Sterling Ventures Mine

Radar Gives Mining Loader Operators Just the Right Amount of Warning

PreView® Radar improves underground safety and reduces collisions — without overwhelming operators with false positives.


Sterling Ventures MineSterling Ventures, LLC runs a 1,000-acre underground limestone mine in Verona, Kentucky. In this dusty, sometimes cramped, 3-level environment, 16-ton L220 loaders must carefully navigate around obstacles to get the limestone into haul trucks. If an operator backs into one of the 50-foot-wide ribs that support the mining area, damage to the vehicle’s counterweights can cost as much as $30,000 to repair or replace.

Sterling mounted PRECO’s PreView® Radar on the back of one such loader, and that machine hasn’t been involved in a single accident since. With its pilot test successful, Sterling is ready to install the PreView systems on the rest of its L220 loaders.

Sterling Ventures, LLC operates one of the largest underground limestone mines in Kentucky. The mine, which opened in 1998, produces a wide range of limestone products used in everything from road and building construction to lime production.

The company’s underground mining chambers are huge, with ceilings (or “backs” as they are known) looming from 30 to 80 feet above. Interspersed every 50 feet throughout the mine are 50-foot square “ribs,” limestone the miners have left in place to support the thick layers of limestone between the three levels that constitute the mine.

With the constant rumbling of 16-ton L220 loaders, 40-ton haul trucks, and an assortment of smaller vehicles—along with an enormous rock-crushing machine located in the mine itself—this can be a very noisy, dirty place.

A Large Space, With Lots of Opportunity for Expensive Accidents

“Each level of the mine is a big space, but these L220 loaders are big, too—and they need to navigate some tight spaces around the haul trucks to dump their loads,” says Steve Evans, Sterling Ventures’ Vice President of Human Resources and Operations Manager. “Add to that pedestrian traffic and small pickup trucks coming up behind the loaders, and the loader operators have a lot of things to think about.”

Sterling Ventures MineEvans explains that most modern mining equipment comes equipped with backup cameras. The problem he says, is that in an underground mine you can have low light conditions and dust that builds up on camera lenses to obscure operator vision. His goal was to find a solution that would overcome these obstacles and improve operator awareness of obstacles.

According to Evans: “If the loader operator inadvertently swings the backend into a rib, the counterweights can be knocked off the rear of a loader, at a cost of $30,000 to replace them. If I can prevent an operator from knocking those off of one loader, it more than justifies the cost of the object detection system.”

Standing Up to the Environment

When Evans began looking for a supplement to the vision systems, he discovered that most non-visual systems can’t function in Sterling Ventures Minedustier environments. He says the company uses water trucks to keep the dust down, but he still wanted something that could work even when it was covered with dust.

“When I contacted PRECO, I began to understand the capabilities of an active safety system, I thought, ‘Okay, maybe this thing can handle my environmental concerns,’” Evans recalls. “Then, when PRECO said they’d give me a 30-day free trial—and helped my team set up the radar to fit my exact needs, I said, ‘Let’s go!’”

Tuning a System Takes Teamwork

Sterling Ventures MineOne major piece of input about the PreView system came from the operators themselves. Evans and the operators were concerned that the radar would constantly be triggered by all the objects that surrounded the loader. But for Evans, the moment of greatest concern is when the loaders are “mucking out a heading.”

After explosive charges have blasted rock away from the wall, the loader operator has to move back and forth to load its bucket with rock and then turn the loader to dump the rock into the haul trucks. Most of the damage to the equipment takes place during this process.

Evans and his team installed the sensor on a loader and began testing the sensitivity of the radar. After much experimentation, the team adjusted the system so that the in-cab audible and visual alerts start going off at a low level when the loader is within 18 feet of an object. At 12 feet, the alerts get louder. At three feet, the alert reaches at its maximum setting.

“We lowered the sound of the in-cab alerts, but we will still want the operator to be aware of them,” Evans says. “We want the sound to remind the operator, ‘Okay, I’m moving toward the wall, I’m moving toward the wall,’ until it finally gets to the point where they think, ‘Okay, I’m right up on the wall.’ We want the warning sound—and the warning lights—to be there in the cab when the operators are driving up and down the rib loading the truck because it makes them remember, ‘Be careful. Don’t hit the wall. Don’t damage those counterweights!’”

Sterling Ventures Mine

Creating an Integrated Safety System

Evans says that, like all mines, the company has procedures in place to prevent accidents. Personnel are supposed to radio an operator if they’re approaching a loader by foot or by car, and personnel on foot have helmet headlights they can flash at the operator to let them know they are in the area.

“You can do things to make operators aware of your presence, but human error always comes in,” Evans says. “So that’s the other purpose of the radar system—to make the operator more situationally aware. It gives him another resource to help him be aware that something -or someone- is in the area, or that he’s at risk of either damaging equipment or hurting somebody.”

Taking the Next Step Toward Greater Safety

Sterling Ventures MineEvans says that since the PRECO system has been in operation, the loader has not been involved in a single collision of any type. Nor has it had any close encounters with employees or small vehicles. The next logical step, he says, is to install the system on the rest of the loaders.

“Overall, we were impressed with PRECO,” Evans says. “They offered the 30-day free trial. They worked closely with us to make the radar adjustments. And their device worked just the way they said it would, even in our loud, dusty, cramped environment. I wasn’t convinced we’d find a radar system that would help our operators drive more safely—without overwhelming them with constant warnings—but we did!”

Summary of Benefits:

  • Reduce costs related to equipment damage by mitigating collisions with objects.
  • Active collision avoidance improves operator’s awareness of obstacles, equipment and people.
  • PRECO’s PreView systems provides consistent detection, regardless of the harsh environment.

Integrating PreView Radar with Vehicle Braking Systems for Airport Efficiency

Integrating PreView Radar with Vehicle Braking Systems for Airport Efficiency

The next time you are at an airport, take a look out the window. Observe all the activity that takes place when a plane is getting ready to take off, or just after landing.  You’ll see vehicles of all shapes and sizes delivering luggage and supplies, people on foot, and the massive airplane that will carry you to your destination.

airplane service truckEverything you see is moving quickly, yet in perfect harmony. One wrong move and everything can come to a screeching halt. This results in delayed flights and unhappy customers. It’s the ground handling service and support personnel that address the many service requirements of a passenger aircraft between the time it arrives at a terminal and the time it departs on its next flight. They are the unsung heroes of air travel. Speed, efficiency, and accuracy are important in ground handling services in order to minimize turnaround time and ultimately, increase revenue.

It was no surprise when a major airline had a safety concern with their ground crew lavatory service trucks, so they had to look for an out of the box solution to correct the issue before it got out of hand.

The Problem: Specialty Service Needs Custom Safety Solution

A specialty service truck is required to get very close to airplanes to empty to contents of the lavatory during a limited time between flights. They must do this while maneuvering through a busy airport with multiple vehicles and workers on foot. Although uncommon, there is always the threat of a service truck coming too close to the plane and bumping it. Even the slightest little tap between service equipment and the plane, requires a maintenance person to ensure there was no structural damage to the delicate fuselage exterior. This results in a break in the efficiency, and delays the airplane crew and passengers.

The Solution: PreView Radar

Airline Ground CrewA lead engineer thought about it, and decided there had to be a way to stop the lavatory service truck automatically from hitting the airplane. After some careful research, he decided to integrate the brake lock system and PreView Radar Object Detection system to meet his needs.

PreView Radar met their key requirements to implement: detection of both stationary and moving objects, ability to work through extreme vibration, and provide a consistent detection pattern in the most extreme weather conditions. Finally, PreView sensors utilize standard communication protocols, allowing him to integrate the braking system to automatically stop the vehicle before it could make physical contact with the airplane.

The Result: Downtime is Minimized

The lavatory service truck now automatically brakes within three feet of the airplane, ensuring the airplane and service truck do not collide for an on-time departure. Most importantly, the ground crew can continue their synchronized movements safely and down time is minimized.



A World Leading Pulp and Paper Company Installs Object Detection Systems to Mitigate Lumber Yard Accidents

PRECO Electronics® – Object Detection System Mitigates Lumber Yard Accidents

lumber yardWhen a world leading lumber mill saw the repair cost of a collision between a front loader and a truck, they started looking for a way to prevent such accidents. Their immediate solution was to adapt a radar detection sensor from a passenger vehicle. When they saw that the technology might work on heavy-duty equipment, they set out to find an industrial-grade solution, and found PRECO.

A previous incident at one of the company’s lumber yards took place when a front loader filled with full-length logs backed into a truck. After it picked up a load of logs, it started moving in reverse and backed into a truck causing about $30,000 in repairs. That prompted them to start looking for an object detection system to install on the loaders so that wouldn’t happen again.

An Ad Hoc Solution Leads to the Real Thing

Starting with a prototype of a blind spot detection system from a car, they kept searching online because the team believed there had to be a system available to heavy-duty industries. That’s how they found out about PRECO’s PreView Sentry™ radar sensors.

After a successful pilot, installation of PRECO’s systems began on equipment at the mill site, and continued on to another nearby yard.

Integrating Cameras to Radar to Improve Operator Vision

The equipment and loads at the yard are different than at the mill because the facility deals mainly with green lumber in eight-foot lengths instead of full-length trees. As such, the site has many more forklifts and fewer front-end loaders but the work is much the same.

At the yard, they use a lot of forklifts to move bundles of studs around. They also use some front-end loaders to unload what amount to the leftovers from the plywood-manufacturing process that takes place in a different part of the plant. These loads usually consist of 8-foot-long round logs that can be anywhere from 4-6 inches in diameter.

Because of the distance equipment operators at the site must travel—in reverse—to move loads around the mill, they have also equipped some of the large forklifts with PRECO’s PreView Plus systems, which integrate a camera and monitor with PRECO’s radar sensors to provide equipment operators with a single visual point they can use to monitor the space around them. (PreView Plus supports up to 4 cameras and 24 sensors for 360° vehicle coverage.)

The large forklifts go from one side of the mill to the other in reverse hauling these large packets of studs. Having the cameras mounted on the back of the equipment gives the operators a 180-degree view of what’s ahead as they back up. Giving operators just a little extra warning gives them time to slow down, stop, or maneuver their way out of danger.

Object Detection Systems Suitable for Small Space

Loading LumberThey have also equipped smaller compact loaders with PRECO’s PreView Sentry™ radar-based collision avoidance sensors.

The company agrees that if there are a lot of blind spots on the equipment, then you should definitely have some kind of objection detection system. Even if an operator is diligently paying attention to everything that’s around them, they might miss something and get into trouble. And as they found out, if you can avoid even one accident, the PRECO systems pays for themselves many times over.

Summary of Benefits:

  • Significant reduction in blind spot backing incidents at lumber yards
  • Immediate return on investment (ROI) after installing PRECO’s collision avoidance systems
  • PRECO’s Object Detection Systems provide operators with audible and visual alerts to create better situational awareness

An Oregon City Utility Tests Its Backup Cameras to Meet New Federal Regulations, and Is Surprised by the Results

Eugene Water & Electric finds that some old cameras just don’t make the grade anymore…

Gary Lentsch Eugene Water & Electric Board Fleet ServicesGary Lentsch, fleet manager for the Eugene Water & Electric Board (EWEB) in Oregon, knew that changes were coming to the rules governing vehicle backup cameras. NHTSA’s final rule on Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard for Rear Visibility (FMVSS 111) doesn’t require camera providers to certify that their products meet the new specifications. Instead, it is up to the entity installing the cameras on the vehicles to demonstrate compliance. Even though most of his fleet would be exempt from the new rules, Lentsch wanted to get ahead of the curve. He and the EWEB staff used the NTEA’s FMVSS111 Field of View Conformity Kit to make sure the backup cameras they had already installed would meet the specs—only to discover that they would not. EWEB is now fitting and, in some cases, retrofitting its vehicles with PRECO’s Mini Cams to comply with federal regulations and make fleet operations safer.

Eugene Water & Electric Board (EWEB)  has a total fleet of about 350 vehicles. The fleet includes passenger cars, light-weight pickups, bucket trucks, cranes, dump trucks, backhoes, and motor graders—a typical utility fleet. As EWEB fleet supervisor, Lentsch’s job is to acquire, retire, and otherwise manage the fleet. “I wear a lot of hats,” he says. “I’m responsible for the shop floor, for hiring and recruiting, the maintenance programs, and just about every aspect of fleet operations.”

The Burden is On the User, Not the Manufacturer

In early 2017, Lentsch learned that National Highway Traffic Safety Administration amendments to its rule for backup cameras would take effect in May 2018. The final rule on Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard for Rear Visibility (FMVSS 111) specifies, among other performance requirements, that for all vehicles with a GVWR of 10,000 pounds or less, a 10-foot wide by 20-foot long area directly behind the vehicle must be visible to the operator when the vehicle is placed into reverse. Although many of the vehicles in his fleet exceeded that weight, Lentsch still wanted to make sure EWEB could meet that new standard.

One thing he quickly learned was that OEMs who build light-weight vehicles must use cameras that conform to FMVSS 111. Aftermarket companies, on the other hand, do not have to certify that the cameras they support would conform to the same rules. In other words, it is not up to suppliers to certify that their products meet the standard: That responsibility falls to the user—to organizations such as EWEB.

Critical to Be Able to See What’s Right Behind You

To test the cameras they had installed on fleet equipment, Lentsch and his team set up a 10 by 20-foot grid and used seven cylinders (see A through G in illustration below) placed along the perimeter to serve as targets for the test. The objective was for the operator to be able to see all five of the mid and rear cylinders (A, B, C, D, & E) and a 6-inch by 6-inch portion of each of the two front cylinders (F & G).

“We had been using two different brands of cameras on our vehicles,” Lentsch recalls. “Once we ran the test, we were surprised to learn that neither of them had a wide enough range of view to pass the test. So we started looking into the cameras used on OEM vehicles because we knew those vehicles had to meet the new standards. We discovered that the cameras the manufacturers used had little bubbles on them that expanded the field of view, so we started looking for a camera like that.”

Lentsch says he also had to find a camera that conformed to FMVSS 111 standards regarding response time—how quickly, once the vehicle was put into reverse, the camera came on and presented the cab monitor with a view behind the vehicle.

Buyer Beware

Eugene Water and Electric Test Diagram

“About that time,” Lentsch says, “I went to a truck show and found all these companies saying, ‘Use our camera and be compliant with the new federal standard.’ Our calculations from the tests we ran showed that a backup camera’s view range needed to be at least 170 degrees to meet the new standards. These other cameras had ranges between 130-150 degrees—not enough to provide the required close-up view behind the vehicle. We did our research and found that PRECO’s PreView Mini Cam could go all the way up to 180 degrees—and met the response time criteria as well.”

With the realization that most cameras showed too limited a view, a little light went off.

“We’d been having just as many incidents even after we started installing backup cameras,” Lentsch says. “After we ran these tests, we realized those incidents were happening because of the cameras we had installed had this narrower view range. That meant you could put a truck into reverse and, even though you were staring into your monitor the whole time, back up right into something directly behind you.”

That realization prompted Lentsch to look back at previous EWEB incident reports.  When he did, he noticed that operators always blamed the camera. He says that probably not all those incidents were the camera’s fault, but he also remembers thinking to himself, “If our backup cameras had a wider view, maybe we could prevent more incidents.”

Helping to Improve the Entire Industry

“We’re trying to educate other organizations like ours and we want them to know they have more than one choice. But the thing is, the standard has changed, and it takes a better camera to be able to perform under the standard. The old cameras just don’t cut it anymore. They were perfectly good in their day—and much better than what came before—in terms of presenting a better view behind a vehicle. But the rules and the technology are changing all the time. We need to stay ahead of the curve—and help other cities do the same.”

Whether Your Vehicles Are Exempt or Not, Safety is Safety

Preco Electronics Mini CamGoing forward, Lentsch says he has to be realistic, making sure all new vehicles comply and upgrading existing vehicles to the new cameras—but doing it as fast as a busy crew schedule and existing budgets will allow.

“Most of our equipment is technically exempt because the regulation pertains to vehicles 10,000 pounds and under, and most of our equipment is above that. We’re just trying to do our due diligence, upgrade the EWEB fleet to provide that better backup view, and share what we learn to make the whole industry safer.”

Summary of Benefits:

  • PRECO’s PreView Mini Cam meets FMVSS 111 requirements – field of view and camera/monitor projection, allowing the EWEB fleet to be mandate compliant.
  • Extended camera field of view provides operators with better situational awareness.
  • Once retrofitted, medium and heavy-duty equipment in the EWEB fleet will be prepared for federal vision mandates that are issued in the future.
Airport- Stock Pic

Avoiding Costly Collisions Between Aircraft and Ground Equipment – JBT Corporation

Thousands of times every day in airports around the world, large pieces of equipment pull up to aircraft to provide a variety of PRECO Preview Extremeservices. JBT Corporation manufactures a wide scope of ground service equipment (GSE) including Cargo Loaders that load and unload cargo from the aircraft. If the loader operator does it correctly, it’s business as usual. If they collide with the airplane fuselage, operations can come to a complete halt, delaying takeoff times, costing airlines money, and frustrating passengers. One of JBT Corp’s main objectives is make sure the equipment it manufactures never makes forceful contact with the aircraft it’s servicing. To do so, it relies on a suite of sensors, with PRECO’s Preview Radar serving as the first-line of defense against such collisions.

When an airplane fuselage is struck forcefully, bad things happen. In older planes, punctures or dents in the aluminum body must be repaired to exacting specifications. In newer planes made of lighter and stronger composite bodies, special equipment must be brought to the airplane to test for potential, unseen damage to the composite structure. In either case, a collision between ground service equipment and the airplane fuselage is expensive and time consuming to repair which takes the aircraft out of service. It’s JBT’s job to make sure the equipment it manufactures mitigates the potential to make forceful contact with the aircraft it is servicing.

Avoiding Collisions Between Two Large Objects

Kevin Cecil is Engineering Manager for JBT loaders. In this role, Cecil is responsible for all of the loader products produced or engineered in the company’s Orlando, Florida facility. This includes the Commander and Ranger cargo loader product lines. He is also responsible for JBT’s Halvorsen military loader.

“Billions of dollars are spent every year repairing aircraft hit by ground support equipment,” Cecil says. “Cargo loaders come right up to the side of the aircraft so they have a high potential to cause damage. We install PRECO’s radar sensors on the loaders to detect when the equipment is nearing the plane’s fuselage. When the loader gets within a specified distance, it sends a signal to the loader’s operating system to slow the equipment down as it nears the plane.”

Working in Heavy Traffic Without False Positives

PRECO Preview ExtremeThis might seem like an easy enough task to accomplish, but it is greatly complicated by the number of other ground service equipment operating near the aircraft. As they approach the plane, a JBT cargo loader must be aware of not only its proximity of the aircraft fuselage, but of countless pushback tractors, catering trucks, belt loaders, cargo trucks, loaders, fueling vehicles, lavatory vehicles, and people that dart around it.

“When there are a lot of vehicles in close proximity of each other, the radar is always going to detect something,” Cecil explains, “so we have to work with individual airports and service providers to set up the warning systems on our loaders in such a way that they avoid a lot of false positive object detections.”

In many cases, he says, customers set units up so the radar is active only when the operator platform on the front of the loader is in the elevated position. In this mode, the main focus  is to avoid an aircraft strike. Since the loader is moving very slowly in this position, the operator can worry less about other objects nearby, but still must be alert to the changing conditions. Exactly how loaders behave around other objects on the tarmac is up to each airport and each company operating the loader. JBT maintains flexibility by designing a system that is configurable, enabling engineers to take input from the radar and use it to program how local entities want the loader to react. The radar is one of many sensors the loader’s operating system will use to react to situations on the tarmac.

Long- and Short-Distance Speed Control

“We typically adjust the radar to see five meters in front of the loader,” Cecil says. “These are fairly large vehicles, but they drive at typically slow speeds. We need the loader to see far enough ahead so that, if it senses an object, it has enough room to slow down even further to avoid approaching the fuselage with too much speed.”

In the world of cargo loading, five meters is considered a long distance. When the radar senses an object five meters away (or whatever distance the customer designates), the loader’s operating system uses that information to enable the loader operator to approach at a safe and manageable speed. JBT loaders equipped with Aircraft Proximity Detection Systems automatically change speed control from a foot pedal to a hand throttle as the loader nears the fuselage. This change takes advantage of the fact that most people have finer dexterity and control with their hands than with their feet.

As JBT loaders approach an aircraft, the task of avoiding a collision falls to short-range sensors mounted on the loaders. For these very short distances—less than one meter—the input from the sensor will signal the operating system to apply the brakes (auto braking) before the loader makes contact. In addition, touch-sensitive bumpers will bring the loader to a full stop if  they are compressed against the fuselage. If the contact is too forceful, the bumpers can cause the loader to be locked in position until a supervisor can assess potential damage.

Adjusting Sensors to Accommodate Aircraft Design

PreView ExtremeJBT installs either one or two of PRECO’s sensors on each loader. One sensor is mounted in the center of the loader and looks straight ahead. For loaders that service very large planes, JBT will install a second sensor under the front of the operator’s console. Instead of aiming straight forward, this sensor is angled up at 5-10 degrees.  This upward view is needed for larger aircraft whose tail sections sweep up away from the ground near the rear cargo door. By having one sensor looking up, the loader operator is better equipped to avoid contact with the portion of the fuselage that looms above.

Staying Relevant in a Fast-Changing World

Cecil points out that newer PRECO radars, which JBT is transitioning to, provide the ability to custom shape that pattern of radar waves emitted from the sensor. This ability to customize the detection zone allows JBT to improve its equipment’s ability to avoid costly aircraft collisions and further decrease false positives from other objects around the loader.

“It’s been 11 or 12 years since we started really utilizing PRECO’s radars,” Cecil says. “Originally, it was because PRECO was one of the better technologies for sensing objects—particularly in harsh weather conditions. The new radars will give us more capability even as the sensor size shrinks. PRECO has increased performance and put it in a smaller package, which is a double win for us!”

As with so many other forms of transportation, talk of autonomous ground service equipment is growing. “Automobile makers are developing new sensor technology at a very rapid and cost-effective rate,” Cecil explains. “The technologies and choices of sensors may change, but PRECO’s PreView Radar sensors were the right sensor when we first started installing them—and the way they’ve evolved makes them the right sensors today.”

Summary of Benefits:

  • Consistent and reliable object detection to avoid damage to expensive aircrafts.
  • Ability to intelligently integrate with JBT’s operating system and other installed sensors to slow loader down as it nears the aircraft.
  • Customizable detection zones allow JBT to set a detection pattern as designated by their customers.

Global Mining Company Cuts Costly Vehicle Collisions In Half in Two Years

Imerys S.A. Pilots PRECO’s Object-Detection Radar in California, Eyes Global Implementation

ImerysThe good news at Imerys S.A.’s open pit mine in Lompoc, California, is that not many employees get around on foot in the mine area:  Fewer people on the ground interacting with mobile equipment traffic means less chance of vehicle-related injuries. However, the site has been in operation for over 100 years and, with a 5,000-acre footprint, property damage accidents were occurring at an unacceptable rate.  After consulting with other mine safety professionals, the site’s safety manager began installing PRECO Electronics’ PreView Radar systems on the site’s heavy equipment. Two years later, collisions at Lompoc had decreased by more than 50 percent.

Bruce Coggin, Senior Environmental Health and Safety Manager at Imerys’s Lompoc site, considers himself very fortunate that the thing he worries most about is property damage from mobile equipment. To be sure, damage to equipment, whether stationary or mobile, is a problem for any company. But, it pales in comparison to the prospect of accidents involving people.

The Price of a Collision: Much More Than Just Repairs

Large haul trucks in tight spaces increases the chance of property damage events. “These haul trucks can hit things and not even know it,” Coggin says. “They’re big, they’re rigid, and they’re usually carrying so much weight that the operators can’t always tell if they’ve struck another vehicle, an out-building, or another piece of mining equipment.”

The financial loss continues well after the actual crash, Coggin says. “The cost of a collision is not just the damage to the equipment. “We have an accident investigation to complete and then a post-accident drug test.  The time to perform a drug test can cost in excess of $1,000.00 due to transport of the individual to the off-site facility. ”

How to Cut Your Accident Rate in Half

After talking about these recurring collisions with other members of the Industrial Minerals Association-North America (IMA-NA), Coggins decided to follow their advice and talk to PRECO about its object detection radar sensors.

“Our operators have to navigate very large vehicles through very small spaces,” Coggins says. “It just makes sense to warn them when they’re getting too close to something. The technology is here and it’s excellent, so why not make it available to them?”

ImerysHe began by installing the sensors on his heavier equipment; bulldozers, haul trucks, vactor trucks, guzzlers, and graders. His first order of business was to get the systems on equipment operating in confined areas.

You might think tight spaces wouldn’t be a problem for a site that covers more than 5,000 acres, but only about 300 acres constitute the actual production area itself. Most of the accidents take place in a crowded group of buildings in the center of the open pit.

It’s been about two years since Coggins began installing the PreView Radar. Since then, he’s seen the number of collisions decrease by more than half.

A Pilot Project That’s Set to Take Off

Now that he has outfitted most of the site’s heavy equipment with the sensors, Coggins plans to move on to lighter equipment. First on the list is the water buffalo, which also works in tight spaces keeping the roads wet and the dust down.

He’s also expanding the use of PRECO’s PreView Safety Alert System –back-up alarms- on his fleet of 15-plus forklifts. He Imerysconsidered using the radar systems in this scenario too but he realized that in the extremely confined areas where the forklifts operate, the sensor’s alerts would go off non-stop.

Installation of PRECO’s PreView Radar systems has enabled Coggin to achieve two goals at the same time. On one hand, he can continue to decrease the odds that an employee will ever be struck by moving equipment. At the same time, he can reduce the significant costs incurred by property damage-type accidents. Small wonder, then, that he plans to continue expanding use of these heavy-duty safety systems.

“So far, everything we’ve done with the PRECO sensors and alarms has been as part of a pilot project,” Coggins says. “It has worked out very well, so I’m looking to implement PRECO systems at our other mining operations.” To date, Imerys has 270 industrial sites in more than 50 countries.

The Proof of the Pudding: Customer Service

In rugged environments like the ones Imerys equipment usually operates in, the rubber hits the road when it comes to customer service, and Coggins has found PRECO to be a good partner in this respect as well.

“It’s very helpful to have a single point of contact—someone reliable I can reach out to. I’ve gotten to know my contact person at PRECO well, and he knows me. He understands what I deal with from day-to-day, and isn’t shy about reaching out. In fact, I bet he’s called me more times than I’ve called him. Just another reason why I’m happy I chose PRECO.”


Autonomous Solutions, Inc. Looks to PRECO Electronics to Fill Important Object-Detection Gap

ASI needed an affordable and scalable component to improve its environmental-sensing systems.

Autonomous SolutionsAs one of the leading providers of vendor-independent vehicle-automation systems, Autonomous Solutions, Inc. (ASI) brings together the best technologies to address specific customer challenges. The LIDAR system it had implemented on a customers’ heavy-duty mining and agricultural equipment was able to detect obstacles under normal conditions. When dust, rain, and snow were present, however, the LIDAR system had difficulty identifying actual objects. By fusing LIDAR with PRECO’s PreView Radar® sensors, ASI’s customers can operate their autonomous vehicles knowing that ASI’s solution will detect objects in all weather and light conditions.

Autonomous Solutions, Inc.’s tagline says it all: “Ground Vehicle Automation for The World’s Dull, Dirty, And Dangerous Jobs.” There are fewer jobs dirtier than large-acreage farming, or potentially more dangerous than open-pit mining. As seen in so many other cases, the best way to be the most efficient and protect lives in some of these dangerous environments is often to take human operators out of the equation.

But that means companies must find ways to ensure vehicles operate in a flawlessly safe fashion. Cost savings made possible by the reduction in the number and severity of accidents has been particularly important for mining companies.

Combining LIDAR and Radar to Improve “Visibility”

“One of the main features we sell to our customers is obstacle protection and avoidance,” says ASI robotics research engineer Taylor Bybee. “To perform that, we need environmental sensing, which we’re delivering with a combination of LIDAR and radar units. LIDAR provides high-resolution information, but it is susceptible to unwanted returns from dust and rain and snow. PRECO’s radars complement this information by being able to penetrate harsh conditions to verify the existence of actual obstacles.”

Terence Keegan is ASI’s perception software engineer, responsible for the company’s object detection solutions. “Our current application for the mines is in the haul and dump cycles, both of which can create huge problems with dust, dirt, and mud. We Haul-Truck-Lidarwere looking for a way to fuse radar with active LIDAR sensing to be able to operate in these difficult environments.”

After testing PRECO’s PreView Sentry™ radar sensors for hundreds of hours, ASI was convinced that the combination of LIDAR and radar made sense. Since it implemented this two-pronged approach, ASI has seen a dramatic reduction in unwanted returns, along with high marks for the radar sensors’ durability.

Big Equipment Can Mean Big Blind Spots

ASI’s overarching goal, says Keegan, is to obtain as many visual perspectives around the vehicle as possible so the operators can see potential obstacles within a full 360-degree view of their position.

As Keegan points out, one of the big challenges of implementing object detection solutions in the mining industry is the sheer size of the equipment involved. ASI’s solution is to fuse multiple LIDAR and radar sensors to provide the all-condition situation awareness the operators need.

For both its agriculture and mining solutions, as well as for some of its small-scale military projects, ASI mounts radar sensors to the front of its vehicles, aimed in the direction of travel. From this position, the sensors send data to the remote operators for assessment, along with LIDAR data, for potential obstacles.

“Our customers also use radar on vehicles used at very large-scale farms,” says Bybee.  “These fields are usually much less cluttered than mines, but they can be a lot dustier. There usually aren’t a lot of obstacles in the middle of a large field, but we still need to keep an eye out for unexpected vehicles, people, or animals. Obviously, they aren’t there 100-percent of the time, but we need to make sure the tractors can stop for them should they appear.”

Radar is a good solution for providing most of the actual view, Keegan says, especially when the remote operator is busy handling vehicle navigation.

“What we need most is for the remote operators to get a warning if there’s something in front of the vehicle they need to stop for—and they need to be able to do this no matter what the environmental conditions.”

Scalable and Affordable to Meet the Needs of Every Customer

In addition to dust, rain, and snow, ASI also faces the common business challenges of cost and supply. The fact that the company can cover vehicle blind spots through strategic placement of PRECO’s radar sensors—and enjoy above-average performance at a relatively low cost—makes ASI’s vehicle automation solution even more attractive to customers.

“We sometimes order in low quantities,” Bybee says. “Here’s where we see a huge benefit from interacting with PRECO.  When we need sensors for a project that comes up in a short amount of time, they’ve always treated us like a valued client with prompt service and product delivery.”

Currently, ASI is researching new ways to combine data from radar, LIDAR, and cameras to provide both passive and active awareness on board autonomous vehicles. This ability to combine different types of information from multiple sensor types provides ASI customers with continually improved visibility. The use of autonomous vehicles reaches further and further into society. As it does, the need for companies such as ASI to combine sensors to provide complete object detection will only get more important.


Equipe Safety Case Study

Equipe Partners with PRECO

PRECO boosts drilling productivity with radarBefore a construction project can be started in the U.K., the site must be drilled so builders can fully understand the nature of the ground on which the foundation will sit. The rigs that do this drilling are extremely powerful, and entanglement with the drill has caused many human fatalities and injuries both in the U.K.  and worldwide. Equipe Group, located northwest of London, incorporates Equipe Geosolutions, which develops new technologies for the global drilling industry,  has developed the SAFER G system that would prevent any such accidents in the future. The system it has developed utilizing PRECO Electronics radar technology has not only made rigs vastly safer, it has also raised productivity to levels unseen in a decade.

Prior to the enactment of new regulations ten years ago, there was no requirement across Europe that these drill rigs had to be guarded to prevent workers from coming into contact with a rotating drill. With passage of the new rule, manufacturers responded by enclosing the rig entrance with heavy steel-mesh gates. The gates have dramatically reduced death and injury, but they’ve caused problems, too.

“The steel-mesh gates that now protect drill rigs have done a very good job of reducing injury and death to near zero,” says Keith Spires, Equipe Group’s Operations Director. “The unintended consequence of these gates has been an industry-wide drop in productivity in some activities estimated at 40 percent. Our goal was to maintain drilling’s excellent modern safety record, while returning productivity to its prior level.

In the course of a normal drilling job, Spires says, in some activities such as grouting and anchoring workers can add 40-60 sections of drilling rods to enable the drill to reach required depths. Each time they need to add a rod, workers must open the gates, load the rods in to the assembly, then securely reclose the gates. Repeating these extra motions so many times in a single day puts a big dent in the productive capacity of the rig.

On top of that, Spires says, the mesh gates have made it much harder for drill operators to visually monitor the rig making it harder for them to spot problems before they get worse. Staring through steel mesh, day in day out, also increases the eye strain on the operator. The gates are also heavy, awkward and prevent operators from placing the drill rigs in tight spaces.  These heavy gates also have  huge maintenance requirements often resulting in down time.

Short-range Radar Creates a Virtual, but Sensitive, Steel Gate

To improve the productivity of its customers, Equipe Group began looking for ways to replace these widely disliked gates with more modern safety technology. “We looked at infrared,” Spires says. “We looked at laser scanners. We looked at ultrasonic. We finally decided that the best solution was short-range radar. That’s when we started talking with PRECO.”

Equipe Geosolution’s choice of technology hinged on a couple of different capabilities. First, the system had to be able to operate in dusty, dirty, vibration-filled environments. It had to be strong enough to operate even after being struck by drill pipe and other objects as workers operated the rig. The most challenging capability was the need to be intelligent enough to detect some objects while ignoring others. equipe-saferg-mounted-on-drill-rig

“For us, everything is designed around the human hand,” he says. “There can be all kinds of material ejected from the rig—chunks of dust, mud, rock, fluids. Some of the technology we looked at would react to grain of sand in the air and shut the drill down. We needed a system that wouldn’t react to anything smaller than a hand. But once it detected a hand (or anything larger), the sensor had to be able to react instantly to bring a drill spinning at 1,500 rpm to a complete stop.”

“The unintended consequence of the gates has been an industry-wide drop in productivity estimated at 40 percent.”

PRECO made the task of earning the CE mark easier by delivering radar units that,” Spires says, “simply do not fail. 

A “Bullet-Proof” Safety Solution

Equipe Geosolution’s “SAFER G” solution is comprised of specially designed PreView Radar sensors bolted on either side of the rig entrance. The sensors are mounted on rubber cushions to reduce vibration, and are retrofitted with visible lights so rig teams can be sure the devices are operating.

The SAFER G solution is designed not to warn workers of danger, but to remove the danger itself. When a worker gets within about 4 feet (1.24 meters) of the rig, the radar sensors detect the person’s presence and within 200 milliseconds send a signal to the machine to stop. The motor then has another 600-800 milliseconds to bring the drill shaft to a complete stop to prevent the worker from becoming entangled in the drill.

To make sure that the solution works for each individual drill rig, Equipe Geosolutions customizes the sensors to fit each drill rig. First, it measures how long it takes that rig’s drill shaft to stop spinning once the motor is shut off. Then it places the sensors in strategic locations to ensure that the shaft will come to rest well before a member of the rig crew could possibly reach the drill. Spires notes that even if a rig worker is running at full speed toward the drill, the drill shaft always comes to a full stop well before the worker reaches it—every single time.

The SAFER G Solution Wins Cross-Europe Safety Seal

Spires makes his safety claim with the assurance that comes from literally millions of hours of testing. Before a manufacturer in the U.K. or Europe can put any product on the market, it must obtain what is known as a CE Mark. Earning this safety certification, he says, is not easy.

“There are about 100 individual components to the SAFER G solution,” Spires says. “Not only did we have to prove that each component was reliable. We also had to show that no matter what component—or combination of componePRECO SAFER G Drill Rig safety solutionnts—failed, SAFER G would still bring the drill shaft to an immediate halt. And we had to prove that this would be true amid rain, snow, heat, dust, and mud—in very low and high temperatures and ranges of humidity. As a final fail-safe guarantee, we install two sensors on each rig to provide redundancy.”

PRECO made the task of earning the CE mark easier by delivering radar units that,” Spires says, “simply do not fail.  We tested the PRECO sensors so many times that at one point I finally said, ‘Obviously, PRECO’s manufacturing process must be spot on because these units just do not fail.’”

New Solution Keeps Safety Benefits, Returns Productivity to Previous Levels

The startling news for Equipe Geosolutions customers was that the precipitous drop in saferg-mounted-on-drill-rigproductivity that came with the steel gates could be regained.

“The sensors certainly speed up drill operations again,” says Spires. “Without the SAFER G radar sensor system, every time you want to do something at the drill head you’ve got to open the gate, and then the drill won’t start up again until you shut the gate. The introduction of drill rig gates caused a 40 percent drop in productivity. Equipe Geosolution’s PRECO Preview Radar-enabled safety system, SAFER G, has boosted productivity back to where it was before.”

Using PreView Radar to Take Action, Not Give Warning

preview radar-helps-boost-productivity-by-40Equipe Geosolution’s use of short-range radar represents an innovative application of PRECO’s technology. Normally, customers use PreView Radar sensors to warn equipment operators of approaching danger. Once alerted, the driver must apply the brakes or take evasive action. For Equipe Geosolutions the goal was to remove the danger altogether.

Spires says the SAFER G solution comes at an interesting time. While the U.K. has had the rig-protection regulation in place for a decade, it has only recently been put in place across Europe. Spires says his company’s goal is to demonstrate to rig manufacturers across the U.K. and Europe that their PRECO-enabled solution makes drill rig injury and death a thing of the past—and does so without those heavy, productivity-killing steel gates.

MDU Success in Utility Vehicle Safety Story

Major Western Utility Company Integrates Radar and Video to Maximize Safety

With a service area spanning eight Northern and Pacific Northwest states, Montana-Dakota Utilities Co. keeps a lot of drivers and trucks on the road. They install and repair electric and gas utility lines in cities, suburbs, and in the countryside, often in extreme weather conditions. To help their drivers operate more safely, Montana-Dakota has been systematically upgrading its trucks with PRECO Electronics’ PreView® Radar side and rear detection systems. The results include fewer rear-end and side blind zone collisions, improved safety, and lower installation costs.

Montana-Dakota Utilities Co. values safetyMontana-Dakota Utilities Co. began searching for a better solution to its large-truck safety systems due to issues they were having with the existing technology’s failure-prone operating system.  According to Kim Hodges, who oversees the company’s fleet maintenance and repairs, they looked at a number of replacement solutions, including one that involved mounting four sensor buttons on each bumper. Concerned that the sensors would be too easily damaged in the course of a normal workday, he kept looking.

Fewer Sensors, More Powerful, Durable and Dependable

PreView Sentry Collision Mitigation Radar“Instead of using those four exposed sensors, we started installing PRECO’s PreView Radar systems,” Hodges says. “PRECO puts its sensors into one ruggedized box. The sensors don’t get damaged, and the system is dependable. We’ve been using PRECO for several years and haven’t seen anywhere near the number of issues we had with our old system. And installing one sensor instead of four reduces installation time and cost.”

“Installing one sensor instead of four reduces installation time and cost.”

“Once we saw the value of PRECO’s radar systems, we took the next step and installed the PreView Plus solution that integrates radar and cameras.”

“PRECO’s systems work very well, which says to me that they’re on top of their technology,” says Hodges.

Integrating Visual and Audible Warning Systems

PreView Plus Camera and Monitor Vehicle Safety System“Once we saw the value of PRECO’s radar systems, we took the next step and installed the PreView Plus solution that integrates radar and cameras.”

The PreView Plus system integrates a camera and monitor with its PreView Radar system. PreView Plus supports as many as 4 cameras and 24 sensors per vehicle to provide up to 360-degree object detection. The in-cab mounted monitor provides drivers with visual information, color coded indicators and audible alerts.

With the radar and camera-plus-radar systems in place and fully operational, Preco benefits Montana-Dakota by helping it prevent costly damage to people, property, and fleet equipment; reduce maintenance and repair costs; and teach drivers to become more alert and proactive—without incurring extra training costs.

Future-Proof Safety Systems

As can be seen with the increasingly sophisticated collision-avoidance systems now standard on many passenger cars, it’s clear that vehicle safety regulations for heavy-duty trucks will evolve as well. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is looking very closely at a wide range of technologies from crash avoidance to data collection, vehicle-to-vehicle communications, and speed limiters.

“PRECO’s systems work very well, which says to me that they’re on top of their technology,” says Hodges. “As vehicles change and safety regulations evolve, I’m confident that PRECO will stay on top of these changes.”

Customer Profile

Montana-Dakota Utilities Co. was created in 1924 to bring energy to small farming communities along the border between Montana and North Dakota. With a motto of “in the community to serve,” the company now provides retail natural gas and/or electric services to more than 384,000 customers spread over 168,000 square miles, a service area equal to 5.5 percent of the entire continental United States.

Oldcastle/Idaho Concrete Success in Safety Story

Implementing Safety In Loud Environments

Preco Radar has a Safety Solution for Construction Industry

Machines, vehicles, and ground employees must work in close proximity when working on an aggregate site like Idaho Materials and Construction (IMCCO), a division of Oldcastle. There are often homes nearby.  The mixture of these elements can result in a loud environment where backup alarms become less effective and intrusive to the surrounding neighbors. Because of Oldcastle’s corporate commitment to eliminating hazards and improving operations, IMCCO contacted Preco Electronics, Inc..

The first priority was reducing blind spot accidents. Studies show that more than half the accidents at a construction site are due to blind spots. The second priority was increasing the effectiveness of backup alarms and reducing the noise levels for the surrounding neighbors within OSHA guidelines. Finally, IMCCO is a business, so protecting the bottom line was essential. The financial toll of an accident includes downtime, repair costs, penalties, and potentially years of litigation. Of course, this pales in comparison to the pain and suffering of a co-worker or his family when there is an injury or loss of life.

A Safety Solution to Reduce Blind Spot Accidents

The solution was PreView® Safety Alert System (PreView SAS).  PreView SAS detects objects in the drivers blind spot, then warns the driver of the object through an in-cab audible and visual alert. The back-up alarm then increases in tone to warn those outside the vehicle they are in danger. The change in tone gets the attention of those surrounding the vehicle and keeps the site noise levels down by only activating the increased tone when an object is detected.

Since installing their first PreView SAS system on a wheel loader with great success, IMCCO has continued to integrate this system throughout their fleet and expanded it to their concrete trucks.

“Studies show that more than half the accidents at a construction site are due to blind spots.”

PreView sensors were 100% effective even with dirt, dust, mud, snow, fog, and the other extreme conditions common at any concrete site.

Safety Concerns Solved

IMCCO needed to solve three distinct issues: noise reduction, reduction of blind spot accidents, and different blind spot areas for each machine.

PreView Sensors are designed to detect moving and stationary objects in blind spots to significantly reduce accidents. PreView consists of three simple components: 1) external sensor; 2) in-cab display to provide visual and audible notification to the operator; and 3) cable system to connect the sensor and display. Coverage area for ICCO was set at 20’ per their specific needs.

This solved their safety issue. In order to solve the issue with the noise levels, PreView SAS was set up to control the sound level of the backup alarm.

When the sensor did not detect an object in the blind spot area, the backup alarm was active, but the volume was set at only slightly higher than the ambient noise. Once an object was detected, PreView SAS increased the sound level of the alarm to notify those outside of the vehicle of the reversing movement of the vehicle, while notifying the operator in the cab. The result was a reduction in noise level when there was no danger.


PreView sensors were 100% effective even with dirt, dust, mud, snow, fog, and the other extreme conditions common at any concrete site.

It Just Works

IMCCO saw for themselves that PreView Radar “just works” during their pilot project. Because of these solid results, they have continued to integrate PreView throughout their fleet. Find out for yourself how PreView can help your company, and start your pilot project today.