/Mining Safety Equipment Shouldn’t Become Obsolete

We live in an age of planned obsolescence. From automobile models that change frequently, to mobile phones that we’re expected to replace every couple of years, consumers are trained to expect a relatively short lifespan for equipment. The more sophisticated the technology, it seems, the faster it becomes obsolete.

That’s not how the mining industry thinks. And that’s not how Strata Worldwide works.

We’ve developed a strategy for design that builds in adaptability and longevity while leveraging the power of technology. It’s not about building surface equipment and then making it rugged enough to function underground; we’re building systems for specific applications, and specific purposes that work now and work for years to come in the harshest environments on earth.

“Our philosophy on design is this,” says Strata Worldwide CEO Mike Berube. “We believe equipment should be simple to install, use and maintain. It has to provide the best possible safe environment while ensuring the least possible downtime. We also believe in designing products that can grow with the company and project.”

Berube says that Strata is focused on the total cost of ownership over the life of the system and works with its customers to provide solutions beyond the original equipment purchase.

“Our approach to design includes creating products that can evolve, but that are also backward compatible,” says Berube. “It sounds like a small thing, but it makes a big difference for our customers over time. For instance, in releasing our second-generation proximity detection system that leverages the latest technology and a different system architecture, we made sure it was backwards compatible with our existing first-generation systems already in operation. That means the mine can phase in the new equipment on their timeline without having to shut down or perform a complete system changeover. It also means that they can phase in the purchasing in a way that makes sense for their budget and cash flow.”

StrataConnect Wireless, Strata’s original communication system first launched in 2010, served as a cost-effective option for coal mines to meet the US Mine Safety and Health Administration’s (MSHA) Program Policy Letter (PPL) P11-V-13. Today, the system has evolved and expanded into a highly versatile, flexible network solution that provides environmental monitoring, remote control, automation, telemetry, equipment tracking and more.

Because Strata eliminated the cost and hassle of cables, external power, antennas, and repeaters, with StrataConnect Wireless operators have the flexibility to quickly monitor and control as many underground devices as required, and in any location. Access to data helps the operation make adjustments as needed which can save significant money over time. One mine that installed Strata’s monitoring and automation system was able to fully automate the operation of their fan ventilation system which resulted in a 21% reduction in power costs.

“Another part of our strength in design comes from our strong multinational supply chain,” says Berube. “Our connection to our suppliers gives us advanced notice when a component or material is becoming obsolete. We use that knowledge to prepare ahead. Our company has the ability to carry a large inventory of components and materials.”

Carrying inventory also helps Strata weather unexpected market fluctuations and events that make obtaining supplies challenging; the 2020 global pandemic was a case in point. The pandemic was a lesson for companies that rely on international sources for shipping. Strata has invested in making sure they understand the structure of their supply chain, so they have an early warning about a potential disruption. They know which suppliers and components are at risk, which allows them to be proactive, to purchase early, and make sure they have inventory on hand when their customers need systems or parts.

Keeping equipment certified with regulatory bodies and government agencies is a crucial component in preventing obsolescence. Strata makes sure that any new component or material that must be incorporated into a product is proactively presented to allow time for approval. “Safety is non-negotiable,” says Berube. “It has to work, it has to be affordable, and it has to last. We take that as seriously as our customers do.”