“How has nobody thought of this before?”
It’s a question Lee Pettengell admits he’s asked himself a few times. It’s also often the first thing other people ask when he tells them about an innovation he and business partner Chris Horrocks hope will become a global success story.
But it probably goes with the territory when your invention is so stunningly simple and effective that it automatically makes sense to anyone who sees it.
Pettengell and Horrocks are co-owners and directors of Perth-based MiCone Australia, a company which has combined the much-loved witches’ hat with a solar powered light to produce a device that can be used at roadworks, construction zones, airports, booze buses set-ups and, of course, mine sites.
The pair first met working in drilling and blasting in Darwin 15 years ago and realised there was a degree of double-handling in the job that they and their colleagues could do without.
“The idea came about after years of putting cones around loaded blast patterns and drill areas, and then placing a separate solar powered light on top to be compliant,” Pettengell explains.
“This has always been a two-man job or has required the same person to return to the same area twice, doubling the chance of injury, and increasing the amount of man hours required to delineate.
“We discussed the possibility of combining the two [cones and lights] for years and then finally bit the bullet to do it. To start with we carried out a study to try and work out what it could possibly be worth.
“We surveyed nine random minesites between November 2016 and November 2017 and the total number of cones purchased was more than 22,000. It was then we realised we could be onto something!”
Of course, it’s one thing to have a “bright idea”, as Pettengell and Horrocks did, and quite another to turn it into a reality.
Pettengell explains it took numerous iterations, a lot of patience and the assistance of Perth safety equipment specialists to get the MiCone to what it is now – a solar-powered LED flashing cone that can operate for between 30 and 40 hours on the full charge delivered by eight-to-nine hours of daylight.
MiCone automatically switches off when daylight or artificial light is present and Pettengell says his company’s product is already working to eliminate some of mining’s biggest potential risk areas.
“Unauthorised access to areas on nightshift can be such a big issue,” he said.
“We lost count [in the past] how many times heavy machinery and light vehicles were driven into potentially dangerous areas, as ‘they did not see the cones’, resulting in incidents or accidents.
“We’ve also seen diggers dig through loaded blast patterns because of the same reason.”
Since launching in March, MiCone has been rolled out at 20 sites across the Pilbara, WA’s South West, Kalgoorlie, and Queensland.
Pettengell has been buoyed by positive feedback from health and safety experts and hopes a pending order from Papua New Guinea is just the first step in MiCone going global.
“We have had a lot of interest from mines in Peru, Chile, Spain, and Canada, which we hope will be the future for MiCone Australia,” Pettengell said.
“We’ll also be taking on board feedback from our current clients, who have believed in us and are using MiCone on site right now.”