While the decline in coal has been well documented, mining industry experts point to a potential growth area in a certain low cost segment of the market known as Longwall Mining. Longwall operations can harness technology in the form of automation and are capable of producing higher tonnage with lower material and labor cost which in turn places a lower cost per ton product on the market. Our BRAKE SUPPLY challenge was to secure a solid point of entry into this highly specialized longwall equipment market that has traditionally been owned by the OEM.
A point of entry opportunity came into play in the fall of 2015. BRAKE SUPPLY was approached by a British company, Bennett Manufacturing Services (BMS), based in Stoke-On-Trent England, who was looking to shift their business model away from mining to expand into on-road automotive parts market. BMS specialized in the machining of extruded forgings used to make longwall roof support leg cylinders, longwall base lift cylinders, and other complex components for over 15 years. BMS works closely with Alcoa’s Firth Rixon foundry, an OEM supplier located in the U.K., who uses an extruded forging process to manufacture the cylinder outer shell, the inner sleeve, and the plunger. These roof support leg cylinders are a uniquely engineered one piece forged design that is used by JOY GLOBAL, one of the two primary OEM roof support manufactures in the world. The cylinders are primarily used in coal mining longwall applications around the globe.
In December 2015, BRAKE SUPPLY sent two team members to the U.K. to review the equipment and develop a proposal for potential acquisition. The project would include 19 pieces of specialized machine tools designed for a production run of longwall roof support cylinders. The acquisition transaction was finalized early 2016 and the work began.
The BMS project required dismantling 19 pieces of equipment, packaging and shipping from northeast England to the U.S., installation, commissioning, and training in our BRAKE SUPPLY facilities in West Virginia. Our goal was to complete these project steps and manufacture a complete roof support cylinder in time for the International MINExpo trade show held in Las Vegas at the end of September 2016. This trade show is held once every four years and draws industry leaders from around the globe.
The BRAKE SUPPLY team pulled together to reach their goal. Our product was the only cylinder displayed in the longwall class completely manufactured in the USA.
This acquisition of equipment positions BRAKE SUPPLY very well to play a key role in the global longwall roof support market going forward. The ability to produce both new and rebuilt products designed specifically to a customer’s specification on a volume production scale eliminates many competitors and we expect this product to be the gateway for future large scale sales opportunities.