Following the success of its locally patented Nip Guard, an innovative product developed in 2018 and rolled-out to the South African mining industry, Brelko, a Johannesburg based conveyor cleaning equipment supplier to the mining sector, has been granted a US patent on its innovation. By Nelendhre Moodley.
The company continues to broaden its horizons by developing technologically advanced products that target zero harm, and is testing the boundaries established by international bodies with its Nip Guard Safety Device.
Underpinning the push for safe products is the global and local drive towards zero harm, which has seen the South African mining industry’s annual mining fatality rate reduced from over 200 a few years back to averaging between 50 and 60 deaths.
“This impetus by the mining sector is what drives the development of innovations such as the Nip Guard, which works to reduce operator injuries and thereby helps miners keep a clean bill of health,” says Brelko’s MD Kenny Padayachee.
The patented Nip Guard safety device has been adopted at most major mines in South Africa including Anglo Platinum, Assmang, Eskom, Exxaro, Kumba, Northam and Tronox and Brelko has added this to its range of local and international patents.
Targeting improved worker safety at conveyor belts, the Nip Guard was designed to prevent unnecessary injuries that are known to happen around pulley nip points and pinch point hazards.
“Brelko applied to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) – the federal agency for granting US patents and registering trademarks – for a patent on the locally developed Nip Guard. However, the process of acquiring a patent in the US is lengthy and rigorous and required team effort, including the presence of our research and development team and both local and US lawyers.
“Ahead of being awarded the patent, Brelko was required to pen a white paper explaining the difference between a Nip Guard and a conveyor belt scraper, given the belief that the two products are interchangeable, which is a major misconception,” Padayachee explains.
Where conveyor belt scrapers (intended for use in conveyor bulk material handling applications) are installed in direct contact with the conveyor belt for the removal of residual fines (carry-back) that remain on the conveyor belt, nip guards are primarily intended for use in conveyor bulk material handling applications as fixed guards to prevent worker exposure to conveyor pulley nip points, also known as ‘pinch points’, ‘in-running points’, and ‘draw-in points’.
“Nip guards offer the most reliable form of continuous protection for dangerous nip points around the head, tail, and drive pulleys,” says Padayachee.
“At Brelko, we place people above profits. Our concern around safety does not only extend to our own employees, but to everyone who works with our machinery. We understand we have a responsibility to ensure that those working on our machines are as safe from injury as possible. The Nip Guard is a product that provides safety and efficiency and can increase productivity due to less down time,” he explains.
The Brelko Nip Guard has been manufactured according to various mounting standards including SABS, CEMA, Australian and PROK. It requires low maintenance, operates in all conditions and, because of its robust construction, has longevity – all of which con tribute to lower expenses and increased productivity.
Brelko drives sustainability
Underpinning the conveyor belt cleaning specialist’s focus on localisation, has been its strong desire to become self-sufficient in terms of security of power and water supply.
Currently, South African businesses and citizens alike face unprecedented rates of loadshedding and water-shedding.
According to Padayachee, if businesses are to survive and thrive, they need to become proactive and find alternative solutions for uninterrupted water and power supply.
Having taken the decision to become independent, and thereby ensure the company is able to keep its manufacturing facility operating 24/7, Brelko has invested a total of R21 million in installing over 3.5 megawatts of solar power per day.
Since first installing solar power, a project rolled out in three stages over the past three years and which cost around R15 million, the company recently bumped up its investment by a further R6 million to ensure that it remains totally self-sufficient.
“For any business to succeed, it needs to have sufficient electricity to power up its operations and keep its business running smoothly; enough water to run the operations efficiently and high-level skills sets to deliver cutting edge products in a highly competitive market,” says Padayachee.
The local manufacturer has also been investigating options to free it from its reliance on the local municipality for its water needs and recently began investigating the viability of sinking a borehole at its premises, in Booysens, south of Johannesburg.
“The borehole specialist determined that at the north end of our property, just 15 m from our water mains, is an underground water system. Having established the existence of water, the next step is to test the water for chemicals and minerals, after which we will put in place a filtration system to ensure that the pumped water is pristine. According to the borehole specialist, we will have access to some 1500 litres per hour.”
The construction of the relevant infrastructure to access the borehole will be completed within the next two to three months.
In 2019, Brelko invested heavily to ensure that its facility was able to harvest rainwater, which included the purchase of a 5000‑litre filtration tank.
As a key part of its sustainable solutions programme, Brelko purifies around 135 000 litres of rain-harvested water, which it uses for gardening and car washing.
“By having an adequate supply of power and water, Brelko can meet its localisation agenda. We are a truly South African manufacturing hub that understands localisation – we undertake research and development, design our products, create and manufacture our moulds, and construct the products. In essence, we manufacture our entire product line in-house from start to finish – which means that we truly understand what it means to be local manufacturers.”
To manufacture world-class products that are sold across key international destinations, including South America, Europe and the Middle East, Padayachee explains that a highly specialised skills set is required.
“For Brelko to compete head-to-head with globally manufactured products, a highly skilled labour force is non-negotiable – importantly, one that is keen to find solutions to industry’s most pressing challenges by producing locally manufactured equipment using robotics and artificial intelligence (AI). Given this requirement to deliver premium quality products, we have upskilled our staff to be proficient in key areas such as robotics programming.”
The company recently acquired six robotics arms – four of which operate in the belt scraper blade assembly division. The robotic glueing and assembly cell consists of a fully automated glueing station where the scraper blades are precisely located and glued into the scraper blade holders. The glued components then move onto the fully automated scraper blade assembly station, where the final assembly of the belt scraper blades is undertaken by the robotic arms. The other two robotic arms operate in the welding section. The investment in robotics improves efficiencies and pro ductivity and ensures that seamless top-quality products leave the production line.
“For Brelko, producing premium quality products is sacrosanct and means we are constantly enhancing our product line to ensure we remain at the cutting edge of the quality spectrum,” concludes Padayachee.”
By Nelendhre Moodley – JUNE 2023