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I-CAT is at the forefront of fire-protection innovation for mining
27 June 2017
I-CAT is at the forefront of fire-protection innovation for mining

Recent tests conducted by Sasol and I-CAT have proven conclusively that dry chemical powder extinguishers are ineffective against rubber fires and conveyor belt and tyre fires, both encountered in underground mining. This means that many underground mines have little or no fire protection, posing a major health and safety risk to mineworkers.

In addition, activating a dry chemical powder extinguisher in a confined space underground can result in an inhalation risk for operators and bystanders. The dry chemical powder can also contaminate the air-circulation system underground, and further erode mechanical and electrical parts on machinery, causing long-term damage.

While safety has always been a critical factor in the mining industry, the tight economic climate has placed increasing pressure on the industry’s bottom line. While most mines tend to comply with the required fire regulations, few conduct proper risk-based fire protection implementation.

“To enhance the productivity of a mine, new technology is the main driver to make it more efficient at a lower total cost, which ultimately increases profitability. However, fire safety has lacked in technological advances, as it is mostly seen as a ‘grudge purchase’ that impacts on the bottom line,” Andro Gibhard, who heads up the I-CAT Fire Division, comments.

“Fire protection should be the first port of call for any mining operation, as the main aim is to preserve human life, without even referring to the financial and economic impact when a fire results in production downtime. It is therefore imperative that fire risk should be a primary focus when it comes to mining safety.”

It is for this reason that the I-CAT Fire Division has allocated considerable resources to develop the latest firefighting technology for the mining industry. “It is only recently that mining houses are looking at more effective firefighting technologies,” Gibhard notes.

For example, the I-CAT Fire Division recently conducted a series of tests at a Sasol test facility to determine the effectiveness of water and foam mist systems on underground conveyor belts on coal mines. Since most firefighting products deployed in the mining industry originate from Europe and the US, the question arises as to whether or not these have been tested for mining conditions in Africa.

“During the tests, it was discovered that widely-accepted equipment failed badly, even in controlled test environments. What then is the effectiveness in an underground mining scenario, where conditions are far less favourable than in a controlled test environment?” Gibhard questions.

The I-CAT Fire Division conducts scale tests on all of its products and applications. “As a leading manufacturer of firefighting systems, we pride ourselves on conducting realistic and real-life condition testing. This is why more and more mining customers are looking to I-CAT for expert risk-based fire-suppression systems,” Gibhard stresses.

In terms of its ongoing contribution to improved firefighting methodologies for the mining industry, the I-CAT Fire Division has compiled a totally new protection protocol for underground conveyor belt protection, including redundancy protection. The protocol has been tested against various test scenarios identified in a risk assessment.

Gibhard reveals that the market has responded positively due to the monthly fire information sessions, combined with live fire demonstrations, hosted by the I-CAT Fire Division at the South African Emergency Care fire-training facility at Modderfontein. “At these events, we invite both safety and risk professionals to witness real fire scenarios, and how our systems perform.”

Solutions available from the I-CAT Fire Division include its TRT-LPS-FM system, an acronym for T-Rotor Technology – Local Protection System – Foam Mist. T-Rotor Technology is the internationally-patented low-pressure mist system powering the division’s extensive product range.

This includes protection for conveyor belts (drive, take-up, and tail-end), hydraulic power packs, transformers, and generators. These are all stored-water pressure systems, which means that an external water connection is not needed in order for them to be operational.

“Our range of products is expanding as we encounter new applications and risk environments from different customers. We have been active in the market since 2012,” Gibhard notes. “All our product offerings are environment-friendly and not harmful to humans. We offer low-pressure systems using very low quantities of water, ensuring the conservation of this valuable resource,” he concludes.

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