Leaky feeders fueling WMS growth

AS the largest US leaky feeder systems supplier, and one of the largest comprehensive communications solution organizations in the country, Wholesale Mine Supply's fingerprint on the industry is large – and growing, thanks in part to changing technology and the Mine Improvement and New Emergency Response Act.
Leaky feeders fueling WMS growth Leaky feeders fueling WMS growth Leaky feeders fueling WMS growth Leaky feeders fueling WMS growth Leaky feeders fueling WMS growth

A Wholesale Mine Supply base system in use at an Eastern US underground mine.

Angie Tomlinson

Published in the March 2008 Coal USA Magazine

In fact, since the implementation of the federal regulations, established after a rash of mining accidents in 2006, the suburban Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based WMS has nearly doubled in size to 14 full-time staff, according to company president Bill Hensler.

The company also works with 10 distributors in central locations to the mining industry of the US and northern Mexico.

The company is happy with the mix of experience and knowledge it has for WMS' sales and service efforts. "We picked the right people to partner with," Hensler said, adding that they are also key to the unprecedented growth.

As a master distributor for Varis and Becker tagging and tracking systems, an exclusive contract partner with Comtrol and the largest Mine Safety and Health Administration-approved radio supplier to the industry, Hensler said the advancement of business has been steady but has sped up significantly since communications requirements in the MINER Act have required all US mines to install redundant systems, including leaky feeder.

WMS systems can be found in more than 74 US mines. They are sold and maintained by the company or one of its distributors, and the list of operator clients spans all major coal regions. One major producer has an ongoing agreement with WMS to provide communications systems for all of its mines.

"There is not a major coal producer that we do not have a leaky feeder system in one of their mines," he said, adding that a sales level of one to two systems a month before the MINER Act has grown into three to four brand new system purchase orders monthly.

Mines need not worry about turnaround, however, as Hensler pointed out the company network is committed to managing supply of 8-10 during that period.

He said the leaky feeder technology had a long-standing reputation for reliability.

Mines not only have the familiarity of a system they've worked with over time, but leaky feeders also offer benefits not found in new technology such as an ethernet link capability as well as remote diagnostic capabilities in the event of an issue underground.

Sales interest in leaky feeders is also experiencing "explosive growth", according to Hensler. Company staff last quarter quoted out more than $30 million in potential systems and installation work. However, because mines continue to require the systems as part of their communication plans, this hectic time could actually be the calm before the storm.

As the interest in leaky feeders continues to grow, WMS is also looking at other developments. It received approval from MSHA for its radio frequency identification (RFID) tag last fall, while it is waiting on the green light for other undisclosed technology.

It also has increased the staff at its headquarters to match the progress of its business. In the last six months, WMS appointed vice president and general manager Jodi Smith, vice president and director of engineering Andy Powanda and sales manager Joe DiBridge.

"We are very proud to be working with the mining community on creating a safety and productivity communications backbone that is simple to install, simple to maintain and extremely reliable," Hensler said.

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