Minelab is an Adelaide based company that excels in metal detection technology. The name Minelab does not refer to landmine but rather to gold mine, which was the focus of the company when it was established in 1989. In 2008, Minelab was purchased by another Adelaide based company called Codan, and we moved into our new state of the art facilities at Mawson Lakes late last year.
Metal detection is not new technology – it has been in existence for decades. The principal is straightforward. That is, electricity is passed through a coil, which creates an electromagnetic field. This field will “excite” any metal target buried in the ground and, in turn, the metal target will produce its own electromagnetic field, which is detected by the metal or landmine detector. Lieutenant Kosacki of the Polish Army is credited with developing the first metal detection technology. He handed the technology over to the British, who adapted it to produce the first landmine detector known as the Mark I, which was introduced into service in North Africa during World War II.
The technology was not sophisticated and it did not need to be, because landmines of the day were explosives encased in a metal containers. This made detection relatively easy, prompting the manufacturers of landmines to remove as much metal as possible within the construction of a landmine. This ultimately resulted in the production of the minimum metal mine, or plastic mine as it is sometimes called.
With landmines containing very little metal, mine detectors needed to become far more sensitive and powerful. Although this meant a minimum metal mine could be detected, a significant problem arose when landmines were buried in mineralised soil. The problem was that the detector was so sensitive it would detect the response from mineralised soil which masked the presence of a landmine. The only solution was to turn down the sensitivity of the detector to not alarm on the soil, but this was self-defeating because in doing so, a minimum metal mine would not be detected.
This was the problem faced by the Cambodian Mine Action Centre in the late 90s. Moreover, its fleet of mine detectors could not detect the prolific Type 72 anti-personnel mine in mineralised soil that was typical of the geology throughout Cambodia.
During that time, Minelab developed a metal detection technology that could detect very small amounts of gold in the highly mineralised soils of Australia. This technology was tested in Cambodia resulting in the production of Minelab’s F1A4 landmine detector that became CMAC’s detector of choice in 1998. This new detection capability against plastic mines soon resulted in the F1A4 being introduced into de-mining operations in 55 countries across the globe.
There is no doubt that the Mine Ban Treaty of 1997 has resulted in millions of mines being removed from the populated areas. However, millions of mines remain in the ground and the threat posed to innocents is exacerbated with the inclusion of unexploded ordnance, cluster munitions and Improvised Explosive Devices (IED). Therefore, it is somewhat worrying that global funding for humanitarian de-mining was reduced by $77 million in 2016, marking the third year in a row of declining donor funds. More worrying is the 75% increase of casualties between 2014 and 2015, which witnessed an additional 2,766 deaths or injuries.
Therefore, it is critical that organisations like SafeGround continue to educate government authorities and global organisations on the need to do more to finally rid the world of the landmine menace.
Since the introduction of Minelab’s F1A4 detector in 1998, we have continued to develop our technology to increase probabilities of detection and therefore speed up the clearance rates of humanitarian de-mining organisations. Ultimately, our aim is to provide technology that can identify a target rather than simply detect metal, thereby providing greater safety to an operator and removing wasteful effort in excavating and removing metal fragments that pose no threat.
I am certain that any person or organisation involved in the removal of landmines, explosive remnants of war and IED, knowingly or unknowingly commit themselves to SafeGround’s mission which is to “make unsafe ground safe and prevent safe ground from becoming unsafe”.
-Hugh Graham of Minelab