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Autotex hardcoated film protects electronics in mine support systems

Autotype International : 05 August, 2007  (New Product)
The latest Autotex hardcoated polyester film, developed and manufactured by MacDermid Autotype, is playing a crucial role in an innovative range of industrial control panels, used in high performance mining systems.
The control panels are manufactured in the UK by system developers Rowland Automation for a leading British mining roof support manufacturer, and they have been developed to withstand extremely harsh operating conditions with high levels of abrasive wear, high pressure wash-down and, in many applications, shock waves from coal face blasting.

The control panels are fitted to the mining unique roof support equipment, which forms part of a larger system that typically includes a shearing machine, armored face conveyor, loading unit, crusher and roof supports. The latter are constructed from two or more hydraulic rams or jacks that raise, lower and adjust an angled canopy or roof support mechanism, which can be up to 2.05m wide. The entire unit is designed both to support the roof of horizontal mine shafts, to protect mine workers and other equipment, and to be easily repositioned as each shaft is extended.

The operator panels have been developed and are manufactured by Rowland Automation and are essential components in the overall system, as they provide control of specific functions at the coal face and local visual feedback of system status. Each panel is constructed from a robust stainless steel enclosure, into which bevelled LCD display windows and membrane key apertures are machined. The individual membrane keys adopt a unique design to provide a high degree of tactile response for operators wearing heavy duty gloves and are protected by a single layer of 0.15mm thick Autotex hardcoated film, mounted and sealed directly beneath the open display windows and key apertures.

Chris Rowlands, Managing Director of Rowland Automation, explains that, “Conditions underground mean that our control panels have to withstand exceptionally tough use. Environmental conditions include high temperatures and levels of humidity, while equipment is regularly washed down using high pressure hoses and source water that can range from extremes of acidity or alkalinity and is often heavily contaminated with abrasive dust and grit. In addition, the nature of the work involved inevitably means that electronic equipment has to withstand many years of wear and tear; indeed, it is not uncommon for mine workers to use explosives at the coal face to break up sections of coal or ore and our equipment has to survive the full force of each blast”.

Although the stainless steel enclosure provides much of the protection required, the open display and key apartures mean that the underlying membrane keys and electronics have to be protected separately from the operating environment. Chris Rowlands adds that, “When developing the control panels we needed to find a material that allowed us to protect the keys and displays from abrasion and chemical attack, without affecting levels of tactile response or light transmission, and that would be easy to reverse print for key legends. We initially experimented with a variety of film substrates but found that Autotex was the only material to give us the combination of mechanical and chemical characteristics that we required”.

Autotex is part of a family of hardcoated, high performance polyester based films, manufactured in the UK by MacDermid Autotype. The specially formulated outer hardcoat layer is unaffected by most common solvents and chemicals, and is resistant to both scratches and abrasions. In addition, the film is dimensionally stable, even under extreme conditions, and is easy to reverse print, enabling high definition graphics and legends be produced. It also has a long flex life and excellent ink adhesion, so that even with repeated use and exposure to blast and shock waves the key graphics and legends will not delaminate from the film.

Chris Rowlands believes that without Autotex, “It would have been impossible to develop such an effective solution for the mining roof support manufacturer. The film is easy for our production engineers to handle and process and, just as importantly, helps to ensure that our control panels have a long and trouble-free operating life in applications that are possibly among the most challenging in the world”.
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