Solution engineering in action

Australian Mining explains how engineering solutions company, ASME Projects, has overcome the challenge of storing and handling ammonium nitrate on mine sites with an innovative solution.

Ammonium nitrate is used extensively in the mining industry for blasting operations. Because of its infamously explosive nature, bulk ammonium nitrate cannot be stored at the actual mining or quarrying operation, so it is stored at a safe distance on-site, typically in the blasting compound. This creates logistical problems when it comes to storing and handling the material at the storage area.

The conventional handling method involves using tipper trucks to offload the ammonium nitrate into purpose-built vehicles – known as mobile processing units or MPUs – that then carry it to the blasting location.

But an Australian engineering company has designed a more efficient way of storing and handling ammonium nitrate that can save mines millions of dollars a year in logistical and labour costs.

ASME Projects, a provider of end-to-end engineering and maintenance services across the mining and energy sectors, has created the Dual Tipper Module that can be used for efficient storage and handling of ammonium nitrate – as well as any other dry products that need to be stored in bulk.

Ross Barnes, managing director of ASME Projects and one of the brains behind the design of the Dual Tipper Module, says it was initially developed in 2013 for a major mining company that was looking for a better way to store ammonium nitrate at its coal mines.

“The mining company had been incurring huge costs in delivering the material to their blasting compounds,” Barnes tells Australian Mining.

“Once the tipper trucks arrived at the compound, they had to wait – sometimes up to a week – for their turn to offload because there was not enough storage space on site. This was costing the mine thousands of dollars a day in truck hiring demurrage charges.”

The Dual Tipper Module eliminates the need for hire trucks, as well as the personnel that would be required to offload the bulk material to the storage. The 20-foot containers that are used for delivering the ammonium nitrate are stored on the site and loaded onto the Dual Tipper Module two at a time with the help of a forklift. The containers are then hydraulically tilted by user-friendly controls and unloaded into a transfer hopper and pumped to the MPU continuously.

“The beauty of this system,” Barnes says, “is that you can run the operation flawlessly and uninterrupted. Because there are two containers on the module at any given time, when one container is emptied, it can be taken off and replaced while the other container continues to load the MPU.”

ASME Projects has added improvements to the original design, which include a vibrator control unit to help with the flow of material from the container and flow control stoppers to prevent over-loading of the transfer hopper.

Barnes says major mining and quarrying companies using the modules at their operations are achieving significant cost savings.

“For example, we installed two Dual Tipper Modules at a major coal mine in Queensland and the return on investment was achieved in only six months on a total cost of nearly $600,000,” he says. “In another instance, our customer estimated that they had saved $8.5 million in one year in equipment hire and manpower saving by switching to our Tipper Module.”

Barnes says ASME Projects has a team of 40-50 employees specialising in mechanical and civil engineering, project management, quality and performance control (QAPC) and welding inspection. The company also has a Channel Partnership with T.D. Williamson – a global specialist in pipeline hot tapping and flow stopling.

When design is completed, the Dual Tipper Module is fabricated at the company’s workshop facilities in Brisbane, Melbourne or Sydney.

“Our fabrication facilities allow us to build the Tipper Modules close to the work site. We also have the option to fabricate the units at our overseas facility for large orders to further optimise the costs,” Barnes says.

Further, Barnes says the modules can be custom-made. “We can fabricate Tipper Modules in various sizes, optimised for the intended use. Our in-house mechanical and electrical engineers design the modules and control circuitry to meet the highest national and international standards.”

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