Innovative mechanical fitter redesigns mining skid lights
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Local “Iron Man” redesigns mining skid lights, creating potential game-changer in his family garage
Meet our real-life Iron Man in the making, Dave.
Dave Nicholls is a WorkPac mechanical fitter working at Rio Tinto’s Hunter Valley Operations.
Like Marvel’s character Tony Stark, Dave has a creative flair for building machines but he innovates on his off-swing, in the family garage while raising his three girls with his wife Kelly.
Working on a mine site, Dave sees first-hand some of the challenges the mining industry faces with lighting plants.
This inspired Dave to create a safer, greener, more cost-effective skid light.
Building the skid light prototype in his garage for the last two years has been an
all-consuming process for Dave and his family but his design has multinational giant Rio Tinto excited.
“I built the prototype in my garage at home. It’s about six and a half tonnes all up, six metres long and three and a half metres wide,” says Dave.
The early days were hard, Dave struggled to move steel around and turn parts over.
Working on a large machine meant everything had to be welded into position.
After finishing the base, and fabricating the smaller pieces, Dave transported the skid light to his brother-in-law’s farm where they painted it, installed the engine and started commissioning and trialling lights.
“Rio has this unrelenting focus on everyone getting home safe and healthy every day,” Dave said.
“Ultimately, my focus is safety. Working on a Rio site where there’s a strong safety culture, safety is the number one priority for everyone. Something I’m really proud of as a worker on the HVO [Hunter Valley Operations] site is a thing Rio
introduced called Critical Risk Management”.
CRM (Critical Risk Management) is implemented across all Rio Tinto operations and focuses on identifying critical risks and verifying critical controls. For each critical risk, there’s a series of controls that must be in place to prevent an incident.
Dave designed his skid light with Rio Tinto’s CRM in mind and has eliminated the risk of lifting operations, entanglement and crushing, uncontrolled release of energy and electrical contact and has greatly reduced the risk of vehicle impact on a person.
“That’s what got Rio’s attention and it’s why there’s been so much support for my design”.
“The existing skid lights used on mine sites around the world are overcomplicated for what they have to do.
“They just shine a light but there’s so much stuff going on and so many moving parts.
“This increases the chances of crush injuries, pinch points, cylinders failing, suspended loads and uncontrollable releases of energy.
“I thought, there should be something easier. There wasn’t. So I built it.
“As well as increasing the safety of the lighting plant, my new design also increases productivity because you’re not stopping trucks and machines that cost $400 an hour while you move a light.
“Getting out of the cab, making the machine fundamental, lowering it down, packing it up, isolating it and taking it to a new location holds up the fleet and when you have a reasonably sized fleet like we have at Rio, it adds up.
“Something as simple as not having to get out of a cab to lower the mast will save hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.
“Rio have been working with me to time the difference between the current skid lights and my design.
“It’s proving to be a big time saver”.
Dave took an environmental approach to the new design, ensuring his skid light reduces greenhouse gas emissions.
“Rio is a firm believer in minimising environmental impact so it’s great that we can take a collaborative approach to the impacts of climate change”.
The skid light in use runs on a 415 generator which is fuelled 156 times a year.
The new design is fuelled 10 times per year with the option of incorporating a battery pack to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to extend services and refuelling periods.
The battery pack will see the new skid lights refuelled four times per year.
While Dave might not get recruited for S.H.I.E.L.D any time soon, this Hunter Valley Tony Stark is enjoying a healthy, collaborative relationship with Rio Tinto as they explore the potential of Dave’s innovative skid light.
For now, Dave continues to juggle his role as a WorkPac mechanical fitter, father and husband while working on his entrepreneurial project.
“WorkPac has been really good to me. It’s great turning up to do your job and getting paid – you don’t have to worry about losing contracts.
“If something happens, if a contract is lost, WorkPac has such a wide reach across the industry so you can just swap over to another site.
“When you’re working for yourself you get a bit sick of chasing work and chasing money all the time.
“The stability of income and employment is good for me and has empowered me to work on my skid light design.
“My father-in-law and family have all been very supportive, helping me get the design to where it is now.
“We’ve been working on it whenever I’m not at work but I’m confident it will all pay off.
“There’s nothing out there like it”.
Dave is determined to increase the safety and wellbeing of workers, cut costs and better manage atmospheric emissions through his
innovative light design.
Don’t be surprised if you start to see this new design onsite in the future.