Safety First in Giant’s Mining Portfolio,Wed, 10/21/2015 - 11:33
Q: Although 3M is very well-established, what is your strategy to increase your market presence as a supplier of safety products for mining personnel?
A: Since its founding in 1902, 3M has maintained a strong presence around the world. Our very first venture was with a mine, and we have kept up our focus on that sector. We are aware of all mining needs, including the need for utmost safety at all times. This has led to a focus on several safety perspectives. The first is to ensure the security of workers through personal protective equipment. We possess an attractive portfolio of products for mining companies, incorporating gear for head and ear protection as well as breathing apparatus designed specifically for mining environments. We also understand that such issues extend beyond personal safety, so 3M has developed product lines such as environmentally friendly fire prevention systems. We ensure that our products for mining solutions avoid all forms of environmental contamination. Overall, 3M’s technology allows people to work in a secure manner, resulting in less operational interruptions and an increase in productivity.
3M is helping to spread the culture of safety that is so fundamental to the mining sector. Through the training services we provide to mining companies, we contribute to the efforts of the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare (STPS) in diffusing a culture of safety to all of Mexico’s mines. Our training courses are validated by the STPS and comply with the requirements mandated by the Mexican government for companies working here. 3M’s products meet international certifications which surpass national standards. However, supplying safety products alone will not guarantee protection unless we can also teach people to work safely in mining environments. This is why 3M carries out training courses with the health and safety departments of mining companies every week. We have a team dedicated entirely to the mining industry, whose task is to showcase the technology we have and teach companies how to use it. While foreign companies have raised the bar on safety, the efforts made by Mexican companies have also been considerable. This is a result of the collaboration between companies with STPS, which has introduced more stringent security measures in coal mines as a result of certain unfortunate incidents. In addition to this, the culture of safety practiced by foreign companies, particularly by Canadian firms who have a great presence in Mexico, has permeated the sector. As a global company that exchanges practices, needs, and solutions with foreign companies, we see the influence they have had in raising safety standards in Mexican mines. Q: What are the innovative characteristics of 3M’s respirators? A: We have been leaders in this product range for several years, and our success is due to the ability of our respirators to meet the right levels of protection against dust, particles, gases, and fumes. The masks are made from non-woven materials for both disposable and reusable respirators, and are loaded with interchangeable cartridges that filter the ambient environment to provide breathable and clean air. The lifespan of the cartridge will depend on the type of operation, as varying conditions can saturate the filter faster. Part of the service we provide to mines includes software that can determine the saturation levels of each individual filter and state its remaining lifespan. We want the industry to see 3M as a company that contributes to lowering costs while maintaining the quality of its products, particularly as mining companies are focused on reducing costs and increasing productivity.
Q: 3M has been able to fix the sulfuric acid fume problem in the mines. How were you able to do this?
A: We developed a product specifically for this problem through R&D in the US. Usually, sulfuric acid fumes occur at copper mines when using electrowinning processes. When acid bubbles come into contact with the air and burst, acid fumes are generated. Our product is a fluoride chemical which is added to the electrolyte solution to prevent the formation of the fumes, as it causes the bubble to burst before it is released in to the environment. This helps to substantially reduce fume levels, which has led to major health and safety benefits. They can be carcinogenic for people working in that environment, as well as being highly corrosive to metal structures, so reducing them also saves on maintenance costs. International standards exist to limit the ppm of acid fumes in our mines, and our product helps to fulfill that requirement.
Q: What product has 3M created to deal with the dust that is generated during operations?
A: Dust is generated in open-pit mines where road conditions change constantly because of the characteristics of the mine. Water is used to mitigate dust emission caused by the combination of unpaved roads and the movement of trucks loaded with material. We developed a water-friendly chemical at our R&D center in San Luis Potosi, which helps diminish dust emissions by making particles heavier. This has led to companies reducing their water consumption by up to 40% when working in dust-controlled environments.
Q: What are the priorities of your R&D center in San Luis Potosi and what product lines are you focusing on next?
A: 3M is a global company with R&D teams in Mexico, as well as in South Africa, Poland, Australia, Peru, and Canada, all of which are devoted to mining. To understand the customer’s needs, these local subsidiaries work together to develop technology platforms. For example, we worked with a partner to manufacture cables for mines. This project led to the development of a reflective wire which is useful for underground operations. It can also be combined with our Scotchlite reflective covering for low visibility conditions. We are also heavily focused on maintenance. The tapes we have developed allow workers to quickly and safely repair power cords. We have a complete product line for welding operations, including electronic welding masks, which allow this dangerous work to be done more efficiently and productively. For post-welding applications, we have a ceramic abrasive called Cubitron II which makes maintenance more efficient. Through the collaborative efforts of a mining team from Chile and a plant in the UK, we developed a product to repair the damage on rubber conveyor belts. This is a cold vulcanized product that extends the lifespan of the band.