A BC company whose inventions improve mining equipment

by Karen Kornelsen

Mike Hambalek, general manager at Caliper Machine and Hydraulics in Cranbrook, has a lot of ideas. Many of these ideas have turned into great inventions that have improved many different industries, particularly mining. Hambalek and his team at Caliper have formed partnerships with companies from as far away as India and China and some of their products are currently being tested in the Elk Valley in the southern interior of British Columbia.

"I have a lot of ideas, from friends and business partners," said Hambalek. "They have spent many years working on heavy mining equipment and they come to me with a solution to a problem that the manufacturers do not address.  But I am also very fortunate to have a great bunch of guys in my shop. They have the expertise to take these ideas to reality. Most of them are long-term employees that have been working here for up to 30 years. I present the concept and they help me put it into action."

Hambalek is a machinist and the general manager of Caliper Machine and Hydraulics. He has owned the company for the last 15 years. When the economy took a downturn in 2008, Caliper was a repair shop for the mining, industrial and forestry sectors. But because the economy was in turmoil, no one was repairing equipment. So Hambalek started conversations with customers and asked, What are some of the major problems on your mining equipment? He then started figuring out how to make improvements and how to save both him and his customers time and money.

Dashboards and windshield wipers

One of the first ideas to come to actuality was a new dashboard for haul trucks. Caliper now manufactures steel dashboards for all the 830E and 930E Komatsu haul trucks in the Elk Valley, replacing the original plastic ones. Now in 2013, Caliper is manufacturing dashboards for all different kinds of equipment and manufacturers. The shop uses CNC (computer numerical control) machinery to cut out a dash in less than five minutes, where previously it would take over eight hours by hand. The savings are then passed onto the customer.

Another idea that has made it to market is industrial-sized windshield wipers. Caliper manufactures windshield wiper systems for gigantic electric mining shovels and has over 15 models. The smaller wiper arm starts at just over five feet long and the longest one is over nine feet, running on monster draglines in Australia. The company has a business alliance with the P&H factory in Milwaukee and the wiper systems are sold all over the world.

The Roller Saddle Block

Caliper has also invented a replacement part for the largest electric mining shovel on the planet.

"For the last seven years, I've been working on a project that came from an idea that one of the foremen from Teck Coal had," said Hambalek. "He gave me his idea for a part on the P&H electric shovel called the saddle block. The saddle block is the number two problem of P&H shovels in the Elk Valley. The saddle block uses huge amounts of open gear lube, which is a really nasty product that sticks to everything but what it's supposed to and causes an environmental concern. The OEM saddle block also uses wear plates that can have loose tolerances, and that means premature wear or damage to some of the main shovel components."

Hambalek and his team sat down and came up with a huge list of all the items on the existing saddle block that weren't working properly, improved on every one and invented the Roller Saddle Block.

Caliper now has a global partner for the Roller Saddle Block: Vulcan Industrial Engineering. The two companies are working together to mass-produce the product worldwide.

"Right now we have our prototype, the first Roller Saddle Block, at a Teck Coal property," said Hambalek. "It's been running for a few months now and is doing very well. It is saving thousands of dollars a month on lube costs, not to mention extending the life of the components on the shovel. It is making things easier, more cost effective and safer.  I am blessed to be working for a company like Teck Coal, as they really try hard to improve their mining practices and are environmentally proactive. "

Hambalek has been getting calls from interested customers from around the world for the Roller Saddle Block and will be heading to Chile soon to meet with mining companies there.

The future

Hambalek is now off to China to work on yet another project.

"I can't say too much about it because it hasn't come out yet, but I can say I'm working with manufacturers from China, the U.S. and Canada to produce a North American-made product that is green," he said. "We are taking technology and expanding on it, partnering with a leading global LED company.

"I like to be at the cutting edge of technology," Hambalek said. "Caliper is expanding and I'm very fortunate to have the employees and friends that I do. All of these ideas would not be possible without them. "

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