspections
Solution for mining safety inspections cracks rugged data capture market for VAR.
Business Solutions, May 2009
She explains the product development process began about two years ago when Snively started collaborating with the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) to improve the inspection process for the safety breathing apparatus required in all underground mines for use in the case of a collapse. “The mines must inspect those safety devices because you want to be assured they are not out of air or end of life when you need them,” explains Blank. Prior solutions involved manual inspections with paper-based records. “We developed an application that can run on a rugged handheld so inspectors can scan the equipment’s bar code, check its status, and record the inspection right there, then move on,” says Blank, who says the automated data capture inspection allows inspectors to record in less than a minute all the information they need, as compared to 20 minutes in the past.
In addition, the application, which can be customized for any kind of inspection, can also be used for preventive maintenance scans on other equipment used in heavy manufacturing and rugged environments. “The software will prompt inspectors to check particular parameters of a piece of equipment, and then those answers are compared to policies set by the company or the government to ensure safety,” says Blank. Once the inspections are complete, users simply upload the data and complete (through an automated process) the reports required by MSHA.
The end result is the first solution certified to run on the newly unveiled two-way 802.11 wireless communications and tracking system just approved by MSHA, an underground wireless network developed by Canadian wireless VAR Active Control (see page 11). The Snively Safety Tracker solution includes custom inspection software designed by Snively to run on a rugged Motorola MC9090 handheld unit customized for intrinsic safety by Bartec. (According to manufacturing and mining safety requirements, intrinsic safety means that electronic components must not create static or sparks that might ignite fumes, such as methane, or the dust often found in furniture-building facilities.) Safety Tracker was built to function in areas that require explosion-proof (Class 1, Division 2 Intrinsic Safety) certified equipment for use on a wireless local area network (WLAN).
In addition, the MC9090 meets IP64 sealing ratings (which indicate water and dust resistance) as well as stringent drop-and-tumble requirements (testing entails six-foot drops onto concrete and multiple one-meter tumble tests). “Our handheld solution is getting its MSHA certification right now; then it will be one of the only wireless mobile devices approved for underground mines,” explains Blank. Snively anticipates certification in May, the outcome of 18 months of work that focused on demonstrating the solution met the compliancy requirements of the 2006 Miner’s Act. “After we demonstrated compliancy with that act, we started a long process of complete retesting of every component in our device, right down to the lithium battery cells, by independent MSHA governmental labs to ensure our product was 100% intrinsically safe so the device is deemed usable in underground environments,” says Blank.