The temperature was close to 100 degrees Fahrenheit. In the distance, the rumble of massive underground titans could be heard; the chamber would have been pitch black except for the meager light from our headlamps. The floor was slick with thick primordial ooze, and even though we were deep underground, rain steadily fell from the chamber ceiling, and rivers of mud and muck ran on either side of us.
Around the next corner we finally encountered our quarry and a monolithic creature made of steel and powered by veins of oil.
This scene is not from some sci-fi thriller depicting an exploratory venture on some distant planet. This is just one of the surreal scenes I found myself in during my recent trip to Mexico where I visited several mines that use Getman equipment. The aforementioned monolith was a Getman scaler that I had the privilege of observing in its natural environment.
Since I began at Getman two and a half years ago, I have been told about the enormously challenging conditions faced by miners underground, and so I had an academic understanding of what to expect. However, it was not until I travelled underground that my naïve ideas were transformed into concrete understanding. Even during the truck ride down to the working area of the mine, I did not fully grasp how inhospitable the environment truly was. It was not until I opened the door of the truck and felt the furnace blast of dust-laden stagnant air, sunk my feet into several inches of thick muck, and peered into the impenetrable darkness edging around the paltry light provided by our headlamps that I began to get an inkling of how alien this environment truly is.
My mind instantly recalled the closed cab remixer that my fellow teammates and I had just finished designing. I reflected on my earlier thought that a closed cab was an extravagance. I mean, after all, this vehicle was only going to be travelling 12 mph, how much protection could it really need? My next thought was, “How could I be so naïve?” The reprieve these miners must feel every time they finish their tasks and climb into their air-conditioned cabs must be sublime. I, myself, relished the cool open air after exiting the mine more than ever before in my life, and I was simply just observing these individuals work. Besides the comfort these cabs provide, they can also serve to mitigate the dangers associated with over-heating. If a miner pushes himself too hard and needs to lower his body temperature, he now has a place within the mine to do so; by cooling the miner at the onset of heat exhaustion, many serious medical risks can be diminished.
Once I recovered from my initial shock of the environmental conditions, I began to realize the more physical dangers. We were watching this massive 15-ton machine knock loose giant slabs of rock that were only precariously affixed to the walls and ceilings. You had to have your head on a swivel, constantly on the lookout for falling objects. Since we were on foot we were able to do this, but when a miner is operating one of our machines he is boxed in and unable to vigilantly survey his surroundings. This is the reason why it is imperative that we design our trucks with overhead protection in mind. These operators are in harm’s way whenever they are underground and it is up to us to make sure that our machinery will protect them from these unforeseeable dangers.
However, the falling rocks are not the only danger miners face. Mining a mountain is no easy task, and it takes powerful equipment to accomplish this. We were deep underground with massive vehicles in openings no larger than a school hallway. It was very unnerving to be around all of these vehicles in such tight quarters. Operator visibility is imperative. If an operator would have not realized where I was and came in my direction, there would have been absolutely nowhere for me to go. It would be the epitome of “being caught between a rock and a hard place.” It became very clear to me in that moment why we add back-up cameras to our trucks and staunchly restrict the height of our hoods and wrappers. The idea of maximizing operator visibility will forever be in the forefront of my thoughts whenever I begin a new design, thanks to this experience.
It is one thing to be told how something is, but if you are like me, it requires walking a mile in the shoes of someone else to turn that perception into reality. When I first began at Getman I had a very difficult time understanding the need for such stout designs. Computer simulations I performed would often reveal that components were five or six times stronger than their statically-loaded case dictated they should be and I thought this was overkill, but then I went underground… It’s ironic that I had to journey into the dark in order to see the light. The experiences I gained underground are invaluable to me. Knowledge of end-user conditions is vital for adhering to our statement of action and designing safe, efficient, and cost-effective machines for our customers.