Member Spotlight: Steve Durkin, Managing Director & Founder, Safescape
As part of Austmine's 30 year celebrations we are shining the spotlight on our members!
Former mining engineer Steve Durkin runs Safescape, a designer, manufacturer and supplier of innovative products for the global mining sector. It’s a successful and growing business, but what Steve really loves is coming up with new ideas and turning them into new products.
Steve’s biggest claim to fame is the Safescape Laddertube, which is radically changing the way mines manage emergency egress. When he started thinking about Laddertube 15 years ago, the most advanced escape was a galvanised steel caged ladder – not a great solution in the many mines where very saline water eventually eats through the metal.
The idea for a better way came to Steve pretty quickly: a fully enclosed, modular plastic tube with built-in rungs. The tubes fit together to achieve any length required, so even the deepest mine is no problem.
Strong growth from a small start
Safescape commenced operations in 2010 with the first installation of a Safescape Laddertube escapeway in Victoria, Australia. Over 35,000m of Safescape Laddertube has since been installed at mine sites worldwide.
From humble beginnings as a two-person operation, Safescape now has Australian offices in Bendigo and Perth as well as a US base in Denver, Colorado.
In July 2011 Safescape took a significant step forward, establishing an in-house manufacturing plant in Perth. Steve rejects any suggestion that Australian manufacture is not a feasible option.
“By manufacturing 100% in-house, we have complete quality control over Safescape products and the ability to tailor production schedules to the specific needs of our clients. Fast and efficient turnaround from order to installation is our trade.
“Our manufacturing plant is situated in the Perth suburb of Forrestfield in Western Australia, which provides easy access to a host of national and international freight options including road, rail and sea.”
Since coming up with his Laddertube idea, Steve has brought several other innovative products to market, including the Multi-Bund modular light weight bunding product and the Edge Protector system which allows open pit haul roads to be narrower while retaining the same or better safety characteristics.
Ever the entrepreneur, Steve expects Safescape will have also have road-registerable 4WD battery electric vehicles in production within the next year.
Advice for inventors
Steve says he is always open to new ideas, and that’s why he keeps coming up with new products, but he has advice for others who want to innovate in the mining sector: think big.
“Mining is great at incremental progress but hasn’t been great at real innovation. I want to ignore the one per cent improvement and say ‘we’re gonna get 30%’.
“Some of our customers are saving $1,000 to $2,500 per metre with Laddertube, and some of their rises are hundreds of metres each.”
And, he says failure is part of success.
“Innovation is ingrained in us. We’re always looking to do things better. It’s challenging but it’s fun. You have to accept failure and be okay with it.”
The best part of the business for Steve, though, is that it’s fun.
“At every site you’re welcomed. People are interested. This is fun.”
Steve says Austmine membership is a no-brainer for Safescape.
“We are an Australian METS company that exports a large part of our production. We'd be mad not to be a member of Austmine,” he says, noting Austmine Missions have delivered great value.
“The benefits we get from attending Austmine Mining Missions include getting a better understanding of new markets, generating interest in our products in those markets and meeting and learning from likeminded business people who also attend these Missions.”
Want to know more about Austmine Mining Missions? Click here.