A three-pronged approach to mine rehabilitation and recommissioning has paid handsome time, cost-efficiency and community dividends for Glencore as it brings its Integra Coal mine in the Hunter Valley back into production.
Integra commissioned the Chute Technology engineering partnership to handle in an integrated way a succession of tasks vital to the mine's reintroduction that would normally be handled in separate stages, taking longer to co-ordinate and costing more.
The result has been completion on time and on budget of the complex series of tasks within the narrow nine-week window of time required by Integra. The mine was on schedule to deliver first coal from the longwall by mid-year and continues to build workforce numbers. Glencore made the decision to re-open the Integra underground mine in 2016 after purchasing it from former owner Vale in 2015. The mine had been in care and maintenance since 2014.
"Integra was very smart in the way it approached this recommissioning," says Chute Technology Partner Tom Woods. "Thanks to the integration of tasks and our productive partnership with Integra's on-site team, we not only got our components of the process chain up and running in the required time frame, but we also boosted capacity and resolved output issues with old plant not suited to higher volumes. The re-opening of Integra has been very well received across the Hunter industry.
"The recommissioning process was handled in a very different way from a typical mine rehab piecemeal approach of solving problems in one area of plant, only to see further delay as production bottlenecks are then discovered further up the line. It's like shooting ducks in a row - the ducks just keep on popping up. You have to take an integrated approach that goes to the root of systemic issues," said Mr Woods.
Essential to such an integrated approach are elements such as diagnostics, structural audits, DEM Modelling, Finite Element Analysis (FEA), process design, detailing, one-stop manufacturing processes and the ability to provide complete turnkey projects. Chute Technology worked directly in partnership with the mine managers and engineers, so that they were able to have ownership in the design and get the results they wanted.
The Chute Technology engineering group targets problems common to many coal and ore plants and loading systems by addressing them with a three-pronged combination of problem insight and solution skills sets. This approach - which can typically halve or better the time involved in getting a mine back to its full potential - includes:
- Advanced engineering analysis of flow upscaleable 3D Discrete Element Method (DEM) and Finite Element Analysis (FEA) design processes by Chute Technology Partner Dennis Pomfret Engineering, whose experience includes major ore and coal projects in Australia and internationally
- Followed by Design Engineer Gary Telford of Telford Engineering Solutions, which contributes extensive design engineering, detail drafting and project management experience
- And finally, custom manufacturing to individual plant needs by T.W. Woods Construction, which provides services to local and global companies including port coal loaders, Delta Electricity, Incitec Pivot, water and waste water authorities, Glencore, Centennial Coal and surface and other mining companies.TW Woods' services include specialised shaping, fabrication and welding technology for metals including carbon steel, stainless steel and aluminium.
Chute Technology's task began with a full structural audit of the surface conveyor system, which they carried out the same day it was requested.
"Our visual site inspection of the Conveyor System told us immediately that this was going to be a very challenging project to complete in a short period of time, because the mine needed to be and running by February 2017.
"So we put together a fully costed schedule of the quickest time frame to have development coal running on the belt to drop on the surface. The project scope included design, manufacture of new equipment, repair and optimum-re-use of old equipment and introduction of a temporary overland radial stack-out conveyor system for the development coal only.
"The job was a diverse one - which included new hoods, spoons, chutes, structure and transfer towers - but we managed to get development coal on the surface on the 23rd February 2017."
The task involved a design and build time of nine weeks from the time the project scope was finalised, overcoming major challenges, including:
- Short time frame for the number of tasks involved
- Redesigning of new conveyors
- Sourcing specific appropriate equipment over the Xmas-New Year period
- Thoroughly understanding the mine's specific procedures and how best to meet partner's expectations and expedite throughput
"For cost-efficiency and speed, we incorporated a maximum of modified and reused existing infrastructure from the Integra site and other Glencore mine sites. This conservation of valuable resources was undertaken specifically to achieve the best, safest, most cost-effective and time-efficient frame for this project."
Benefits have been immediate. "The revitalised conveyor system is working to its designed capacity and working well. As a result of the success, we have also been engaged by the mine to further streamline and enhance production by redesigning, manufacturing and trial assembling, in our workshop, a complete new tail end, transfer point, hood and spoon for the bottom of the drift conveyor, so as to accommodate longwall coal.
"Credit goes to the Integra team for facilitating the process where we worked with them 24/7. Instead of having to go laboriously through a string of suppliers of piecemeal services - with the associated delays and communication gaps - we jointly took the job by the scruff of the neck with a streamlined, integrated package of services extending from problem-finding and analysis, through to design rectification, full manufacturing and testing of solutions, and assistance with installation. The process was further enhanced by the fact that T.W Woods can provide a comprehensive range of services on-site, without having to go out of its plant to sub-contractors and so introduce potential further delays and quality control issues."
Chute Technology's combined capabilities - which are applicable to existing as well as new projects - are complemented by the practical experience of each of the three Principal Partners in Chute Technology, who have combined experience of more than 80 years in a wide variety of resource industries including coal, iron ore, alumina and limestone across Australia, the USA, South America and South Africa. The technologies are also applicable to gold, nickel and other bulk minerals and ores.
"Our approach at Chute Technology brings together a combination of skills that we believe is unique in the marketplace, in that it brings three proven skill sets that are vital to solving typical mineral processing issues," says Mr Woods. These issues include reducing wear, removing bottlenecks caused by clogging, minimising damaging impacts on belts and optimising operational safety and efficiency by curbing breakdowns and cleanups."