South African air filtration solutions company Aircure has advanced the country’s innovative product development capacity by designing and developing the first facial air curtain, the Airhead – to be attached onto hard hats of workers who are exposed to fumes, dust, gas and polluted air – to prevent harmful exposure.
Aircure owner and product developer Darren Bibby tells Engineering News the company has been working on developing the product since 2012 and that it was made available to a few clients for market consumption last month.
Idea Comes to Life
“During a mine ventilation meeting, where we were discussing silicosis and the need to develop a solution for harmful exposure to dust, an idea of creating an air curtain around a worker’s face developed.
“The concept primarily came about because rock drillers, winch operators, locomotive drivers and workshop workers are the most exposed to polluted air and dust. We created a solution that could eliminate such exposure,” he explains.
Bibby adds that it took about two years to develop, test and improve the Airhead to what it is currently, adding that the product has been patented.
“One of the challenges we faced was the design criteria of hard hats – we were legally not allowed to drill into it or modify it in any way; we had to retain the integrity of the hard hat, so we developed the Airhead as a product that can simply be clipped onto a standard hard hat,” he details.
The Airhead comes in three power-supply versions. The first is the permanent electrical supply, which will retail for about R8 000 and is available in 220 V, 380 V and 525 V. This version uses a base station for its fan, filters and controls. Bibby states that, in the mining sector, this version is mostly ideal for winch, breaker and crusher operators.
In workshops, the version can be used by grinders, cutters, packers, sanders and any other worker who works in a stationary position. The Airhead emits 98.5% clean air at 0.5 µm.
The battery-operated Airhead is the second version and uses a 24 V fitted base station, which also powers its fan, filters and controls. In addition, it comes with an optional magnetic mounting bracket and is mostly ideal for locomotives, forklifts, cranes and any other mobile vehicle.
“This slim-line version is small, can be plugged into the battery of any vehicle and costs about R7 000,” he points out.
The compressed-air Airhead can be connected to any clean air supply and it uses a minimal amount of compressed air. It is supplied with a backpack, which is connected to a hard hat and enables the user to easily disconnect from air supply to move between areas.
In mining situations, it is ideally suited for use by rock drillers, stope workers, tip attendants and other workers who have access to compressed-air supply, while it is ideal for grinders, cutters, sanders and packers working in industry workshops.
“We regard the compressed-air version as the most versatile of the three. It is also equipped with a built-in silencer in the backpack. It enables the wearer to be semi-portable and it is only connected to a thin hose.
“Moreover, this version is so small and portable that a worker can easily leave a unit inside his/her locker when a shift ends. A unit comes at a retail price of about R2 000,” boasts Bibby.
He adds that, at the end of a shift, or if a worker needs to move from one section to another, all the versions enable a worker to simply detach their helmet from the power supply to enable another worker to use the same power supply on his/her helmet.
The Airhead places the worker inside a virtually impenetrable 360º bubble of air, which functions as a barrier to dust and fumes. The barrier can reduce the possibility of lung disease.
“Our main purpose with the product is to stop exposure to dust and fumes, but it comes with an added advantage, in that the worker also benefits from a cooling effect from the curtain. We believe this will make workers want to use it because some of them work in high-temperature areas, where additional cooling is welcomed,” says Bibby.
In addition, the filtered air is not flammable and it is easy to clean, states Bibby, adding that “we have installed an alarm system to inform the user when the filter is dirty. These filters are high efficiency particulate filters, which are also used in operating theatres of hospitals, making it highly efficient, to ensure the cleanest air possible,” he explains.
The Airhead will be officially launched onto the South African market on May 22 and will be available for the export market at a later stage, concludes Bibby.