A Dream of the Past Turned Today’s Reality
Now over a decade since the first commercial application of the Railveyor system and with millions of tons of material transported at our growing catalog of successful sites, one might think that the success of the highly-efficient system was a foregone conclusion. But this is far from the truth. In fact, the development and commercialization of Railveyor was sparked by the perseverance of a passionate inventor, witnessed the tragic passing of an instrumental entrepreneur and was catalyzed by a tireless businessperson.
The first attempt to combine rail and conveyor technology was dreamt up by the French state railroad company (SECCAM) in the 1960s. Unfortunately, since the mechanical applications required significant improvements and the computer that drives a modern Railveyor system was decades away from reality, that experiment was destined for obscurity.
However at the turn of the millenium, Michigan Tech graduate and engineer Mike Dibble secured a grant from the Florida Institute of Phosphate Research (FIPR) to build, test and demonstrate a system of his design called “Rail-Veyor.” Although this “backyard” demo system was far smaller in size than a commercial application of Railveyor, within a few trial runs it proved that the concept of combining rail and conveyors into a single system could remarkably improve energy efficiency in material transport. These academic efforts led to the world’s first commercial installation of Railveyor at Harmony Gold’s Phakisa Mine in South Africa in 2007 – which quickly proved successful, reducing operating costs by a third or more.
Around that time, Mike Dibble enlisted the aid of Canadian entrepreneur Risto Laamanen, who incorporated the business, secured global distribution rights and set up a second test site with Vale S.A. at the Frood Stobie mine in Sudbury, Ontario in 2008. More impressive results there led to a third site at Vale’s Copper Cliff Mine, which became operational in 2012. As the momentum of the business was building, Risto Laamanen suddenly passed away in 2009, leaving majority ownership in then-named Rail-Veyor Technologies Global to his family.
A relative of Risto Laamanen’s had worked with self-taught engineer and successful businessperson Jim Fisk at Electromotive Diesel (later acquired by CAT). As the Railveyor company sat in a state of uncertainty, Jim Fisk flew to Sudbury to observe the Railveyor test site.
“When I first laid eyes on Railveyor and the engineers told me the energy it was using to move the payload, I didn’t believe them!” laughs Fisk. “I pulled my calculator out and ran the numbers. The result was still unbelievable – I thought I must have entered a wrong value somewhere. But I ran it twice more and the numbers checked out. I’ve been on board ever since.”
A year later, Jim Fisk became Chairman of the Board of Railveyor. Since that time, multiple commercial applications have successfully been installed in sites as far flung as Venezuela, Kazakhstan and Missouri. Along the way, the Railveyor team has tackled challenges at individual sites, adapting their processes to local conditions and further improving the product – see how in our Case Studies.
“The mining industry says they pursue ‘innovation’,” says Fisk, “But often what they really mean is ‘continuous improvement’ – small, incremental changes that add up to a gradual evolution forward, not truly revolutionary innovation. Railveyor as it exists now really represents a viable revolution in bulk material handling technology.”
Fisk continues, “But we’re far from finished. We’re always looking for new ways to improve the system. The best way to find those opportunities is to closely partner with our customers, addressing their unique operational needs in a concrete way and going above and beyond to deliver unexpected improvements and surprising solutions.”
With conceptual roots stretching back to a past that was largely unaware of the challenges of the present, Railveyor is a step into the future of bulk material handling for the mining industry and beyond. After decades of hard work and ingenuity applied to a novel system, Railveyor offers an ESG-friendly solution that also improves efficiency and profitability – and we are just getting started. Contact us today to take that step into the future of material handling technology.