The scope of work involved designing and manufacturing a performance-critical check valve for a pneumatically-powered fire suppression system in multi-million dollar heavy vehicles used in the mining industry.
The challenge with this type of engineering is that there is no room for failure-to-operate. The component can’t be tested after it is installed but should an incident occur it has to function correctly 100% of the time.
Archer has been developing fail-safe products of all kinds for three decades. We were approached by our customer because they were transitioning from a static fire system which didn’t require a check valve to the more advanced inline pneumatic system. When that older system was activated it simply delivered suppressant for a short time then deflated. The pneumatic system required at least 60 seconds of sustained pressure at the control valve to exhaust nitrogen gas into the vehicle (this is the industry standard). Our customer looked for a standard industrial solution. They found commodity-type valves available on the market but didn’t consider them to be reliable enough. As a result, they came to Archer.
This valve featured unique demands. Whereas conventional pneumatics systems are cycling – the valves open then close then open then close, and so on – this fire suppression unit called for for one-off use. It would only open once when required to suppress a fire and it had to work. What we call ‘set and forget’ technology. The valve also had to connect to OEM equipment on board the vehicle.
The project began with research of the fire suppression market and industry standards. Although the vehicle extinguisher market is a mature one Archer was unable to find relevant reference material, as Operations Director Russell Byrne explains, “We expected to find some data that we could use as a reference point but to our surprise despite the age of this industry there was nothing out there relating to the new type of system required. This meant that our design-to-manufacture phase would be breaking new ground.”
Having determined the technical requirements of the check valve (i.e. zero fail operation, provide one minute of constant pressure, connect seamlessly to existing infrastructure, etc.) Archer involved many of its specialty areas housed at the Manufacturing Centre of Excellence. Powerful three dimensional design software was used to create the new design. Simulation software demonstrated its functionality. Photo-realistic coloured renders were supplied to the customer. The tiny valve components – featuring inner and outer threads, complex curves and mirror-finish surfaces - were manufactured from steel in a world-class multi-axis machine centre. As an added benefit an arrow was marked on the outer body by the CNC machine to show air flow direction. The parts were assembled and then operated on a test bench in the laboratory. An air velocity meter was used to confirm gas flow rates to industry standard. Only then did Archer pass on the finished product to the customer.
Since that time this unit has become sought after throughout the mining industry. There are currently more than 600 check valves installed in heavy vehicles across Australia.