Keeping Workers Safe Underground
Jannatec Technologies designs, manufactures, and sells products and provides services that enhance safety and productivity for people who work underground. Primarily focused on the mining sector, the company’s proprietary products incorporate sensors, cameras, radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags, connectivity solutions, and other technological tools. When fitted to hardhats, clothing, or vehicles, these products enable communication, hazard detection, data and image-recording, and tracking when workers are underground.
While consolidating its position as a mining equipment leader, the company is also looking at other markets that might welcome its solutions. Another potential venture might involve using its products to warn workers when they violate COVID-related social distancing protocols.
“The biggest challenge facing Jannatec at the moment is attempting to provide the technological capabilities that people are used to above ground in an underground environment. It may seem simple enough – something works on the surface; it should work underground, right? In fact, the complexities of an underground environment are far greater than many people realize,” states Project Manager Mark Burnett.
Throughout history, mining has been a dangerous business with a constant risk of cave-ins and accidents. In underground work environments, proper illumination, reliable communication, and the ability to detect danger and monitor workers’ movements are vital. Jannatec’s solutions address all these areas to reduce the risks associated with mining.
The company, founded in 1983, is based in Sudbury, Ontario, an epicentre of mining activity in Canada. Sudbury is “where we began, and this is where our main client base is located, due to the high degree of mining in the immediate and surrounding area,” Burnett says.
From the start, the focus was “to provide quality products and services to the mining industry,” he continues.
Jannatec’s earliest breakthrough product was called the Johnny Light – the first radio cap lamp built for the mining industry. Over the years, there have been multiple improvements and iterations of this product line including the G1 Johnny Light, G2, and now the G3 Johnny Light, while incorporating more devices such as proximity detection and tracking.
The company followed this light with a proximity detection solution called JAWS1 (Jannatec Advanced Warning System) in 2010. In a JAWS application, radiofrequency transceivers are attached to underground workers, vehicles, and fixed hazards to detect the presence of other workers and vehicles. The system issues warnings to help prevent collisions and potential injuries by enhancing situational awareness of workers and vehicle operators.
In 2016, the firm introduced the SmartView platform. The latest version of SmartView is packed with sensors, cameras and connectivity options for circle check entry, training based access control, vehicle tracking, proximity detection, engine diagnostics, video recording, data logging and other applications. The system features a ruggedized android tablet resembling display consoles found in most modern vehicles. The platform provides “multiple services in one device,” notes Burnett. “The modular approach allows our clients the flexibility to address immediate needs and add functionality as required based on future needs.”
SmartView was followed by the SmartHelmet in 2019. The SmartHelmet features high-visibility LEDs arrayed in a 360-degree pattern on the helmet brim, proximity detection, RFID tagging, communications, online connectivity, and a camera capable of taking video or single photographs that can be transferred to a computer or through an existing network.
“Currently, our top-selling product is our JAWS proximity detection system, which includes our SmartView hardware platform and our personnel proximity detection tag – which can be embedded in our SmartHelmet, our cordless cap lamp, or our corded and radio cap lamps,” states Burnett.
“Our SmartHelmet and our G3T Radio Cap Lamp are the only products of their kind globally,” he affirms. “Our SmartTalk device is one of only a handful of devices that can communicate via LMR (land mobile radio), WiFi, and LTE, lending itself to mines that currently use standard radios but wish to move forward in the future to more smart devices and connected workers.”
LTE technology can be used to provide very high-speed online connectivity in underground work settings. As Burnett points out, establishing a reliable underground communications system is not easy. “There are very few people who have a solid grasp and understanding of the full complexities in keeping communications working for what is essentially a city underground.”
While Jannatec primarily sells its own products, the company is also an authorized Motorola reseller as well as an OEM integrator of Motorola products. Jannatec has also now partnered with SENA Industrial to incorporate Bluetooth mesh technology into its SmartHelmet while also offering the SENA Industrial line of products.
Jannatec’s R & D and manufacturing activities are handled in-house. “Some products we manufacture from the bottom-up, and others we leverage and modify [using] existing products, but all of this work takes place at our Sudbury, Ontario location. We strongly believe in Canadian-built products, as they have proven to have the durability and quality required worldwide,” Burnett notes.
The company’s client base extends well outside of the Sudbury area; it has representation in Nevada (a major mining state), the province of Saskatchewan, and wants to expand further.
It has ISO 9001:2015 certification and a reputation for excellence, and its products have been widely embraced by the industry. All Canadian operations run by Vale, which describes itself as ‘the world’s largest producer of iron ore and pellets,’ use Jannatec equipment. Many Glencore mines, Kirkland Lake Gold, Pan American Silver, and Potash operations in Saskatchewan use the products as well.
The company’s products are not limited to any one particular kind of mining operation. “We’re open to doing business with absolutely any markets and any type of mines. Right now, we’re in potash; we’re in open-pit; we’re in hard rock, nickel and copper mines. We’re trying to be as flexible as possible,” states Burnett.
The company has won industry praise for its solutions and capabilities. In 2015, it was awarded a Bell Business Excellence Award in the category of innovation. These awards are presented annually by the Greater Sudbury Chamber of Commerce. According to Burnett, Jannatec was also “the first company to be Cisco IoT (Internet of Things) certified for mining.”
As a manufacturer of safety equipment, Jannatec was deemed to be an essential service and was not required to close when COVID restrictions were introduced last year. However, it chose to voluntarily shut down for two weeks in March 2020 to develop a plan to keep its workers safe and guide the company forward. Strict health measures to limit the spread of COVID were introduced to protect the workforce.
Its main clients did not stop operating during the COVID crisis, so business was not hugely affected. COVID has even inspired the company to consider a new, safety-minded venture involving its products. “Oddly, the pandemic has presented us with a potential business opportunity, as we can now use our SmartHelmets for contact tracing and for notifying workers who use hard hats if they are not following social distancing guidelines,” says Burnett.
If two workers are wearing SmartHelmets, an alert can be triggered if they get within six feet of each other, explains Burnett. Proximity data can be recorded, to allow companies to enhance health and safety measures.
In a similar spirit, while mining is its biggest sector, the company is eager to explore new markets and has discussed the possibility of supplying SmartHelmets to offshore oil rig workers, for example. Jannatec will also be branching out to markets such as construction, warehousing, and manufacturing.
Although there are other firms in its space, Jannatec is unique in that it remains highly innovative, and as a relatively small business, it is “very agile, versatile and competitive,” Burnett says.
The company has twenty employees at present, down from twenty-two at this time last year. The drop in personnel was simply due to career changes, not COVID or other factors.
“We strive to create a fun and vibrant work atmosphere while still ensuring we take our jobs seriously and perform as expected. As an example, we have a billiards table in our main office that all staff are welcome to use, and we create events such as fun Fridays, where we take suggestions for team-building exercises that all staff are welcome to participate in,” says Burnett.
The company likes team players who “demonstrate a willingness to do whatever it takes to get the job right and who understand that, ultimately, it is the customer who keeps the doors open, and it must be a priority to ensure their satisfaction. Of course, qualifications and abilities are a must for certain positions, and we do have criteria and even tests that need to be taken prior to consideration [as a new hire],” he adds.
Company officials offer an optimistic forecast. “We see Jannatec as continuing to be a leader in underground communications and we see our SmartHelmet changing the conversation around communications and safety in various markets. We may just have a few tricks up our sleeves that nobody sees coming,” states Burnett.
“Within five years, we hope to expand our client base not only within Canada but also into the United States, Latin America and globally and are looking at having representation in all of those markets while our sales and resource pool continue to expand, not only here in our home area but in all of these other markets as well.”