Breaking barriers with next-gen TETRA radio

Terrestrial trunked radio (TETRA) systems go beyond their traditional functions today, and thanks to the innovation of communication specialist Sepura, this extends to keeping mine workers safe while performing their jobs.

There are very few things that can help stop a 700-tonne dump truck from speeding, and when there is, you wouldn’t expect it to come in the form of a 250-gram radio. The new TETRA radios from Sepura, however, have broken traditional boundaries.

A radio is no longer simply a device for voice communication, but one that can help keep workers safe, thanks to built-in safety features to protect lone workers or those in distress.

The radios can now be enhanced with the addition of a new application, AutoMate, which enables the radio to take pre-defined actions based on a chosen trigger which may be according to the current condition or location.

When a miner enters a blast zone to join a working group, the radio app – prompted by a geofence zone definition – automatically switches to the correct talkgroup so they can communicate with that team

In the control room, their location and status are logged, and if that individual is not allowed in the blast zone, warnings can be shared with the operational team to take appropriate action.

Similarly, a vehicle that enters an underground work area to collect some materials and loses the network signal can also maintain constant communication, as the radio automatically switches to direct mode operation (DMO).

An additional app can connect the radio to secure Wi-Fi networks, enabling the control team to send emergency messages over Wi-Fi.

In this way, both voice and emergency communications are maintained, and the team only needs one communication device to monitor.


Enhancing efficiency

One of the key advantages of using a radio network for such emergency notifications is that the automatic alerts can be shared with team leaders or a supervisor, improving situational awareness.

In addition, the application reduces the burden on staff to perform mundane tasks such as changing talkgroup or confirming location and status, meaning they can better concentrate on operational tasks.

“From a safety perspective, the faster the site emergency teams can be notified of an incident, the better,” Sepura sales engineer Ash Hunter tells Safe to Work.

“With such large machinery on site, hazardous environments and the vast scale of many sites, it is vital that alerts are quickly and effectively shared with not just the vehicle operator but also other people that can assist.”

An evolving solution

The power of AutoMate lies in its flexibility to be adapted to suit an organisation’s needs, and to evolve with these over time according to the work being done.

These are typically done in-house and enable quick and efficient changes to allow for seamless operations.

“Using the example of the blast zone; if blasting activity moves to a new area or the zone is extended, the geofences can be updated and added to the radio software, ready for the start of the new shift,” Hunter says.

“The application will allow users to reconfigure and adjust their geofence positions weekly or even daily, if they need to. The sheer amount of flexibility at its heart is a very powerful tool to support operations.

“Similarly, if a mining contractor changes sites, it is a simple process to update their radio setup. Radios can be programmed to react differently according to the team’s work priorities, or to react differently in different areas, or for different users.”

Wireless programming

In a further significant operational advantage, changes to radio settings and software updates can now be uploaded via secure Wi-Fi, using Sepura’s Over The Air Programming (OTAP) solution.

“The main benefit of OTAP is that you no longer need to bring 200 or so radios into the office or physically go to each vehicle and input the changed parameters every time you’d like to make an update,” Sepura business development manager Colin Bresnahan explains.

“If the blast zone area is modified, the radio’s settings can be updated while the vehicle is parked overnight or in between team shifts. A safety professional doesn’t need to get a permission to pull the vehicle up and isolate it to the side of the road while technicians come and reprogram the radio.

“This could save the mining organisation several thousands of dollars in downtime.”

Future technology

With the ever-changing requirements of mining companies, Sepura is already anticipating the future of safety technologies as it sets its sights on exploiting the maximum potential of the radios.

Future use cases could include pairing together radios with additional safety equipment, such as oxygen monitors or devices to identify gas leaks (using Bluetooth).

Through the connectivity allowed by the TETRA network and the connection to Wi-Fi networks, information such as this can inform team leaders immediately of a potential issue.

“Using applications, our latest-generation of radios are smarter, more intelligent and have more potential than ever,” Bresnahan says.

“Developing these apps allows us to work closely with our mining customers to support operations and preserve staff safety in a cost-effective manner.

“AutoMate is just one example in an ever-growing stable of Sepura applications that can be tailored to individual customers’ requirements.”

This article also appears in the Jan-Feb issue of Safe to Work.

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