The vehicle complements Industrial Fabrication’s heavier-duty Minecat 100, which was introduced in 2003.
“There’s definitely more demand for utility vehicles as drifts and headings get further and further from the shafts,” said company vice president Daryl Rautiainen. “There’s a demand for reliable, quality vehicles to get people to and from their workplace.”
The custom-built Minecat 100 has been “the vehicle of choice for heavy-duty utility vehicles over the last few years and has captured a large part of the market,” but wasn’t appropriate for every application, said Rautiainen.
The rigid-frame Minecat 100 is commonly used to transport 5,000-pound reels of cable and other heavy loads. A vehicle with a suspension system wouldn’t be able to cope with that kind of weight.
The UT99 is designed for transporting personnel in greater comfort. The enclosed cab allows for heating and air conditioning and the suspension system provides a smoother ride.
“Mine personnel can drive it up the ramp to surface, park it outside and roll up the windows,” said Pat Bérubé, Industrial Fabrication’s engineering manager. “In the morning, they can start it and turn on the heat, so it’s a little more user-friendly for the operator.”
The UT99 fills the same niche as the Toyota Landcruiser, a surface vehicle adapted for underground use.
Industrial Fabrication opted for a purpose-built vehicle designed from scratch to fully address the mining industry’s needs. It faced the same choice in 2002 when it acquired the Minecat line from Northern Consolidated Equipment.
A farm tractor adapted for underground use, the original Minecat got the job done, but wasn’t designed for a harsh operating environment.
“We recognized that a machine designed for farming is not ideal for mining use,” said Bérubé. “You end up with high maintenance costs. They’re a little less expensive to buy, but they cost more to operate.
“It was the same thing with pickup trucks. Toyota, Dodge and others make excellent vehicles for what they’re designed to do, but they don’t last as long.”
Industrial Fabrication’s custom-made vehicles have hydraulic systems for powering scissor lifts, aerial booms and other optional attachments.
“If you take a highway vehicle and bring it underground, you’re stuck with adding a 12-volt power pack that’s not designed for the machine,” said Bérubé.
Ease of service is another important consideration.
“We eliminated all of the computerized controls that you find on a highway vehicle,” said Bérubé. “Our engine isn’t even an electronic engine. The underground environment is very tough on electronics.”
Industrial Fabrication consulted its customers to understand their requirements and came to the conclusion that a custom-made vehicle was the only way to go.
“It gave us the ability to hand-pick the heavy-duty components best suited for the application and design a vehicle with the axles, brakes and engine required for underground use,” said Rautiainen.
The braking system selected for the UT99 is the recently introduced MICO Wheel End Brake, designed in collaboration with the Fluid Power House, a Sudbury company specializing in brake systems for the mining industry.
“Dry disk brakes have been a problem in the industry for 25 years,” said Rautiainen. “The MICO brakes are fully enclosed in a housing and they’re in a bath of oil, so they’re fully protected. Exposed disk brakes tend to freeze up because of the high acidity in most Northern Ontario mines.”
Aside from being easier to service, the Iveco 99 horsepower engine is more environmentally friendly.
“You don’t need a 300 horsepower engine underground because you’re only going 15, 20 or 25 miles per hour,” said Rautiainen.
A bigger engine produces more diesel emissions and drives up ventilation costs.
Industrial Fabrication’s Minecat 100 is widely used by CVRD Inco and Xstrata Nickel in the Sudbury Basin. Units are also in operation at the Stillwater Mine in Montana and in Indonesia.
A sales and service location in Winnemucca, Nevada, was opened in 2006 to better serve the Western U.S. mining market.
Two prototypes of the UT99 have successfully completed field trials – one at CVRD Inco’s North Mine in Sudbury and another at the Stillwater Mine.
“End user feedback has been very positive,” said Rautiainen. “They’re very, very impressed with what they’re seeing.”