Top suppliers develop new solutions and focus on service and support offerings to help customers facing labor shortages
By Jesse Morton, Technical Writer
The top ventilation solution suppliers have undeniably benefited from the pervasive shortage of ventilation technicians. Their solutions can help a miner accomplish more with less, and so the last year has brought increased demand that has spurred new product development and a focus on service and support. Recent headlines from the suppliers show that the trend for the market is growth, and the main beneficiaries are the customers.
Making the Complex Simple
Maestro Digital Mine announced the integration of MaestroFlex Automated Regulators and ModuDrive IIoT Linear Actuators to allow the customer to set air quality sensor value thresholds from the surface. The solution empowers the actuators to dynamically adjust regulators to maintain precise environmental levels, the supplier said.
“The breakthrough lies in our dynamic edge-based decision capability integrated into the ModuDrive system,” said Jahanzeb Sohail, P.Eng., chief operating officer. The system’s ability to maintain local control independent of the service network, even during downtime, “adds a layer of resilience that the industry has never seen before.”
The solution offers improved safety underground by helping ensure workers are protected from harmful gas exposure. “It doesn’t stop there,” he said. “It also allows the capability to reduce blast clearance times, enhancing productivity and allowing miners to return to work quicker and safer.”
The “pivotal” innovation can be used to “not only safeguards lives but boost efficiency and sustainability in underground mining,” Sohail said. “In 2023, we are paving the way for a safer, more productive and environmentally responsible mining future.”
The development furthers the company’s range of cutting-edge air quality, ventilation on demand (VOD), and communication solutions for underground mining. For ventilation applications, the supplier offers sensors and systems for continuous air quality monitoring. The sensor and system data “is processed, analyzed, and provides actual insights into operating environments,” Sohail said. “A lot of the mines operate it to proactively address any potential air quality issues, ensuring safety and productivity excellence.”
A Maestro air quality monitoring system is reportedly easy to install, use, maintain, and grow, compared to an in-house system built piecemeal by a miner. It offers lower CapEx and OpEx, Sohail said.
“Our solution reduces CapEx by selling a multivariable device to customers with everything tying into one IP address,” he said. It can offer reduced engineering costs, simplified and streamlined integration, and has low infrastructure requirements.
“For example, your gas sensors, your air flows, differential pressure, and the list goes on,” can all be tied to one IP address, Sohail said.
Maestro air quality system solutions can shorten an installation project schedule by “allowing devices to be scaled and modularized,” which also allows “for the ever-expanding mine operations over time,” he said. “It allows the IoT solutions to basically be scalable, manageable and maintainable, for every factor of the mine, especially operators.”
Maestro air quality monitoring system solutions are designed for VOD applications that can lower OpEx.
“Through real-time monitoring, automated adjustments, and also your other conditions in the mine that you need to monitor, we are proactively ensuring optimal air quality, reducing the risks associated with VOD in mining operations,” Sohail said.
A Maestro Digital Mine solution-based VOD system can be used to optimize air flow, reduce over-ventilation, lower energy consumption, and reduce the greenhouse gas emissions.
“Our air quality monitoring system is uniquely capable of addressing challenges of VOD in mining by seamlessly integrating instrumentation control, prioritizing safety, leveraging cutting-edge technology, and promoting environmental sustainability,” Sohail said. “We’ve had case studies for reducing gas emissions by about 20% to 50% with our solutions.”
By empowering the miner to send air only where and when needed, energy consumption and usage can be reduced by as much as 50%, lowering OpEx, he said. “You are not wasting air across the mine site with leakage or ventilation where it is not needed.”
The data the system can generate can support decision-making that leads to reduced downtime. “Data will set you free,” Sohail said. “You can reduce blast clearance time by about 30 min. to 90 min. per day, which means you can increase productivity and you can generate more revenue with all these different models.”
The data can be used to help maximize equipment utilization. “A lot of this equipment requires certain amounts of ventilation when they are operating at certain locations or levels,” he said. Without VOD, those locations and levels can be prohibitively gaseous for too long.
Simplicity of use translates to easy deployment, management and maintenance. “You don’t need to get a specialist to come in and program all of your systems,” Sohail said.
“It can be done by any electrician, anybody that is sitting on the other end that wants to integrate the equipment,” he said. “Our solution’s history is rooted in simplifying complexity and transforming underground mining operations with the goal of enhancing worker safety, boosting productivity and reducing both CapEx and OpEx.”
Low-cost Air Monitoring
Conspec Controls said its post-blast monitoring solution is now in use in many mines around the world and is growing market share due to its capacity to help cut post-blast downtime. “Miner’s also love the ease of installation, ease of use, and the low barrier of entry,” said Tanveer Jahir, B.Eng, P.Eng, international business development manager, Conspec Controls. Recently, a mine in Peru deployed “this application and saw instant ROI since they were able to reduce their down time.”
The solution uses Conspec’s Optio G/IS Gas Carbon Monoxide and Sulfur Dioxide Gas Monitors “over existing data communications infrastructure near the blast area” for tracking “real-time gas dissipation levels in the blasting areas post-blast,” the company said.
The top two benefits offered are reduced downtime post-blast and the ability to accurately gauge the effectiveness of a ventilation system. “Generally, most mines have a set waiting period after each blast before they can re-enter to ensure that all toxic gases have been properly vented out,” Jahir said.
“Using a gas monitor that can provide real time readings to the surface will allow the mine to see in real time how quickly the gases from the blast decay,” he said, “and potentially allow them to re-enter the mine quicker, hence reducing downtime.”
Customers also use the system to generate data on the performance of their ventilation systems.
“Not only are you able to return to mining activities quicker, but you can also verify and validate the effectiveness of your existing ventilation system during blasting,” Jahir said. “These are some of the components involved in VOD,” he said. “The mine can then, seeing the benefits of VOD, begin to roll out other VOD-related applications throughout the mine.”
Reducing post-blast downtime can help increase productivity and revenue. “The end user no longer has to wait a set period to go back underground after a blast,” Jahir said. “Normally mines wait around 40 minutes to a few hours,” he said. “If you now see that the gas levels are acceptable after 25 minutes, the remaining time is all increased productivity.”
The solution can also reduce the workload for ventilation technicians.
“Some of the previous methods were to send someone down with a handheld monitor to check the gas levels before allowing the miners to re-enter,” Jahir said. “That ‘role’ is no longer needed as the fixed hardware will do all of that for you,” he said.
The components can run on batteries, requiring no other electrical infrastructure. “It also runs on leaky feeder, a technology that almost every mine in the world is still currently using,” Jahir said.
“Having a multi-gas monitor that can run wirelessly on LF and battery truly allows any mine to take advantage of this kind of technology and help bring efficiencies to their mine,” he said.
Customizing Modular Fans
TLT-Turbo reported demand for the Modular Mine Fan (MMF) is growing due largely to the benefits offered and delivered. “Several fans are under installation in the South African mining market,” said David Wintringer, group manager, project management, TLT-Turbo. “The design has proven to deliver on the promises made to the customers there.”
The MMF “offers a well-engineered and efficient ventilation system at lower operational and maintenance costs,” TLT-Turbo said. “German engineering and extensive R&D have resulted in the highest product quality.” The MMF is typically paired with the company’s ventilation system technology for a customizable solution capable of meeting a range of specifications and requirements, it said.
“The system can be configured to a customized solution tailored to the customers’ needs based on standardized modules, including fans, drives, controllers, silencers, isolation doors and other flow-guiding ventilation system components,” said Adrian Wolf, head of product management, TLT-Turbo.
There are seven base fan sizes and six hub sizes.
“The MMF is designed to be VOD ready,” Wolf said. “The fan and drive train are designed for operation with variable speed drives to adjust the speed and the resulting fan flow to exactly the required ventilation needs.” Sensors can be easily integrated.
“The fan control system in auto mode running on flow controller is a plug-and-play interface to any VOD system,” he said. “A wide range of operating points can be controlled to match the actual ventilation required, but always with a high efficiency.”
Topping the list of benefits offered is robustness. “The MMF is designed for high availability and reliability in the demanding mining environment,” Wintringer said. “High availability due to the robust design guarantees long product lifetimes and service intervals.”
Robustness translates to fewer maintenance requirements and tasks. “The simple design has easily accessible and replaceable components, which facilitates the maintenance of the fan, even without highly qualified personnel,” he said.
“Standardized design of spare parts allows the customer to buy one set of spares and use it not only in one specific fan but all fans of the same type,” Wintringer said. “This significantly reduces risks for warehousing of the spare parts.”
The MMF offers flexibility. “The solution is configurable, with defined and thoroughly designed modules to tailor the system to the requirements of the customer,” Wintringer said. “The customer gains the required flexibility needed to optimize the production and processes because the overall ventilation system is still tailored to the exact needs of the mine by configuration based on standardized modules.”
Requiring comparably minimal design work and short delivery times, the MMF offers cost savings. “The standardized modules significantly reduce design effort,” he said. They also “simplify sourcing and warehousing of spare parts due to the high reusability also in different fans with the same design.”
Among the other cost savings offered is energy costs. “The design of the MMF minimizes energy consumption by omitting passive motor cooling with an innovative approach,” Wintringer said. “And it uses a new generation of rotor blades with high efficiencies,” he said. “High efficiency and VOD readiness significantly reduces energy consumption and the related operational expenses.”
The MMF can help a mine conform to regulations. “Up to 40 % of a mine’s overall energy consumption results from ventilation,” Wolf said. “Fan efficiency and the possibility to run the fan based on the actual ventilation demands can significantly improve the energy consumption and the related carbon footprint of the mine.”
Optimized energy efficiency can also mean optimized “acoustic efficiency,” he said. “A high proportion of R&D expenditure went into reducing noise emissions.”
Reaping these benefits will appeal to investors focused on ESG goals and profits, Wolf said. “The advantages of the MMF have an impact on energy costs, the availability of ventilation and thus the productivity of the mine, as well as the safety of the personnel on site,” he said. “Consequently production costs of the mine are reduced and the production volume increases, resulting in an improvement of economic efficiency of the mine and a higher return on investment.”
Investing in the Future
Turnstone Industrial Solutions acquired the assets of Schauenburg Flexadux Corp. Turnstone gained intellectual property rights, customer relationships and other assets. Schauenburg Flexadux will cease operations, with current sales and operations being transferred by Turnstone.
The development means Turnstone will expand its manufacturing capabilities and product offerings, Turnstone said. “This acquisition will allow us to better serve our customers and further enhance our position as a ventilation solutions leader in the various markets we serve,” said Managing Director Paul Funk.
With the development, Turnstone added manufacturing capability in Grand Junction, Colorado, and Fairmount, West Virginia, said Bryon Cerklefskie, sales manager, Turnstone. “Additionally, we picked up new product lines,” he said. “On the ventilation side, specifically, we picked up fiberglass manufacturing.”
Turnstone’s footprint now spans Kentucky, West Virginia, Colorado, and Nevada.
The move comes as Turnstone prepares to formally release the MiONE platform, a ventilation data collection and assimilation system that can be used for monitoring and automation. “It is going to be a cost-effective platform that ensures live data collection not only for air flow but also environmental characteristics,” Cerklefskie said. “With it, you can basically automate what these vent engineers are doing and pick up not only the accuracy but the ability to measure an array of information in real time.”
The platform is scalable, which means it can be used for a variety of applications. “Our goal is to make it cost-effective enough that people almost view it partly as a consumable, not that we want them to destroy it,” he said. “When you have a sensor that isn’t thousands of dollars, then people can put it downstream and not be worried about it.”
The platform can be integrated into an existing network and can be coupled with existing sensors. “Rather than requiring you to change everything, it allows you to deploy it and scale it as needed,” he said. “Maybe you take your most problematic areas and cascade this equipment out there.”
The hardware is “just a node with sensors on it and then we can have that node communicate or not communicate as needed,” Cerklefskie said.
It requires no infrastructure. “Realistically, it could run off of WIFI,” Cerklefskie said. “It could run off of LTE,” he said. “It could just capture data and store it on the brain of the system, which is local to each setup.”
It features advanced capabilities. “If you tap your phone onto the brain it will, without any install on the phone or anything, dump a data set onto your phone and show it on the screen for you,” he said. “The next step is it will have a little dock where you can set your phone on it and it will take a little sip of power from the phone to do a reading on the system.”
Nevada Gold Mines could be the first miner to deploy MiVENT underground. “Right now, Turquoise Ridge has 60 fans underground running at any point in time and if they understood the data associated with all of those fans, it would help them make better decisions,” Cerklefskie said. “Having that real time ability or the ability to go back in time, too, and see when something happened and correlate it is very useful for planning on how to succeed.”
The platform debuted at the North American Mine Ventilation Symposium, held at South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, in Rapid City, South Dakota. Turnstone is now a primary sponsor of the event. “The Symposium floated the idea if we could set up equipment donated to the program that would help ensure that they have legit equipment, it would really, in essence, jumpstart the program and really impact the future,” he said. “We, along with ABC Ventilation, took a look at it and laid out every type of product that we have.”
Turnstone set up and demoed 50 m of HardLine and FiberLine tubing, TwinDuct and MineVent. “Then we donated the entire system to the program,” Cerklefskie said. The development will “create an avenue for people to train the equipment they are going to see out in the field, and really ensure that the students have the proper access,” he said.
Paul’s Fan Co.: Focus on Service Ensures Satisfaction
Paul’s Fan Co. reported its focus on after-sales service has propelled it from being a repair shop to being an industry leader. “What differentiates Paul’s Fan Co. from the competitors is our relentless dedication to customer satisfaction,” the company said in a prepared statement.
“Our fan technician team boasts a reputation for tackling complex fan performance issues that have stumped others in the field,” Paul’s Fan Co. said. “Armed with an unparalleled work ethic, these technicians ensure swift resolutions, minimizing downtime, and enabling mining companies to resume operations safely and efficiently.”
The company keeps a team of experts on standby 24/7 to provide both routine maintenance and emergency service and repair, said Todd Elswick, owner, Paul’s Fan Co. “Who else could you trust to fix your fans at midnight on Easter Sunday?”
The company was founded in 1958 by Paul Elswick. “Drawing on his aviation background, Paul harnessed his knowledge to design ventilation solutions that were both efficient and effective, setting the stage for a transformative presence in the mining industry,” the company said.
Since then, Paul’s Fan Co. has installed more than 5,000 units. “What truly sets us apart is our unwavering commitment to after-sales service,” Paul’s Fan Co. said.
“While many competitors focus solely on the sale of their products, Paul’s Fan Co. places equal importance on the performance and longevity of our fan units,” it said. “By focusing on after-sales service, we have not only solved complex fan performance issues, but have also revolutionized the way the industry approaches ventilation solutions.”
Harmony Gold Rolls Out TERRABLAST Atomizer at Mponeng
By Jesse Morton, Technical Writer
Harmony Gold has been testing the TERRABLAST Atomizer on two panels at the Mponeng mine in South Africa. Before the trial at one panel, the baseline quartz dust concentration value was 0.071 mg/m3. After using the atomizer, it was 0.009 mg/m3, or an 87.3% improvement. At the other panel, before the trial, the baseline quartz dust concentration value was 0.092 mg/m3. After using the atomizer, it was 0.016 mg/m3, or an 82.6% improvement.
The mine’s adoption team has drafted “a rollout plan for the mine,” according to a Harmony presentation.
Information on the rollout in the presentation is supported by statements in the September newsletter by the Mining Industry Occupational Safety & Health (MOSH), a task force of South Africa’s Mine Health and Safety Council. The newsletter said Mponeng mine initiated adoption of the atomizer in 2021. After all stakeholders at the mine had agreed to trial it, the solution was introduced during training sessions. Afterwards, the atomizer’s performance proved it would be viable in the mine.
“To date, the team has managed to establish the baseline dust results at the training center and have compared these to when in-stope atomizers are in use,” MOSH said. “These results indicate an improvement of about 80% in dust suppression, which is in line with the results from the source mine.”
Terramin said the solution, when used correctly, is effective against silicon dust and the latest trials at Mponeng prove it. “About 3,900 m underground they did the tests with the atomizer and it worked like a charm,” CEO Martin Van Schoor said.
“In the deepest mine in the world, it is operating perfectly,” he said. “It corroborates the previous report that was done in 2015.”
The 2015 report on a trial of an 8-mm-aperture TERRABLAST at Sibanye-Stillwater’s Beatrix gold mine showed “an average reduction of between 72.6% and 85.3%” in the quartz dust concentration. At Mponeng, “we’re getting an amazing up-to-80% reduction, as was predicted,” Van Schoor said. “These are some more practical tests that confirm that the figures are right,” he said. “This is definitely something the mining world should know about.”
The development comes as the company is promoting the new Mousetrap MKII. The water atomizer features modifications that help it beat the performance of the original Mousetrap, which is larger than the TERRABLAST. “The timing device is not on a piston spring type. It works on a fillable PVC bladder,” Van Schoor said. “Once the blast goes off, the system runs and causes compressed air and water to combine in a much bigger nozzle or in some cases two nozzles if the excavations are big enough, 5 by 4 m.”
So far the solution “is looking very promising,” he said. “This technology, water atomization, has now stood the test of time.”
And it will soon see market acceptance, Van Schoor said. “You’ve got dust, you’ve got radon gas, you’ve got heat,” he said. “We’ve got solutions.”