Aussie innovators’ radical materials handling rethink rewarded with leap in ship loading efficiency

Typical stockpile shape and geometry produced by the diffused buffer bin

Typical stockpile shape and geometry produced by the diffused buffer bin, which raises volumetric capacity for handling flowing bulk materials including mineral and agribusiness products

An Australian materials handling innovation that eliminates decades of inefficient ship loading and other conveyor loading practices is being introduced worldwide to increase the buffering capacity between the reclaiming and shiploading functions by up to 20 per cent.

Chute Technology's patented new profit-enhancing diffused buffer bin loader design for bulk materials conveyor chute systems uses a diffused loader to distribute incoming feed more evenly over a greater area of the surface of stockpiles in the bins, instead of concentrating it onto one large inefficient cone-shaped peak.

"The classic problem of how to fill a rectangular space with a free flowing material that naturally assumes a rounded conical shape has now been solved," says Chute Technology Director and veteran materials handling, ports and mining process engineer, Mr Dennis Pomfret. "We believe this innovation is revolutionary, with huge potential for the mining and bulk materials handling industries. We've just had it patented approved, so it's ready for Australian markets," he said.

A major benefit of the increased bin capacity is that when it is applied to ship loading systems the in-feed conveyor system from the stockpile can be operated continuously to fill the bin whilst the out-feed conveyors run for more time with coal on the belt to service the ship loader at the berth.

"Essentially, it improves the buffering time between reclaim operations and ship loading operations to allow more efficient shiploading," he said.

Tom Woods with an example of the new buffer bin

Chute Technology Director Tom Woods with an example of the new buffer bin under construction, using ruggedly reliable heavy plate pressing technology to reduce costs to customers and curtail the amount of welding and construction time required

"The loading pattern for a typical ship requires up to 20 outloading feed stops and starts as the ship loader traverses to between individual hatches. The limiting factor for loading ships, amongst other factors, is the reclaim rate from the stockpile. By eliminating the impact of intermittent stoppages of the ship loader on the reclaim system, a more continuous flow of coal is achieved.

The improved process - one of a series from Chute Technology that eliminate potential bottlenecks in materials handling processes - also avoids mechanical wear and tear, says Chute Technology Director Mr Tom Woods, whose company cost-efficiently fabricates the new diffused buffer bin loader.

Extensive use is made by T.W. Woods Construction of heavy pressed plate in the new design, forming a monocoque product that eliminates a lot of welding and curtails the costs and delays entailed in piecemeal construction.

The new system's four distributed diffusers and spreader deflectors efficiently distribute flowing loads of thousands of tons an hour more evenly over the stockpile being built up, achieving complete filling of bins and doing the job quicker and more cost-efficiently than conventional outlet designs that produce single conical stockpiles.

The design - already proven in a major port loading facility – is applicable to a wide range of conveyor loading systems that would benefit from a curtailing of the need for costly, energy-consuming spreading equipment and space wastage produced by conventional methods.

The technology – and the patented process of which it is part - ensures a more even rise of material being loaded that optimises bin capacity and improves the out loading efficiency of the system. The application of the technology is being investigated for difficult-to-reach areas of ships' holds, under decks and farthest from loading hatches. This may result in cutting port time and energy demands and increasing cost-efficiency in competitive markets.

Applications include new and retrofitted systems for mines, mineral process plants, energy plants, railway loading facilities, agribusiness silo and materials handling facilities and factory processing and conveying plants, says Mr Woods.

"It turns old thinking on its head by eliminating the typical huge cone-shaped top loads deposited from conveyors and instead spreading the load more evenly down around the surface of the bin. The system is engineered to deposit in a more even fashion that rises far more uniformly, giving up to 20 per cent greater bin loading and curtailing the need to spend more money to spread the load to optimise bin capacity or to fit under the overhangs in ships holds, for example.

Simple concept

"Materials handling professionals who see and are implementing the system say it it's brilliantly simple in concept and wonder why someone hasn't thought of it before. But, as with many ideas that are simple in principle, the diffuser loader needs thoroughly sound engineering and to be scaleable to make it work faultlessly in practice.

"We spent years in development before applying the principles in practice, where it has exceeded expectations," said Mr Woods, who worked with his fellow materials handling innovators and Chute Technology Directors Mr Pomfret and Garry Telford. The trio share more than 100 years of Australian and international minerals and materials handling experience.

Components of a Chute Technology retrofit including, clockwise from top left, hood with liners; reworked head chute; splitter assembly; spoons with ceramic lining; frame for spoon assembly.

Mr Woods says the new technology offers major cost and profit benefits from the totally new approach taken to its construction, in which extensive use is made of heavy pressed plate to form a monocoque product that eliminates a lot of welding and the costs and delays entailed in piecemeal construction.

"Necessity was the mother of invention here – the client involved wanted a product delivered to a strict timeframe and a reduced budget. So we had to totally rethink the manufacturing process to produce a design that could be profitably and cost-efficiently engineered to respond to particular issues. The new system is much easier to custom-engineer to fit into existing and new systems as part of flow improvement."

The Chute Technology engineering group targets problems common to many plants and loading systems by addressing them with Chute Technology's combination of three skill sets, including advanced engineering analysis of flow from Dennis Pomfret Engineering, followed by upscaleable 3D Discrete Element Method (DEM) design processes from Gary Telford's Telford Engineering Solutions and finally custom manufacturing to individual plant needs by TW Woods Construction.

Dennis Pomfret says cost-saving use is made of engineering analysis and DEM principles to eliminate risk by simulating material flow and formation of bin stockpiles before investing money in new and retrofit projects.

This work – highly necessary where projects involve vastly different flowing materials – was successfully employed in a project where the new buffer bin technology is being retrofitted to a loading project involving an increase in the overall shiploading efficiency, resulting in less time at berth for ships.

The upgrade and retrofit in this instance involved a coal deflector (hood) located in the head end of conveyors feeding the bins.

Design criteria on this coal retrofit was to improve fill criteria by hundreds of tonnes

Design criteria on this coal retrofit was to improve fill criteria by hundreds of tonnes over existing fill arrangements at a rill angle of 37 degrees. Chute Technology's system can be applied to a wide variety of flowing bulk materials.

New equipment included a curved deflector with divergent hoods to deliver a vertical product stream into two diffusers (divergent spoons), giving a total of four diffused product outlets.

"Design criteria on this project was to increase the working capacity by hundreds of tons over existing fill arrangements, which involved stacking at a rill angle of 37 degrees. The mass stored was evaluated at a material density range of 850kg/m3 to 950kg/m3, to give results in product variation terms familiar to the operators.

"A design objective was to uses as much of the existing equipment as possible to minimise costs and installation time. The new design deals with the existing issues and at the same time will provide an overall increase in the loading system efficiency.

"Similar principles are capable of being designed and installed for very broad range of materials handling technology in use globally. The beauty is the improvements offer a generational major step up in efficiency, attainable at modest cost with high returns."

Chute Technology Partner Skills

Dennis Pomfret Engineering

Design, specification and commissioning of material handling equipment, transfer chutes, conveyors and hoppers for hard rock, coal and other minerals in surface and underground operations at mines and ports.
Strong technical background honed by experience in managing engineering projects, mining maintenance departments, equipment manufacturing and product development roles.

Specific experience in transfer chutes is more than 20 years, materials handling 30 years.

The driving philosophy is to combine field observations and theory to evolve new concepts.

Designs are supported by the application of DEM (Discrete Element Method) modelling for transfer design and FEA structural analysis for chute platework.

Telford Engineering Solutions

A recognised multi-disciplined design and management organisation which has associated site services for project management and construction supervision.

Telford Engineering Solutions' proven experience in materials handling projects across a number of industrial and resource sectors, including coal and iron ore, provides innovative solutions and best practice techniques to consistently deliver detailed design and workshop drawings to simplify the manufacturing phase of a project.

The field services provide exposure for the team to the operating constraints and conditions at mine sites. This feedback provides enhanced practical design solutions.

The design office is fully equipped with the latest technology in three dimensional (3D) modelling environments. Telford Engineering Solutions uses internal design and management protocols to ensure that the engineering geometry and features developed in the chute design phase are accurately translated to the manufactured product.

Telford Engineering Solutions provides effective materials handling project solutions and has a proven record in delivering 3D designs and drawing packages to a diverse range of engineering specifications with high levels of accuracy and clarity.

TW Woods Construction

TW Woods Construction has a renowned reputation for structural steel and materials handling equipment for all sectors of heavy industry and mining.

The facility is geared towards the fabrication of structures using curved plates, so much so that they have developed their own patented curved plate rolling technology which has underpinned their success in proving transfer chutes for more than 50 years.

Train loading equipment which involves heavy platework, hydraulics and electrical control shows the range of skills that can be provided.

TW Woods delivers transfer chutes fit for purpose and the versatility of the fabrication skills allows the designer scope to create the most appropriate chute geometry for the application without undue constraints imposed by manufacturing techniques.

The reason why Chute Technology can deliver superior transfer chutes is that the three major contributors, engineering, design and fabrication are very competent in their own fields; they have first hand site experience and first class facilities.

The company's services include specialised shaping, fabrication and welding technology for metals including carbon steel, stainless steel and aluminium. These services are used by organisations such as Delta Energy, Incitec Pivot, water and waste water authorities, Integra Coal, Laing O'Rourke, Glencore and surface and underground mining companies throughout Australia including iron ore producers in the Pilbara and coal companies in Queensland.

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