The value proposition of underground utility vehicles is different than the value proposition of production vehicles. Whereas production vehicles are directly tied to the excavation and removal of material, the role of utility vehicles is to support the overall ongoing operation of an underground mine, and the value proposition of utility vehicles comes from their ability to improve operational safety and reduce overall mine operating costs through improvements in efficiency and productivity.
As manufacturers of mining equipment, including a line of underground utility vehicles, we focus on a number of key value drivers:
- How can our products improve safety for underground mine workers?
- How can our machines improve efficiency of the mining operation?
- How can we improve productivity when performing underground logistics and support operations?
- How can we optimize utilization rates of our equipment through multi-purpose design?
In this blog series, I plan to talk about our approach to each of these value drivers, beginning first with safety.
When approaching product development, we take a safety-first mentality. The success of the mining industry hinges on the talented workers that drive the industry forward on a daily basis, making safety a key priority for the industry. Protecting worker safety requires a focus on how workers interact with the equipment, on ergonomics and a safe operating environment, on general safe design principles, such as calculated and proven stability and strength analysis, and on a thoughtful approach to reducing worker fatigue and strain.
Providing equipment that is safe to operate generates value by allowing operators to feel safe and comfortable using our equipment while also avoiding injuries that can result from utilizing poorly designed or improvised solutions. Worker injuries damage morale and increase missed time, increase medical and insurance costs, drive workers away from our industry, increase training costs, and can be damaging to the overall image of the industry
With these costs in mind, we focus on the principal that if our equipment is going to perform a task, it should be designed and built with that task in mind. Compared to improvised solutions—for example, taking over-the-road or agricultural equipment and attempting to adapt it for underground use—our fit-for-purpose solutions incorporate features and elements specifically intended to enhance operational safety within the difficult context of underground mining.
Additionally, we try to focus on how we can create equipment solutions that drive overall operational safety in the underground mining industry by developing equipment that is purpose-built for underground operations. Many of these solutions seek to mechanically support frequently-performed underground tasks in a way that increases both worker safety and overall productivity.
We have a few examples of this Safety and Productivity-type equipment that I can point out. One example is our SL Hanger, which is a Scissor Life designed to support pipe and fan installation operations. That act of hanging either pipes or fans underground creates a number of potentially unsafe scenarios. Both fans and pipes tend to be quite heavy and need to be precisely lifted to the appropriate spot on the mine back or wall and held there for securing by the mine operator. Non-mechanical approaches to this can result in worker injury or fatigue from having to physically hand such large loads, and injury can result if these heavy objects slip or are dropped during installation. We designed the SL Hanger to mechanically support pipes and fans for installation, eliminating the need for physical handling and substantially reducing the chance of heavy falling objects. the SL Hanger simultaneously drives value by reducing the time, equipment, and number of workers required for pipe and fan installations.
Another opportunity for increased operational safety comes in the area of mine logistics. The requirement to move materials throughout an underground operation is universal, but an inability to mechanically support heavy cargo during loading and unloading can result in worker injury or fatigue. Providing a transport vehicle with an onboard crane allows large loads to be transported, loaded, and unloaded safely; while again enhancing overall productivity through mechanical support.
Operational safety through equipment and process designs is a value proposition that can occasionally be left out of conversations about cost-per-ton or cost-per-meter, but keeping safety as a priority is critical to the long-term success of the underground mining industry. Our view on utility vehicles is that we can drive value for our customers by focusing on enhancements in operational and worker safety, and that is why we place safety at the foundation of everything we do.