Using high quality conveyor belts to move increasing volumes of ore has not just become important, it is now critical. Jamie Wade writes.
Often neglected and typically driven to destruction mine operators are quickly realising the importance of maximizing conveyor belt life to keep down time at an absolute minimum.
Conveyor specialist and managing director of G&F Beltline Services Henning Volzke, said conveyor belts and their maintenance deserved more respect and attention.
“Over 15 of the past 20 years belts often have been taken for granted like consumables, but now the industry has increasingly come to realise that proper belt servicing is a most critical component of overall plant maintenance strategies,” Henning told Australian Mining.
“Conveyor belt service providers are, therefore, starting to enjoy increasing respect, focus and appropriate remuneration. Naturally better pay has come with demands for higher safety awareness and total customer commitment.”
While conveyor belt technology has remained largely unchanged over the last 20 years, smarter rubber compounds have dramatically increased wear resistance and energy saving conveying.
Another key component towards increased belt life and better return on investment has been the introduction of special fabric weave patterns, facilitating higher belt rip protection and also higher installation tensions for fabric belts.
Most belt manufacturers are now offering a variety of fabric belt options to choose.
“There has also been a clear trend towards installing more steel cord belts in substitution of fabric belts to cope with heavier loads, higher impacts and longer conveying distances. However the biggest change has been the increasing belt width in line with the increased demand for tonnage,” Henning said.
“When I started here 20 years ago the average belt width in iron ore was 1200 to 1500 mm, now this has increased to an average of 1800mm with a clear tendency towards 2000 mm and even wider for feeder belts.”
“Australia is, therefore, rapidly catching up with Europe and the Americas where often 3,500 mm wide steel cord belts are found in coal conveying and over-burden removal,” Henning said.
Conveyor belt service providers are having to keep pace with the increasing demand for bigger and heavier belts by constant upgrading their belt vulcanizing and belt handling equipment.
“Fortunately our customers now recognise our commitment to investing in ever bigger and better equipment to service them and are rewarding our efforts accordingly as their part of our partnering relationship with them,” Henning said.
“Besides that, and somewhat in contradiction to the aforesaid, major belt users in the Pilbara are endeavouring to establish their own in-house belt maintenance crews so to say as a safeguard against the eventuality that their regular service provider may not be able to meet their specific service needs. This has resulted in aggressive recruitment campaigns offering attractive Fly-in Fly-out (FIFO) conditions that appeared highly attractive financially, but turned out to be associated with other down sides in respect of family life and job satisfaction.”
“It also created an active ‘job hopping’ environment among competing iron ore miners and splicing contractors, but ultimately did not really solve the problem.”
“Whilst G&F has lost some good men over the years to customers, our company employs now more belt technicians and is busier than ever,” Henning said.
“Ironically belt maintenance is increasingly provided to those companies who initially recruited our splicers, but since then either lost them to competitors or lost the personnel’s preparedness to remain on the tools once being employed by a large organization. This clearly proves the point that belt splicing and belt maintenance is a specific skill that can only be developed and retained in a dedicated, specialized and customer focused contracting company environment, where the personnel work in small dynamic teams.
“Integrating them into the large and diversified labour pool of a big mining organization simply does not work as well. Prevailing facts in the industry prove it,” Henning said.
Over the past 20 years G&F Beltline has grown steadily and is now the largest privately owned and independent belt service company in Western Australia with branches in Perth, Geraldton, Mt Magnet and Newman.
Two additional branches are intended for Port Hedland and Kalgoorlie in order to meet increasing customer demands.
Over 60 skilled belt splicing and rubber lining technicians, backed by latest technology vulcanizing and belt installation equipment are covering all sectors of the resource development and processing industries.”
G&F’s specialized Project Division has been the dominant belt installation contractor for all recently completed capacity upgrades in the mines and ports of BHP Billiton and Pilbara Iron, involving the pulling on and splicing of tens of thousands of meters of new steel cord and fabric belts.
“This project work is performed at highest professional standard in safety, technical methodology and final job execution,” Henning said.
“Our installation teams are supported by a wide range of specialised winching and belt handling equipment, all of which are designed and fabricated in our own workshop to sound engineering standards.”
The recent association with Metso Minerals and the exclusive distribution of the renowned Trellex steel cord and fabric conveyor belts has added further strength and business development scope to the G&F group.
The Chinese made Trellex range comprises textile reinforced belts and steel cord belts of all technical specifications.
Metso’s technical support centre in Moer, Germany, is responsible for all technical belt criteria and quality control.
G&F Beltline’s Jandakot facility is equipped for efficient handling of belt reels of up to 50 tons in weight and will be the stocking centre for Trellex.
“We shall gear up to stock particularly short life cycle steel cord and fabric belts for quick customer service and supply,” Henning said.
Selected Trellex belts will be available ex-G&F stock in Perth, Geraldton, Mt Magnet, Newman and in future Port Hedland and Kalgoorlie.”
Mine and plant operators, says Henning, prefer a one-stop-shop supply service for belts, vital conveyor components and their ongoing maintenance.
Time and availability are of highest importance in the material handling industry.
Recognising this, says Henning, the new associations and clear synergies between Metso Minerals and G&F Beltline is targeted to deliver a strong supply and service combination for WA’s mining and processing industries.
To complete the service around the entire life cycle of conveyor belt G&F offers also a unique steel cord belt reconditioning and recycling service. This process involves the removal of the worn belt surface by a special buffing machine and then re-application of a new rubber top cover, followed by a process controlled re-vulcanisation of the entire belt carcass.
This German technique was developed by G&F’s former joint venture partner Nilos Australia and delivers to date around 30% savings versus new belt prices on top of guaranteeing a fully warranted second belt life cycle after re-installation.
“The big iron ore companies, particularly BHP took advantages of this service in a dedicated manner during the years 2000-05 and captured substantial savings, besides making a major contribution to the environment through industrial waste reduction,” Henning said.
“Unfortunately, the current production pressure to deliver ever increasing tonnages at these unprecedented high commodity prices has left little time and interest for capturing savings and environmentally conscious recycling practices,” Henning said.
“Clearly the time will come when iron ore supply will meet demand and prices will return to sustainable lower levels. Then, new management strategies will be developed towards delivering savings and reducing industrial waste. Perhaps practicing conveyor belt reconditioning and recycling could even become a key driver for mining companies to meet future targets in the upcoming carbon credit schemes.”
G&F Beltline Services Pty Ltd