Improving security, accountability of explosives

Radio Frequency Identification Devices (RFID) have been around since World War II, when they were developed to identify friendly or enemy aircraft. Today, we see them used in access cards to get into buildings, controlling e-passes on toll ways, as well as helping us along with faster and more accurate access to information. RFID technology is getting smarter, faster and easier to use, and is being integrated into our everyday lives at a faster and higher level than ever before ? and explosives are next.
Explosives are still seen as a black art surrounded with security and danger. While there may be some truth to this, it is a notion from the past. Today, explosives are safer and the personnel handling them receive specialised training ? not just ?I?ve been doing this for years and I will show you how it?s really done?.
One major change in Australia over the last couple of years has been the new regulation requiring all boxes to indicate the number of units within a box. The question still remains: Will Australia follow the European requirement coming into force in April 2012? This requirement stipulates: ?Member states shall ensure that undertakings in the explosives sector which manufacture or import explosives or assemble detonators shall introduce a unique identification on explosives and each smallest packaging unit.? (Council Directive 93/15/EEC)
Today it is still standard practice for explosives to be manually recorded into a book at the mine site magazine, based on the number of boxes.  While the number of units is marked on the boxes, the individual units still do not have a unique identifier.
Security and accountability is based on full boxes and is not a major concern, as the paper-based systems have generally worked in the past. As we move to more accountability and the requirements for unit level tracking, the paper-based systems will fail on most fronts.
This is not new and has always been the case. For example, take an open box of detonators. Do we know:
? When the box was open?
? If the units in this box are only from this box?
? The number of times units in the box have been removed, taken into the field and then returned?
? Who has had the units?
? How were they handled/stored, etc?
Improving security and accountability of explosives between manufacturing and field application has to be fast and as easy as getting your emails on your mobile. The process has to start at manufacturing to allow tracking to begin at the start of the life cycle of an explosive. 
The process of applying RFID in manufacturing is widespread and most high-value items in shops have RFID tags placed onto them.  
Today we see companies transporting explosives using Personal Digital Assistants (PDA) to record basic data (eg time/date, the number of boxes and the delivery point, etc). However, a large amount of valuable information could be recorded using the same type of PDA with RFID readers.
When the customer places an order for explosives the manufacturer goes to his magazines and palletises the order for pick-up the next day. When the approved truck arrives to pick up the order, the magazine keeper activates the RFID magazine management software and enters the required information relating to  the customer order.
If required, information about the transport company (eg company name, vehicle registration number, driver name, etc) can all be added. The PDA is used to deliver key information directly onto an RFID tag attached to each box/pallet, while confirming that the correct product is being dispatched.
When the PDA is cradled, key data from the tags is transferred to the RFID management system allowing Electronic Proof of Delivery (EPOD) protocols to be generated. This allows for the printing of a dispatch report for the driver along with an electronic copy, while key shipping data is sent to the customer.
The transport company can now use its RFID mobile magazine management system to scan and record each box/pallet being placed onto their truck. Allowing the transport company to understand what explosives are being transported, and to where, do not rely on the driver and a paper-based system for tracking and accountability. It is important to understand that explosives placed on a truck make the truck a mobile magazine. Today, each truck is monitored via GPS tracking systems and even if this truck takes days between dispatch and delivery, every unit is tracked 24/7.
Once the driver arrives at the mine site, he now has the basic paper copy and a fully electronic manifest of the products being delivered. While explosives being delivered to the wrong customer can happen, it is more a case of extra explosives turning up that were on a back order. Back orders are a major issue for stores personnel on the mine site as they try to match up what has been delivered and link the rest to the correct back order.
With the RFID management system providing the driver with both electronic and paper copies to the customer, this problem is overcome without the need for extra work. The order number and other support data can be placed onto each box and/or pallet, allowing each box to be linked to a purchase order.
When explosives containing RFID tags are removed from a transport company vehicle and booked into a customer magazine, the magazine keeper transfers the information on each unit (electronically) into their magazine management system, allowing the magazine keeper to be recording the movement of explosives units and not cardboard boxes.
Booking explosives in/out via biometric access controls allows for total accountability through the electronic record within the magazine management system for future reference.
Now the explosives can be managed within the magazine at a unit or box level, so that when the shotfirer requires 140 detonators, we now have the power to issue the correct amount and track their movements.
With all the explosives now under an electronic management system we can automatically generate reports (eg stocktakes, expiry dates, batch numbers, etc). By linking this with SAP or Pronto systems we are able to use real time tracking for ordering without running a special stocktake.
Security can now be greatly improved with the magazine management system, notifying us if certain events take place, eg over stocking, expired explosives, person accessing out of set times, booking a product back that has not been booked out, and so on. This can also be linked with a 5 x 5 risk matrix to allow different levels of response, reporting and/or notification to happen automatically.
In relation to the improving security and accountability of dangerous goods (DG) like ammonium nitrate (AN) and emulsions phase (EP) from manufacturing to the mine site and onto the mobile manufacturing unit (MMU), the process outlined in the magazine management system is very similar to the DG management system ? designed to track bulk AN, EP and other dangerous materials via bulk bags, containers or tanks.
These two management systems now allow:
? The recording of movements into and out of the magazine or DG facility.
? Reports that generate stock on hand, kilograms dispatched to what memory management unit (MMU) and end-of-day reporting.
? Electronic storage for further cross-referencing with field data coming off the blast pattern in either real time or at the end of shift.   
As was touched on before, only after the explosives have been released into the field do we have very few hard barriers, since the explosives are laid out on the blast pattern and not locked away. 
The long hours, hard manual work performed on the bench and the lack of support tools for shotfirers makes accountability hard work at the end of the day. Not only does the shotfirer have to account for the explosives? whereabouts, he must also make sure that the right explosives go in the correct hole. Yet the pressure on these key personnel and their accountability are often overlooked and underestimated. No quarry can operate without an explosives licence and yet when we look at the support tools for accountability they have not changed in over 100 years!
Companies are now moving to bridge the gap based on RFID technology used to track tools being issued from stores and fuel farms, recording vehicle ID, and access control to pumps via RFID.
For the moment, let us assume that we have RFID tagged detonators and boosters coming out of the manufacturing plant to the mine site magazines. We now jump to the point where the explosives are on the approved shotfirers vehicle.  
This vehicle is now a mobile magazine as it has a mobile version of the magazine management system on board and is linked up to GPS. (Also included in this GPS coverage are the drill rigs and MMUs on blast pattern.) 
The shotfirer now has the ability to use the mobile magazine management system to book out the explosives to each blast pattern, with the GPS system giving locations, time and date. The blast crew lays out the required primers to each hole. The shotfirer and/or approved team members put on their backpacks, activate the system and go through the authorisation and systems checks. They can start to prime up the blast holes, with their backpacks automatically recording key data at each blast hole, including: detonator number, delay, lead length, booster number and type. 
Once the MMU arrives and they activate their onboard RFID systems, the driver then places the auger over the hole and the onboard system pulls up the blast hole info onto an internal screen. This touch screen allows the operator to use drop-down menus to update key information, like hole depth, KGs, wet or dry, top up and stemming height.
Once the blast pattern has been loaded, we now have three independent sources of data from the field, and if we include the main magazine and the DG management system, we have five independent sources of data relating to what has taken place with explosives and dangerous goods (two magazines, one DG facility, one shotfirer and one MMU). 
The site controller system that captures this electronic data can now provide the drill and blast engineer with a range of reports and the ability to re-run the blast model. The ability to re-run the blast model is one of the largest synergies this RFID system provides. If only this one synergy carried all the short-term implementation costs, the cost savings per tonne model, still generates a massive return on investment for customers in a short time. An example of this is where the drill and blast engineer reviews a planned shot scenario versus actual, with the final information providing:
? The depth of each hole.
? The amount and type of explosives used (including each primer).
? Missing holes or extra holes, etc.
From this, the engineer can re-run tonnes and grade model or advise the digger of hard toe areas, and arrange resources where required to address any issues. Currently, the only indication of blast issues is where the digger has broken a toe or the dig rate/grade for the shift/schedule fails to meet targets.
However, more importantly, does the electronic data that is collected offer shotfirers a new set of tools to quickly review the day?s loading and complete the required paperwork? The amount of paperwork generated and accountability today is far greater than ever before and continues to grow. This is all about using tools to reduce the workload and stress.
Ask yourself this question: Would you walk around to a friend?s place to see if he is home or text him? 
This brings us back to the key point of this article and how RFID will improve security and accountability of explosives between manufacturing and field application. The electronic data collected through the explosives? life cycle now allows us to look back at a range of targets from product type to batch number to DOM, or even a unit. For instance, take a misfire in a quarry today, without the box that the detonator or booster came out of, we are dead in the water; and even if we have the box, we cannot guarantee which product belongs to which box.
With RFID, we can scan the product in the field and review the database, identifying not only the exact blast hole it was loaded into, but its entire life cycle, including information about:
? Date of manufacture.
? Batch and serial numbers.
? The amount of times it has been booked out of a magazine.
? Whether it has been loaded into a blast hole before.
? Who loaded and primed it.
? What MMU and product was loaded into that blast hole.
? If there is a variance logged against this hole/product, etc.
RFID technology also allows for the placement of an electronic signature, of the approved person, to be placed onto the tag. This enables Customs, State or Federal police to quickly identify the last person logged to the explosive.
For the first time, RFID tagging of explosives enables us to track explosives in a safe, effective and accountable manner, with the cost/benefit ratio continuing throughout its life cycle, not just a one-off cost that the consumer pays.
Today?s technology is now being placed into the hands of tomorrow?s shotfirers and engineers, increasing the security and accountability of explosives, from their production to their application in the field.
John Moore is the founder and a director of Global Tracking Solutions Pty Ltd.

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