Innovations That Aided the Chilean Mine Rescue

Products developed that aided in the rescue of the Chilean miners, including drill rigs, drill bits, copper socks, and a NASA designed capsule.

While the heroic efforts of the rescuers and the miners were the main reason for the Chilean miners survival, there were several innovative products used to keep the miners healthy and in good spirits before and during their eventual extraction from over 2,000 feet below ground.

Drill Bit and Drilling Rig

The drilling rig that bored the rescue tunnel through 2,000 feet of rock was was made by Schramm Inc. of West Chester, Pa., near Philadelphia. The rig used in Chile was suitable for this job because it is mobile and can be set up within hours. The rig is self-propelled on five axles and can be driven on a highway. At about 100,000 pounds, it is about half the weight of more traditional rigs. Schramm Inc. has about 165 employees and sales of more than $50 million a year, of which about 75% of their sales are outside the U.S.

Schramm T130XD Drilling Rig

The drilling bits came from Center Rock Inc. of Berlin, Pa., which is about 80 miles southeast of Pittsburgh. These bits were also used to help rescue coal miners trapped 240 feet below ground for three days in 2002 at the Quecreek mine in southwestern Pennsylvania. The Center Rock bits used in the rescue operation involve four or five spinning hammers, powered by compressed air which acts like a jackhammer. Center Rock has about 70 employees and is owned by Sverica International, a private-equity firm in Boston, about 10% of their $30 million to $35 million a year in sales are outside the U.S. A Pennsylvania trade representative in Chile acted as a liaison between the Chilean government and Center Rock to assist in the rescue efforts.

Center Rock Drill Bit ( )

Copper Socks

Cupron Inc. of Richmond, VA manufactures socks that contained copper in the fibers and were one of the first items delivered to the trapped Chilean miners to provide a bacteria and fungus free environment. The temperature inside the mine was over 90 degree F with high humidity. Cupron's manufacturing technology permanently binds its proprietary copper compound to textile fibers, non-woven fabrics, paper, latex and other polymeric products. This technology does not involve complicated or hazardous manufacturing methods and the will last as long as the products themselves, regardless of multiple hot water washings, abrasion or bleach.

Cupron Socks ( )

Space Capsules and Liquid Diet

In late August, NASA dispatched a four-man team to the Chilean mine. The team consisted of Clinton Cragg, a NASA engineer; Michael Duncan, a doctor; James Polk, a doctor, and Al Holland, a psychologist.

Cragg began designing an escape capsule that could fit in a hole the size of a bicycle tire, and handed the finished plans to the Chilean navy, who built the capsule. The finished product was a 13-foot long, 924 pound steel rescue craft that had an escape hatch at the bottom. It was named "Fenix," after the mythical bird that rose from ashes. The Fenix capsule is very narrow, where miners have barely any room to move their shoulders, but contains a safety harness, oxygen tank, a video camera, a device to communicate with rescue teams and a clock.

NASA aided in the design of the Rescue Capsule

The miners were given a high-calorie liquid diet, designed and donated by NASA, to prevent nausea from the rotation of the capsule.

Beginning at around 11 p.m. on Tuesday, the men climbed into a slender cage nearly a half-mile underground and made a smooth ascent into fresh air. Each miner took about 20 minutes to be hoisted aboveground.

All 33 men were rescued by Wednesday night, the last man emerging from underground at 9 p.m.

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Posted on Oct 17, 2010