Innovation Profile: Tomcar Australia - A New Wave of Underground Light Vehicles for Mining
As part of Innovation Month here at Austmine, we will be profiling some of our members who have really got something to shout about. Up first is Tomcar Australia; we caught up with CEO and Co-Founder, David Brim ahead of the launch of their new mining light vehicle.
Can you tell us about Tomcar’s new underground model innovation?
We’ve been working for the last 18 months developing a new underground mining vehicle range, named the Avanterra, in response to the mining industry coming to us with a desperate need for a solution to their light vehicle issue. The current options for light vehicles have been around for a long time, but they are expensive and don’t last very long when placed in an underground environment. The only other options presented to the sector are VERY expensive large industrial machines.
We took the basic principle of Tomcar, which is a light vehicle with incredible military strength, and added all the safety aspects required in an underground mining environment. The end result is we have developed a Tomcar uniquely designed for underground mining. We are the first vehicle manufacturer to offer a commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) mining light vehicle. We are currently running trials around Australia and have 3 initial prototypes that are available to try out. They’re out on road trips at the moment, with two in Western Australia and one in Victoria.
This particular vehicle is aimed at hard rock underground mines and we also have a surface version coming out now; but a coal edition is on the way next year.
Safescape partnered with you on this product; why is collaboration important to continue driving innovation in the mining and METS sectors?
Safescape has been working with us since the beginning of the mining range. The company, and in particular their Director, Steve Durkin, was crucial throughout the product development and building our understanding of the market. We were new to the METS game, so it was absolutely critical for us to work with someone in the industry.
The partnership came about due to Safescape approaching us a few years ago wanting to represent Tomcar in Perth on some of our other products. This started the dialogue between our two companies and led to us seeing an opportunity within the mining space to work together. To this end Safescape has formed a new company called Durable Mining Equipment to sell and distribute the Tomcar Avanterra mining model.
Tomcar Australia is historically part of the automotive industry. We have to collaborate in the automotive sector and embrace innovation, or you die. So it’s been interesting coming to mining and seeing the industry really begin to incorporate both collaboration and innovation as underlying values. This is providing a lot of opportunities that wouldn’t have existed before.
What would your advice be to other non-METS companies looking to break into the industry?
I would recommend they join industry groups, like Austmine. Also, begin to network within the industry, attend AIMEX in Sydney in September – basically start talking to people in mining on a regular basis. One thing I did was to join all the mining forums on Linkedin, then start reading and learning about the industry. This has been invaluable.
The next step is to try and isolate potential partner companies within your chosen space. Mining is very similar to defence in many ways (we operate quite heavily in defence); such that as a small supplier it’s difficult to get the ear of a big mine. If you team up with an existing supplier to the mine, it makes the process much easier; this is why we teamed up with Safescape.
We benefitted from our collaboration in terms of industry knowledge, advice and contacts. Safescape benefitted from our innovation and vehicle manufacturing knowledge that we brought to the table. To companies looking to forge new relationships that is an important factor to remember: both parties must gain from the relationship. When you collaborate, the result must be greater than the sum of the parts. Your partner should give you a competitive edge, knowledge you cannot get anywhere else, inspire you to do things differently, or have a market reach you do not.
How does Tomcar embrace innovation in how you work with the mining industry?
The major way we have embraced innovation is the way in which we have listened to the mining community and have worked very closely with them throughout the product development lifecycle to date. We take what’s best in the miners’ existing light vehicles and keep or improve on that, and then work with what they don’t like or seriously need, providing them ultimately with a vehicle designed specifically for their site. We have consistently engaged with miners, especially the users and operations managers to speak to them about concerns with their vehicles.
The cost of the Avanterra is half the price of a traditional light vehicle and will save about 70% in monthly running costs. We’ve endeavoured to engage with both purchasing, so they understand these cost benefits, and operations, so we design a vehicle they want to drive.
We had two initial prototypes that went out to two chosen mines; which trialled the vehicles and provided incredibly constructive product feedback. Based off this feedback we improved a number of items on the vehicle, including; developing retractable 3-point harnesses instead of a 4-point system; developed full air conditioning; designed more robust doors; invented a unique fail safe braking system, self-chargin glow in the dark paint, and some major improvements to the vehicle’s lighting and noise levels. We’ve also complied with the MDG15 inspection document (NSW state documentation that is required for machines to be driven in mines), which saves mines having to do it themselves.
The Avanterra light vehicle model is available for order today. Contact David Brim directly for more information on email@example.com or visit