Jim Winkler, owner of American Hydraulics and Rebuild of West Logan, West Virginia, and vice president of the Logan (West Virginia) Coal Vendors Association, has seen a spike in his sales of the Kenway Series 9043 self-contained hydraulic air conditioner recently, especially to coal mine operators in Illinois.

“Some mines are adding aftermarket enclosed cabs to shuttle cars,” he said. “These are to protect the shuttle car operators from the dust they would otherwise be exposed to during the drive between the continuous miner and the feeder-breaker. And of course, once you enclose the operator in a cab, you have to deal with a jump in temperature, plus the windows can fog up. Underground temperatures are worse in the Illinois mines I’m dealing with than the mines I’m familiar with in the Appalachian area. I’m told that in some of the Illinois mines, ambient temperatures are in the 70s or even 80s, so you can’t really enclose the cab without providing air-conditioning.”

These custom cabs for shuttle cars have two self-contained, hydraulic air conditioning systems (see the black boxes in the inset photo).

Air conditioning does more for the cab environment than cool the air. It also controls humidity and particulate matter. “A regular part of maintaining the AC unit is changing the air filters,” Winkler said, referring to the improvement in air quality as well as comfort in the cab.

A water spray controls dust at the cutter heads at the front of the continuous miner and at the feeder, yet shuttle car operators are still exposed to dust kicked up by the shuttle car itself. Conditioned air in an enclosed cab is the answer, according to some mine operators.

Winkler’s company provides valving and hydraulic components as well as the Kenway hydraulic air-conditioning units used by the shops that actually modify the shuttle cars for the mines. “There’s not a lot to the installation,” he said. “Once the cab is enclosed, you just need six bolts to attach the unit, you run your hydraulic fluid lines to the car’s existing hydraulic system, and you’re pretty much ready to go.”

Ken Detloff, owner and president of Kenway Engineering of Fairmont, Minnesota, they are building versions of the Series 9043 hydraulic AC units that are customized to fit particular models of shuttle cars. “We’re talking about cramped conditions, where the AC unit has to be out of the way both for comfort and to preserve the operator’s visibility. You can’t just make a generic unit and bolt it on anywhere,” Detloff said.

Detloff added that his hydraulics-driven Kenway Series 9043 features a sparkless motor. “We provide hydraulic heating and AC units to a lot of industries that operate in explosive environments requiring a no-spark motor,” he said. “That’s another significant advantage to this kind of air conditioner.”

It is too soon to say that the success of American Hydraulics and Rebuild and of Kenway Engineering will translate into a larger trend in underground coal mining and broader underground mining industries. However, over the span of his career, Detloff has seen the same general tendency in other industries to make work spaces safer and more comfortable.