28 March 2007
The advent of the Ethernet, described by the Penguin dictionary as a local area network that connects a number of computer systems, has changed the face of security delivery within the mining and heavy industry sectors.
Once reliant on an internal melting pot of stand-alone systems to take care of security, access control and surveillance requirements, these industries have embraced the arrival of integrated solutions that owe their existence to broadband and fibre cabling, says Francois Smuts, CCTV Product Manager of Elvey Security Technologies.
“In the not-too-distant past, it was an enormous undertaking to secure large or high risk sites owing to their vast sizes or remote geographical locations,” he says. Now, the lack of cohesion and shortfalls of yesterday’s ad hoc systems are fast being replaced by modern integrated solution technology, which is increasingly in demand by the large sectors, of which one of the most consuming is mining.
According to Smuts, whose own company recorded a 30 percent growth rate in demand for integrated systems from the mining industry in 2006, management now wants more than just equipment. They want systems that are able to cope with the varied and challenging demands of the sector, and while systems differ from one mine to another in terms of applications, there is a common thread that runs throughout – that of loss reduction, both in terms of product and productivity.
This is supported by findings in a report done by the Institute of Security Studies on behalf of the Chamber of Mines of South Africa, which was published in August 2006. The report recognizes South Africa’s standing as having the largest-known reserves of gold and platinum in the world. It adds that South Africa’s mining industry as the second largest employer in the country, underpins its strategic importance in terms of national development and sustained growth. However, it points out, there are a number of challenges facing the sector, of which one of the most notable is crime. As a result, large chunks of mine budgets are being spent on technology in a two-pronged attack on both the detection and prevention of theft.
The report goes on to say that there is little doubt that the degree and nature of criminal activity points to the work of large and organized operations. “One should not only focus on the loss of precious metals as an indicator of the level of theft, but also on the loss of related mine property: both components are crucial to the existence of mining operations. Most mines are implementing state-of-the-art security measures in an effort to protect their assets against theft: it is astonishing to see how much money is spent on the newest security measures and on security personnel. The criminal threat to the precious metals mining industry is thus becoming a threat to South Africa’s national growth and economic future. Government should therefore consider enhancing the service and protection it provides to the precious metals mining industry. As a priority, the criminal threat to the continued existence of marginal mines has to be acknowledged.”
In full agreement, Smuts says mining sector demand for optical fibre technology, which has allowed for the integration of closed circuit television (CCTV), alarms and access control systems, is serviced by a relatively small core of 20 South African niche suppliers. His own specialist representatives are trained to provide not only upfront advice on cutting edge technology but also professional after-sales service and technical advice.
Today’s systems comprise not only the requisite security component but also offer management and surveillance tools which are now key to ensuring high production levels and quality. And it’s all thanks to the Internet, which Smuts says has become the backbone of integrated solutions, allowing individual systems to be connected via fibre cables, microwaves, wireless links and ADSL.
One of the main challenges in the mining industry today is to find the correct solutions for clients, whose needs very often differ from one to another. “For example, a high value mine will require extremely high levels of security to safeguard its products. Coal mines, on the other hand, generally focus on operational and management issues, with the emphasis on surveillance to ensure that productivity remains on track and staff behaviour remains within acceptable parameters.”
Information technology has made it easy to meet these demands, with the Ethernet removing historical problems of distance and multiple sites. “The mining industry has always been on top of its security game. However, with its extensive buildings and large territorial spread, it was always a headache from a central monitoring perspective. Now linking all the mines in a specific group is so much easier since we are able to bring things back to one central point,” Smut says.
Focusing on the demands of the country’s mining industry in the wake of its high crime levels and narrowing profit margins, Smuts says the requirement is increasingly for integrated optical fibre systems with access control, intelligent border protection, management and surveillance capabilities. From a surveillance perspective, the spotlight is generally on the behaviour of people rather than on building management as it is in many other sectors. “The mines want standard access control systems that are complimented by closed circuit television (CCTV) monitoring since electronic systems are not intelligent enough to identify suspicious behaviour. Basically, this translates to people watching people.” Able to meet the “very special requirements” of the mines, CCTV has a range of diverse applications. Widely used in shopping centres, CCTV not only provides immediate site perspectives but is also key to identifying emergencies that require armed response intervention. There is even a marketing element to it owing to its ability to bring the customer into close proximity with store and centre management.
In other environments such as city and highway monitoring, the systems are purely electronic. Here the requirement is for intelligence that will be electronically used to monitor crime hotspots, traffic congestion and vehicle density, Smuts says, rather than human behaviour. So successful has this technology been in reducing inner city crime and controlling traffic that the airports are now calling for it to identify queues and passenger bottlenecks, he adds.
The security aspect is obvious, although it’s not only about protecting diamonds or precious metals. “There is also the need to protect intellectual property and information, especially in the current market where profit margins are down as a result of competition, rising labour costs and new laws and regulations that have reduced mining investment in the country by billions per annum,” Smuts says. (According to an article in Business Report (7 February 2007), the Chamber of Mines is highly critical of government’s introduction of laws and regulations that have reduced mining investment by as much as R10 billion a year.) “This, on top of ever-increasing labour costs, makes it vital that systems are in place to ensure data confidentiality and control both information and product theft.”
Today’s state-of-the art technology is not only key to safeguarding mining products and premises, but also promises to be the solution to the sector’s hygiene problems going forward. “The mines are eager to stop physical contact with systems and devices as soon as possible in order to create a cleaner work environment and reduce the problem of STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) so inherent in this type of environment. The solution is likely to lie in the form of a combination of biometrics with contactless technology, he believes, where people will be identified by contactless electronic readings or automatic recognition of specific physical attributes.
Apart from the mining sector, top-end of the market utility providers such as ESKOM, the provincial water suppliers and Metro Rail are also demanding integrated solutions in readiness for the country’s successful hosting of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, Smuts says. In terms of security and surveillance, large scale industry in general is moving away from a purely reactive approach to one that is far more proactive. Modern technology is fueling this, not only by minimising the old problem of false alarms but also by allowing for remote monitoring of sites. “Not too long ago, control room operators, on receiving notification of an alarm, had to try and get someone to go to the site to find out what the problem was. This often took a considerable amount of time, especially if the site was far away. Added to this was the fact that the controller was essentially blind because he could not see what was happening,” he says.
“Today, control rooms have instant access to video footage and can call for it immediately an alarm goes off, thanks to broadband which has taken its place as the backbone of modern communication. Known as real time alarm monitoring, this technology enables controllers to guide responses and people from the control centre while watching the site from down the road or from another province.”
State of the art though it may be, even today’s happening technology is not without its limitations. The main problem is the need to improve bandwidth in South Africa for faster video access, says Smuts. Accordingly, there is a determined focus on improving conventional ADSL while at the same time finding new technology that will speed up video from a verification perspective. WiMAX (Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access) could well be a solution, he says. “The WiMAX Forum, which was formed in June 2001 to promote conformance and interoperability of the IEEE 802.16 standard officially known as WirelessMAN, describes WiMAX as "a standards-based technology enabling the delivery of last mile wireless broadband access as an alternative to cable and DSL".
South Africa, home to the world’s top security and surveillance brands, imports the majority of its products from other countries. “That’s not to say that the technical brainpower to create doesn’t exist in South Africa, because it does,” says Smuts. “Rather, it’s a question of economics. Other countries, especially in the Middle East, have well established infrastructures, having long ago outlaid the expenses around creating them. South Africa has not, and it would be very costly and time-consuming to play catch-up in this arena.”
While the Eastern countries are world dominators from both a product and technological perspective, Smuts says South Africa is regarded as a technologically-demanding consumer that finds uses for products outside what they were originally developed for. “Our technical prowess as a consumer is in the knowledge and ability of our suppliers and installers to keep abreast of trends and focus on niche areas of the market,” he believes. “The market remains in the hands of the well-established companies who have been around for a long time. From a distribution perspective, we’re up-to-date with the latest global technology and trends. South Africa has become known for its focus on niche areas rather than niche products, in response to the demand for convenience and service from companies that are not equipment suppliers but rather total solution providers.”