Reinventing the WheelWed, 10/18/2017 - 13:56
The mining industry is in a constant state of evolution. From fleet management systems and digitalized datahandling tools to unmanned drill rigs and automated heavy machinery, technological developments have developed at breakneck speed, allowing miners to maximize profitability at every corner of the mine site. But according to Harmen van Kamp, Global Sales Director at Global Air Cylinder Wheels (GACW), one area has made limited progress over the years: tires. Spotting a gap in the market, GACW has developed a groundbreaking design that could revolutionize the way mining companies approach their tire usage.
“We remove conventional tires, replacing them with a steel frame and 12 air cylinders that have the inner rim suspended within the outer drum,” he says. “The concept is so simple but it is going to disrupt the market.”
The Air Suspension Wheel (ASW) is the brainchild of Zoltan Kemeny, a Hungarian inventor and harmonic structural dynamics engineer with over 260 patents on his resumé. Kemeny was approached by an engineering firm, reporting that its clients often complained about low reliability and performance of the tires installed on heavy vehicles. He realized that the majority of tire problems were related to the air component; rubber can easily get overheated and overstretched, leading to dangerous and costly blowouts. He swapped the perishable rubber for a stronger steel frame, surrounded it with bolt-on hard polyurethane treads and installed air cylinders to give suspension.
The design offers a number of benefits. From a safety perspective, the ASW’s air-compression system removes the risk of pressure losses and therefore dramatically reduces the number of Lost Time Incidents (LTIs) on mine sites. Thanks to the metal component, the outer polyurethane tracks and inner steel rim are much less susceptible to wear and tear. While a traditional rubber tire lasts around 1,500 work hours (four months) on a traditional underground mining operation, according to van Kamp the ASW lasts up to 10 years. Given that one hour of downtime for a truck can cost US$25,000 on a large operation, with each tire change typically taking at least four hours, the savings for the user quickly rise into the millions. “Although the initial investment is between two to four times greater than rubber tires, within a year the system will have paid for itself,” he says. “It is also environmentally friendly because there is no waste – the design is 100 percent recyclable.”
While rubber tires lose air through miniscule perforations with every rotation, the cylinders installed on the ASW compress and decompress as the wheel is running, ensuring marginal energy is wasted. “When the operator brakes, the energy is stored back in the wheel,” says van Kamp. “This has generated calculated theoretical diesel savings of up to 15 percent, which is huge for mining organizations.”
The ASW has only been on the market since July 2016 but GACW has wasted no time in spreading the word. Van Kamp is based in Mexico but there are representative offices in the US, Canada and Argentina, as well as a network of collaborators throughout Africa. But although the product has been fully tested on a mine, with strong results, the company is still waiting for its first client. According to van Kamp, one of the main sticking points is the sheer size of the initial investment – to convert just one large truck from rubber to ASW would cost US$1 million – but he explains a key difference in the way it operates financially to a conventional rubber tire.
“A rubber tire is a consumable and it is eventually disposed of after purchase,” he says. “Our wheel is equipment, so it is classified as a capital asset on the balance sheet. An expense is converted into a capital asset, so the company value is instantaneously increased. With our air suspension lifetime wheels, that US$1 million investment results in US$20 million savings during the maximum 20-year lifetime of that truck. Waste-to-asset conversion doubles value.”
So why the delay in contracts? According to van Kamp, internal bureaucracy in the major organizations is the culprit. But this is a hurdle GACW is confident of overcoming. “We are very close to closing our first client,” he says. “There are a handful of big mines seriously interested in the project, so it is just a matter of time.