Marc Carriere
Global Mining Manager
Victaulic
/
Insight

Flexible Couplings Increase Mine Pipe Longevity

Wed, 10/21/2015 - 13:01

The horrors of the First World War created a necessity for some world-changing innovations. In a time when German soldiers were utilizing new weapons such as flamethrowers, the French were forced to step up their game. The French government thus solicited the help of Englishman Ernest Tribes, to design a lighter, more mobile flamethrower in order to beat back the enemy. This necessity led to both Tribes and Henry Selby Hele-Shaw, a renowned engineer, filing a patent for the invention of the grooved mechanical coupling. This initial innovation was the catalyst that sparked life into Victaulic, a company that focuses on safer, more efficient pipe joining technologies.

While Victaulic originated in the UK, the company moved to the US in 1925 to serve the country’s military industry. It was here that Victaulic began to spread its wings, branching out into more commercial markets such as oil and gas and mining. It is still possible to find the company’s products that were originally installed during the 1940s and 50s in Canadian underground mines. Marc Carriere, Global Mining Manager of Victaulic, attributes this longevity to the flexibility of the company’s products, and their ability to relive the damaging stressors found in conventional pipe systems. “Our company has in many ways revolutionized the way the mining industry puts together the piping systems they use,” he states. “Without Victaulic, some of these companies would not have been able to do many of the things they are capable of doing today. Other piping systems out there are rigid, while we have the only system available that gives flexibility to the pipes.”

The many contours and environmental factors within underground mines can be extremely hazardous for rigid pipe systems. For example, shockwaves from blasting operations, combined with an inability to absorb them, can cause pipes to break. Victaulic’s flexible couplings mold to stresses such as these, contracting and expanding to ease the movement of the pipes, and thus preventing expensive pipe replacements. This kind of flexibility enables mining companies to adapt their network of pipes to any topographic condition, revolutionizing the standard principles of pipe installation. Mining operations use multiple types of piping systems, all of which, Carriere claims, are applicable for Victaulic’s products.

“Some of the most common piping systems used in mining are for process water, compressed air, mine dewatering, and backfill systems,” he describes. “In surface operations, pipejoining systems are used for all the slurry piping around the flotation, while cyclone and tailing systems can make use of Victaulic’s rubber lining systems. The reason why companies use our products in abrasive conditions is because the traditional systems normally wear out at the elbow where the pipes change directions. Our products prevent mining companies from having to replace the fittings too often, negating the process of removing bolts. Our systems are easy to maintain and to replace if needed.”

When it comes to high pressure systems, like the ones used in the dewatering of a mine, Victaulic’s products are capable of enduring any pressure delivered by the pumping machines, far exceeding the needs of mining companies in terms of abrasion and pressure resistance. Cooling systems are another example, as they need a coupling product that can handle major end loads and resist the heating and cooling of the system. According to Carriere, traditional coupling products cannot be used for this purpose as they cannot adapt to the changing conditions, and would definitely break down as a result. “In the past seven years we have heavily invested in the development of new technologies for mining applications,” he states. “Our Style 177 QuickVic Flexible Coupling is a higher pressure, heavier duty coupling, designed to withstand the harsh conditions found at mining sites. This means the environmental conditions and the risk of being run over by scooptrams or other machines. We have also invented a diverter valve called the Series 725 Diverter Valve for mine backfill piping systems. This product will be a real winner because it will help in every underground mine that has complicated backfill systems. We overdesign products so that they can truly endure, and we can safely say that Victaulic’s products are far faster to install than any other product in the market.”

Innovations are inextricably linked to cost savings, another benefit that Carriere believes his company can offer. Victaulic has generated important costs savings for mining companies in terms of air loss. The energy that is consumed when producing compressed air can represent a huge cost due to rising electricity prices. “An opening of 2mm in a compressed air system can cost a mining company around US$800 a year,” explains Carriere. “This does not sound too severe, but when one analyzes the number of leaks that can exist in one system, the costs can soar. Some of the mining companies we work for were able to save up to US$1 million by using our products in their air systems. Our couplings fit so perfectly that they become 100% hermetic, meaning there will be absolutely no gas leaks. The fact that our gaskets are pre-lubricated avoids pinching or the creation of holes that could lead to leaks.”

Innovations are inextricably linked to cost savings, another benefit that Carriere believes his company can offer. Victaulic has generated important costs savings for mining companies in terms of air loss. The energy that is consumed when producing compressed air can represent a huge cost due to rising electricity prices. “An opening of 2mm in a compressed air system can cost a mining company around US$800 a year,” explains Carriere. “This does not sound too severe, but when one analyzes the number of leaks that can exist in one system, the costs can soar. Some of the mining companies we work for were able to save up to US$1 million by using our products in their air systems. Our couplings fit so perfectly that they become 100% hermetic, meaning there will be absolutely no gas leaks. The fact that our gaskets are pre-lubricated avoids pinching or the creation of holes that could lead to leaks.”