Choked shipping lanes and growing export demand does not make for a happy marriage. However, inadequate infrastructure has left the two operating hand in hand.
With the demand showing no signs of slowing, the Australian port industry has come under great pressure to cope with increased thoroughput of materials.
A number of key issues have arisen as a consequence, such as long delays for ships loading and unloading material, ports outgrowing their existing infrastructure and equipment and a greater emphasis on OH&S issues.
The latter has come to the fore due to the encroachment of built up areas on ports and tougher legislative laws.
Common areas of concern are fugitive dust, noise and sight pollution.
Ports, State and Federal Governments, suppliers and other stakeholders are all working to find solutions to these problems in order to ensure the continued supply of resources around the world.
Innovative Conveying Systems International (ICS) managing director Michael Pietsch said conveyor belt technology has remained largely unchanged over the last 20 years.
“There have been few major changes in the bulk conveying industry. There has, however, been significant incremental developments in the technology,” Pietsch told Australian Mining.
According to Pietsch, the incremental developments help address the problems currently plaguing the industry.
Today, mines and mining companies are changing tact and looking for ways to be environmentally sound.
Mining companies are demanding conveying solutions to problems such as fugitive dust, noise and sight pollution.
Pietsch said the best solution to fugitive dust was to keep the conveying system fully enclosed.
“Enclosed conveyor systems are environmentally friendly as they are dust and spillage proof. They also get rid of the need to have the conveyor installed in expensive and bulky enclosed galleries,” he said.
ICS is an enclosed flexible belt conveyor which provides a cost effective and long term solution for both in-loading and out-loading of material within the ports including iron ore, coal, grain and woodchips.
The need for multiple transfer points is eliminated, disposing of a key source of dust.
This is due to the ICS’s flexible routing capabilities, which ensures a single belt will extend from load to its destination, regardless of how intricate the conveying path.
Conventional conveyors require multiple transfer points, due to the requirement of the conveyor to convey around existing port structures and other obstacles. The effect of the transfer points are excessive dust and product loss.
Going the distance
To increase profit, lowering land and travel costs has become increasingly important.
“With demand at an all time high, mining companies want a far stretching land based conveyor that can stretch over vast areas of land and navigate its way around any infrastructure both natural and built,” Pietsch said.
Conveyors that are capable of conveying over long distances, around obstacles, natural barriers and up steep inclines can be easily integrated into existing port infrastructure. At the same time, installation and set up costs are minimised.
Oxiana’s Prominent Hill general manager Mick Wilkes said there was a real need for far stretching land conveyors.
“The infrastructure in place across South Australia is insufficient for exporting bulk commodities,” Wilkes told Australian Mining.
“There is a bulk minerals port in Port Adelaide, but it is not set up for iron ore and there is not enough room at current ports to export large quantities of iron ore.”
Prominent Hill is currently in the middle of construction and is on target to produce concentrate in the second half of the year.
According to Wilkes, the mine has a 10 year mine life. However, drilling is currently taking place both beneath and alongside the ore body to identify more resources.
“Prominent Hill is about to undertake a feasibility study on the prospect of an underground project with the view to have underground operations run concurrently with the open pit mine by 2011,” he said.
At present, it is cheaper for the concentrate mined at Prominent Hill to be exported via Darwin rather than Port Adelaide.
“It is 2000km to Darwin and only 800km to Port Adelaide. But, when the costs of land and sea travel are combined Darwin is the better option, with Darwin being much closer to our Asian customers,” Wilkes said.
Although Prominent Hill will use Darwin to export its concentrate, Wilkes believes the operation is faring pretty well when compared to the State’s other minesites.
“Prominent Hill will produce a high value product. The concentrate is 45% copper, but for many of the mines such as the iron ore producers it doesn’t make sense for them to have such a long land transport. For those potential iron ore producers and other bulk commodities there is no option for exporting in South Australia as the State simply doesn’t have adequate infrastructure in place which is a severe retardant for any development.”
Stretching the size
In South Australia, plans are already in place to increase the level of adequate infrastructure.
With over 40 mines said to be in operation by 2020, adequate conveyor systems are paramount to production.
According to Conveyor Maintenance Provider and managing director of G&F Beltline Services Henning Volzke, conveyor belt service contractors are having to keep pace with increasing demand for bigger and heavier belts by constant upgrading of their belt vulcanizing and belt handling equipment.
One improvement in conveyor belts has been the installation of smarter rubber compounds, which increase wear resistance and energy saving conveying.
“The average belt width in iron ore was 1200 to 1500mm, now this has increased to an average of 1800mm with a clear tendency towards 2000mm and even wider for feeder belts,” Volzke told Australian Mining.
“In Europe, it is quite common to have belts 3500mm wide in coal conveying and over-burden removal. It seems Australia is rapidly catching up with the belt widths found overseas.”
According to Volzke, conveyor belts have only undergone incremental developments because the original design remains just as effective today as it was some 50 years ago.
Innovative Conveying Systems International
G & F Beltline Services