Perth-based Minvent Solutions, which specialises in overhead protection systems (OPS) and underground mine ventilation controls, is trying to break into the US market.
While Minvent has experienced some success overseas it has a few final regulatory hurdles to clear.
“It’s a new market for us, we’ve been battling around in there for about 18 months two years and we haven’t really gone full throttle on it yet.”
On the verge of unlocking an entire market, Minvent has come a long way from its humble beginnings, establishing in 1993 in Western Australia.
It was more than a decade later when Minvent collaborated with Mt Isa Mining Supplies to help push its patented products into the lucrative Queensland market.
The big deal came in 2007 when the company struck an agreement with US mine safety equipment manufacturer Strata Products to service the North American market.
As well as Australia, Minvent’s products can be found in Canada, the US, Chile, Spain and Sweden and are used by BHP Billiton, Barrick, Rio Tinto and Xstrata – just to name a few.
“It’s a growing market and the technology really only in the last year or two has started to be applied and become more integrated with an underground mining situation,” Roelofs said.
The OPS is essentially a big balloon that is inflated to squeeze into a void to prevent falling debris.
“We fill them with air and air pressure keeps them on the wall,” he said. “We generate about 250kg per square metre at normal operating pressure, so an OPS in a five metre diameter will generate about 40 to 50 tonnes on the side walls.”
The OPS can be used in a range of applications including shafts, crushers, ore bins and rail bins or anywhere else there might be the risk of refractory.
“The catchcry is elimination of free falling material,” Roelofs said.
“So we are not trying to catch anything, we are stopping it from falling in the first place.”
The OPS also can be manufactured in a cylindrical form for low profile coal mines and it is starting to be more frequently used as a base to pour concrete plugs in redundant vent rises.
Like the OPS, the underground mine ventilation controls also are big inflatable balloons, but are used as temporary walls.
Minvent’s signature ventilation control product, the Ventstop, can be used to block tunnels, control dust, smoke, fumes and heat and can adhere to odd shapes and undulations of the walls.
“It’s so quick, it takes about five or six minutes to inflate, so the whole operation takes less than half an hour to seal off the tunnel,” Roelofs said.
“Whereas a standard vent wall could take two or three guys and an IT [integrated tool carrier] all day to build a wall, or maybe two days to build a conventional type wall or a brattice – it’s rapid response.”
The products are designed to be connected to an air control box so a continual trickle of air can be pumped into the balloon if it starts to lose pressure.
“When people think about balloons they think about party balloons that go pop but these things run on very low pressure – they are not a high pressure vessel so we eliminate that danger out of it,” Roelofs said.
The OPS and Ventstop are reusable and can be deflated just as quickly as they are erected.
“We have a full comprehensive training, installation, supervision service,” Roelofs said.
“Most sites will get us out at least once to give the main stakeholders or their training department the once over on the application – it’s fairly simplistic in design and operational parameters.
“We’ve been at it for five years with a lot of research and development obviously.
“We’ve got new fabrics we have been introducing in the last six months – it’s a new heavy duty airtight PVC that they use in the military and other applications for inflatable boats and such.”
Despite having to clear some final hurdles Minvent is still growing and expects to have a manufacturing facility in the US within the coming 18 months.
“We are looking long-term obviously. We’re not just there for the short run, that’s why we are looking at the manufacturing facility in the States which Strata will manage for us,” Roelofs said.
“We need to spread our wings and get established over there – it will make it a lot easier to get our products into the mines.”