Mining (1)


Sheltering Miners

Manufacturer designs Swagelok into its emergency air systems

Pillar's shelters take years of hard knocks, then deploy in a split second and sustain life for 96 hours. How? 

17Pillar Innovations' Fresh Air Bay shelters withstand years of hard knocks, then deploy in a split second and sustain life for 96 hours. In fact, when the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health conducted initial tests of 5 state-approved shelter designs, only Fresh Air Bay passed every test.

But let's start at the beginning: In January of 2006, an explosion trapped 13 miners in West Virginia’s Sago Mine for two days. One miner's emergency oxygen pack worked, and he survived the ordeal. The packs on the others failed. They breathed deadly levels of carbon monoxide and methane gas, and perished.

Need for accessible refuge

In the wake of this disaster, West Virginia passed legislation requiring all underground mines to have accessible refuge shelters. They approved five shelter designs, including Fresh Air Bay (FAB, or “the bay”), manufactured by Pillar Innovations LLC.

In a disaster, the FAB's 6,000 psig of compressed gas is triggered, inflating a shelter designed to sustain life for 96 hours.

Each bay has an active CO2 scrubber, 4,500-psig medical-grade oxygen cylinders, and air delivery subassemblies such as its 6,000-psig purge system and 6,000-psig ventilation system. It also has water, first aid supplies, food, and a toilet.

Extreme conditions call for extreme reliability

Among the design and manufacturing challenges related to air systems:

  • After manufacture, a bay might move around mines for years. After all, miners move around and the bays have to be accessible. During that time, connections in the system couldn't leak.
  • Bays had to meet standards set by the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health
  • The state had set short deadlines and the clock was ticking

Comparing suppliers and service providers

Pillar needed answers to questions like:

  • Did Swagelok have the components needed for the air systems?
  • Were Swagelok connections leak-tight? What could they withstand?
  • What is each component made of? How consistent are materials?
  • Would supply be steady? What if Swagelok's suppliers were late?

Because of the many materials, products, and technologies available from Swagelok, Pillar needed to discuss which components—and which materials—were best suited.

The team also discussed processes like inventory management. Swagelok offers inventory management system tailored to a customer's exact needs. If needed, the system can include product storage and automatic replenishment.

Swagelok had the components needed for the air systems. The local Swagelok distributor was able to provide a variety of tube fittings, VCO O-ring face seal fittings, and tubing for more than 380 air system subassemblies.

Robust supply of Make-to-Stock products

We stock standard parts (Make to Stock or MTS) at 225 locations worldwide. In addition, we provide Assemble to Order (ATO) products and products designed especially for unique needs – Make to Order (MTO) and Engineer to Order Products (ETOP).

Inventory management across locations

Our “One Swagelok” business model enables inventory management among all these locations, and every new order figures into the order history and planning for that location. Further, at our main assembly plant, we keep a large inventory of components so we can provide short lead times on Assemble to Order (ATO) products – a considerable investment that we make for our customers.

Leak-tight connections require consistency

Behind every Swagelok product, assembly and solution is the Swagelok Limited Lifetime Warranty—widely regarded as the industry's strongest. We want our customers to have the perfect experience with every product. It works the first time. It’s the same as the one before it, and the one after. It must deliver on our promise of safety and total peace of mind.

The same must be true of all of the services that surround the product – from quote input and labeling to shipping and delivery. The Swagelok Quality System (SQS) is a business management system enabling sales and service centers to systematically manage and improve processes throughout their supply chains.

Exacting materials standards

We buy our bar stock direct from the mills, and then in our own manufacturing plants we forge, machine, electropolish, weld, assemble, and test, among other processes. In other words, we own the manufacturing process from start to finish. This way we can control the maximum number of variables and ensure product quality.

Ensuring steady supply

With so much riding on our suppliers, we ask them to take extraordinary measures – in some cases, to keep their proprietary information in escrow – in others, to keep extra inventory on hand.

We take further precautions ourselves. For example, we keep significant amounts of raw materials on hand in case our supplier’s own supply chains are interrupted. And we build in redundancies with multiple suppliers for the same product. 

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