Designing a rugged vehicle for the unpredictable environment of underground mines goes far beyond making sure the driver is protected from falling dirt and rocks. For starters, narrow tunnels deep within the earth seldom offer opportunities for three-point-turns.
Sleek low-profile trucks, many of which have heights lower than the driver standing up, must be able to be driven in reverse for long distances. Often the only option for driving out of a mine is backing up for miles at a time at slow speeds, about the same pace as a brisk walk.
Based in Bangor, Michigan, the Getman Corporation specializes in manufacturing mining vehicles for the transportation of materials, equipment and workers – virtually everything except the drilling. The company was founded in 1954, specializing in a small three-wheeled vehicle that hauled materials in Colorado uranium mines. Today, Getman services a broad spectrum of industries – platinum group metals (PGMs), coal, gold, copper, nickel and crushed stone – at mines around the world.
“Our goal is to make a truck that will withstand the challenges of the toughest terrains without it breaking down,” says Getman applications engineer Kyle Strong. “Ideally, the only reason for our customers to call us is when they need to buy another truck.”
“Underground terrain has lots of moisture and salt that is very corrosive. There are tight spaces and you’re constantly hitting rocks,” he adds. “Fire suppression systems are an even bigger concern in coal mines because things are so combustible.”
The Getman Underground Transport System (GUTS) includes a roadbuilder, tow tractor and personnel carrier that work together to move longwall panels, massive blocks of coal a few meters thick and hundreds of meters wide.
Because these vehicles are driven in reverse almost as often as forward, the driver’s seat is positioned sideways to minimize blindspots. “You bump a guardrail on the surface and it’s no big deal,” explains Strong. “But you hit a wall in a mine and you are talking about a potential collapse.”
“Conditions are so rough that within six months a brand new vehicle looks like you’ve had it for 15 years,” he adds, noting that most Getman vehicles have a 25-year life expectancy.
Strong says his engineering team prefers to use DraftSight, the professional-grade free 2D CAD product from Dassault Systèmes, to export legacy DXF files from older CAD programs. Getman Corp. is constantly updating schematics in hydraulics and electrical drawings.
“Most of our 2D drawings are very text-intensive and we have lots of large tables that always need to be revised,” he says. “These tasks are significantly easier with DraftSight. Some of our guys who were used to AutoCAD say this is very user-friendly.”
Overall, Strong says he’s proud to be involved with making mining vehicles that are durable enough to run 24 hours a day with limited downtime.
“These trucks are a significant investment. It’s not like buying a minivan,” he says. “We have many customers who say they feel they are getting a lot for their money.”