Diacon guards mine workers from conveyor dangers

Diacon Australia's conveyor guards are made of Australian HDPE.

Diacon Australia prides itself on being a genuine Australian manufacturer of plastic conveyor guards, with a team of dedicated engineers that set it apart from competitors. 

Diacon Australia is a leading innovator of conveyor spillage control and guarding products used to protect mine workers from the safety risks of conveyor systems, considered one of the most dangerous areas of a site.

The aim of a conveyor guard is to eliminate the risk for operators to get entangled in nip points on the conveyor belts.

The potential injuries range from minor wounds such as a bruised finger, to major injuries like amputations or worse, worker fatalities.

Queensland-based Diacon is a connoisseur of using plastics, having been in the industry for over 30 years and engineering and producing guarding systems for over 10 years.

While Diacon prides itself on being a completely Australian-owned operator and manufacturer, the inspiration to pursue the innovation for the company’s iconic guards actually comes from Germany’s K-Fair world plastics exhibition.

Diacon Australia managing director Brendan Refalo says the company’s directors attended the event with the intention to find a partner to assist with manufacturing the guards the company had designed.

As this was a completely new innovation, and no one had the experience to work alongside Diacon Australia on the project, the company decided to go at it alone.

“K-Fair has some 3000 exhibitors in the world plastics industry, everything from drink containers to automotive, aerospace and industrial plastics, we really just verified that our concept was quite unique” Refalo tells Australian Mining.

Diacon Australia went on to patent and manufacture its first guards in early 2012, before hitting the market with the product in 2013 after a meticulous trial period.

With strict Australian safety standards to adhere to, Diacon spent a year trialling the first guards it manufactured then completed test trials within its own facility before customers even saw them.

“We needed to make sure what we were offering not only met customer needs, but complied with Australian standards,” Refalo says.

The company’s intent to use plastic instead of steel was based on the need for a more adaptable material on mine sites, with steel often being too expensive to customise for individual applications.

“When we started, we were having to install steel guards on conveyor belts,” Refalo says.

“Once you put a spillage control hungry board on a conveyor belt, the trough idlers become nip points.  It wasn’t until probably the second or third project that we decided we needed to use a better material for guarding other than steel.

“That was where the concept of making a plastic mesh guard came about; we felt we could manufacture our own guards that were more suited to what the industry needed.”

Plastic materials have the added advantages of being lightweight, corrosion free and never require painting. It can also be more easily processed allowing many variations to be achieved with minimal jigging and set up costs.

Part of what sets Diacon Australia apart from its competitors is the experience and diversity of their workers, according to Refalo.

“We’re a plastics company but we’re fundamentally an engineering company,” he explains. “We employ six mechanical engineers and a team of draftsmen, and from a plastics point of view, that’s what sets us apart. We proudly offer a complete guarding solution from concept to installation.”

It is a point of difference that allows Diacon to design customised guards that may look identical, but are designed to deliberately fit around different mine site obstacles, such as weigh stations, metal detectors, sampling equipment and belt tracking systems.

The company prides itself on designing around these obstructions in a way that still looks uniform by employing modern laser scanning technology.

“Sometimes, we make a conveyor that has a total of 300 guards on it, many of which may need to be customised to fit the application. With a job like this, having different sized guards on a single conveyor, keeping them looking uniform is the key,” Refalo says.

“We laser scan the conveyors, giving us an accurate model of the conveyor. We then overlay what the guards need to look like onto the real structure.”

With many alternative options on the market being designed and manufactured overseas, this is a unique trait of Diacon, one that gets extremely positive feedback from clients.

“When people look at our guards, they always comment on how neat they look,” Refalo says.

“The reality of this, is often there are a variety of sizes in both guards and brackets but our attention to detail is what delivers a highly functional yet well presented product.”

Diacon still makes the effort to attend sites to ensure the structure is completely accurate with the scanning before manufacture and subsequent installation.

This is such an exact design process that Diacon modifies less than 1 per cent of its brackets and guards after installation for changes, with a commitment to get it right the first time.

“We spend several days on each site making sure what we’ve measured is absolutely correct before we leave the site,” Refalo says.

Diacon fits its own guards across sites within central Queensland, where it is based. The company also has a distributor network across Australia, which ensures a hassle-free installation process, with only qualified technicians installing the guards.

The company uses quality Australian manufactured high-density polyethylene (HDPE) material for all of its guards; has exceptional ultra-violet stability to suit Australian conditions, and provides a 15-year material guarantee.

Diacon guards can be used at underground and open pit operations, with a specialised fire-resistant anti-static (FRAS) design for coal operations available upon special order.

“They’re easily adaptable to site conditions and are designed to be hung on the handrail beside the conveyor during maintenance, which removes them from sitting on the catwalk becoming another workplace hazard,” Refalo explains.

In addition to being cost-effective, versatile and safer than steel counterparts, Refalo says there are three key reasons clients are so impressed by the Diacon Australia plastic conveyor guards.

“They are lightweight, corrosion free and don’t need to be painted,” he concludes.

“We’ve been consistently developing our guards for over 10 years and we can proudly say that all of our components are designed and manufactured locally to the highest of standards.”

This article also appears in the April edition of Australian Mining.

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