Local company pitches eco-friendly light tower

Caliper Machine and Hydraulics designs solar and wind powered light tower for use in mining operations.

Mike Hambalek

Mike Hambalek

It’s no secret that mining is the lifeblood of the economy in the East Kootenay region and many businesses are inextricably tied to the industry in the Elk Valley.

Caliper Machine and Hydraulics in Cranbrook is one of them.

Headed up by Mike Hambalek for the last 17 years, Caliper does a lot of machining, line boring, hydraulics and welding with Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) products along with specialized customization of parts and components.

However, it’s their latest project that has gotten them excited as they look to the future.

Inspired by the desire to create a product to save money on fuel costs for Teck Resources, Hambalek and the Caliper team have designed and created a hybrid LED tower that is run on solar and wind power.

To light their operations at one mine site in the Elk Valley, Teck uses diesel generators that can run 24 hours a day.

The fuel costs can add up pretty quick, according to Hambalek.

With that in mind, the Soleco SWG-12 tower, the first of which should be arriving at the Caliper shop in a few weeks, will be powered by twin turbines at the top of the tower with solar panels at the base capturing sunlight, while a small eight KW Kubota generator will serve as a supplement.

“We researched our light tower over two years. We built a few different models and met with different manufacturers and talked with a few suppliers,” said Hambalek.

“Fort McMurray is a huge user of light towers and one of the oil and gas companies up there has over 300 light towers and they’re all run by diesel.”

While a solar powered tower isn’t anything new, the panels are unique in that they are hydraulically controlled, meaning they can be adjusted to capture the maximum amount of sunlight.

Other features include the option to be fitted with security cameras and Wi-Fi transmitters for internet hotspots with an eight kilometre range between towers.

“We tried to understand our customers,” said Hambalek. “So for example, light towers are available right now, but their solar panels are only made at a 45-degree angle. We made our adjustable, so at Fort McMurray, they’ll be at 80 degrees or in Cranbrook, they’ll be 70 degrees or down in the States it’ll be even less.

“We can adjust to the climate so our light tower and our solar panels will be more efficient than what’s available right now.”

The tower, which can be set up with the use of hydraulics by one person, stands nine metres tall and has six 200 AH AGM batteries.

The tower should be in Cranbrook within a few weeks, and Hambalek is hoping to create some buzz at trade shows in Fort McMurray, Edmonton and Toronto over the next few months with his new product.

The eventual goal is to get some pre-sales and do as much as the assembly as possible in Cranbrook, which should create a few new jobs, he said.

“My goal is to have a ‘Made in North America’ sticker on the side,” Hambalek said. “As much as it would be nice to be made in Canada, it’s very hard because lots of the components we share with the Americans, come from the States, but I believe that Made in North America deserves quality—we’re very picky in Canada as far as quality and I think it would be very beneficial for us to have another made in Canada product.”

Hambalek unveiled his newest product in a media presentation that also included Kootenay East MLA Bill Bennett, who is the provincial Minister of Energy and Mines.

Bennett heaped praise on Caliper’s ability to adapt to and improve upon the needs facing mining companies. Bennett also noted that the company’s products are a reflection of the high-tech nature of mining.

“The perception of lots of members of the public, I suppose—maybe not so much in the East Kootenay, but certainly in the big cities, is that mining is an old industry that relies on a lot of manual labour and it’s dirty and it’s not environmentally clean and it doesn’t use high-tech,” Bennett said.

“And in fact, the opposite is true. It is a very technical industry, it is a very environmentally conscious industry, they’re always trying to find ways to do things in a safer sort of way from the environmental perspective.”

For more information on the company, visit their website at www.calipermachine.com.