Stacked up: How Nepean is building a conveyor revolution

Nepean Conveyors is planning to change the game for materials handling in 2019 by introducing its agile relocatable conveyor system. NSW general manager Bill Munday tells Ewen Hosie about the system during a site visit.

Overland conveyors are a vital piece of mining equipment, but they are not known for their mobility. Once in place, sites generally expect conveyors to remain put for several years.

Privately owned original equipment manufacturer (OEM) Nepean Conveyors plans to disrupt this tradition with its latest project, a relocatable conveyor designed for ease of transportation, assembly and (eventually) dismantling.

The Nepean Relocatable Conveyor system — which will be officially named following an internal competition — has taken over two years of research and design to develop.

It promises to upend the traditional approach to conveyor design on account of its improved mobility, operational flexibility, ease of transport and speed of installation.

Instead of building conveyor parts to meet the needs of freight shipping container dimensions, the Australian and international patents pending Nepean Relocatable Conveyor is itself a half-height high cube portal frame configuration that is certified for standard freight shipping.

This means the conveyor is transportable anywhere in the world as a fully assembled unit.

Not only does this approach allow the conveyor modules to be stacked and loaded for direct transport via sea, rail or road, it also makes the conveyors easier to move, remove, assemble and eventually disassemble as the site requires.

The units can, therefore, be stacked on ships, unloaded directly onto trucks or trains and transported to a site’s lay down area for direct assembly.

The frames are 12 metres long, with the unit inside supporting belt widths of up to 1800 millimetres on straight conveyors and 1600 millimetres on curved conveyors. Roof-mounted wind guards are also available for each module in a single curve or straight two-piece configuration.

The modules can be triple stacked on a prime mover and unloaded in one bundle using standard container handling equipment, such as fork lift trucks, reach stackers, frannas and cranes, which can then place each module in line for final connection.

This approach vastly reduces the total install cost per lineal metre by minimising both time and staff requirements during setup.

“One of the areas we really wanted to target was logistics,” Nepean general manager, New South Wales, Bill Munday tells Australian Mining during a site visit to Port Kembla.

“It can turn into a real logistical exercise moving all this equipment from one site to the next and doing so efficiently. The beauty of having a half-height hi cube shipping container format is that they can be multi-stacked on ships, trains or trucks.

“You can potentially get nine modules per road train at a length of 12 metres per module.”

The unit also minimises ground works. The frame’s integral legs can be set in place by removing a pin, folding them out and replacing the pin to lock the legs in position.

The foot plates also have holes in them for additional stakes to be inserted, which adds stability and security in cyclone-rated zones. While the exposed design of the frame means the unit lacks the surface area to be blown over, it can potentially slide sideways, so the stakes help to eliminate these issues.

Once the modules are aligned to an installation jig on the ground, which is adjustable for idler spacing and roller configurations, the structure can be super elevated by up to seven degrees and banked around corners.

Alternatively, ground screws are also available for added stability and flexibility. Trestles with independent walkways can also be assembled using these ground screw bases to build the conveyor over water courses or cattle crossings. These options allow for the conveyor pathway to be roughly graded within 100 millimetres.

“All the equipment is pre-designed for a fully functioning conveyor and the container module is just part of the system,” Munday says.

“We have also designed a unique one-piece head end that incorporates a drive system up to approximately 4000 kilowatts, a loop take-up and delivery jib that can be put on a 200-tonne float to transport around mine sites. It is held in place by large ground anchors — there’s minimal concreting or civil works — you just dig a couple of holes and bury the ground anchor.”

Interestingly, the conveyor is not classified as fixed plant due to the unique way it has been designed. In addition to significantly lowering civil works and installation costs, the Nepean Relocatable Conveyor’s mobility allows it to be adaptable to changes in mining operations and positions it as a true alternative to mine trucks when it is time to move the conveyor on site.

“If you put in a traditional system over a five-year period, that’s classed as fixed plant and depreciates over those five years,” Munday explains.

“With this type of equipment, because it’s modular and reusable, it’s got a 20-year lifespan, so you can depreciate it over a much longer period. It’s not classed as fixed plant for that reason.”

Nepean’s system is primarily designed for use at satellite mine sites that will benefit from the improved portability of the system, while at the same time providing substantial cost savings and reducing downtime.

“From the testing we are doing out here [in Unanderra], we can ideally install 1200 metres of ROM conveyor in a 10-hour shift,” explains Munday. “Realistically though, we would probably install about 600 metres in that time. It pretty much works out at a metre a minute.”

The head end of the conveyor.


The system is intended to be hired (though this is open to negotiation with the client) and since its design cuts down on the need for concreting, digging and other civil works associated with traditional conveyor installation, this leads to the significant cost and time savings.

“We have had a number of subcontractors come onsite who have mentioned that other companies that use dump trucks can just slot one of these in place being so versatile, however many they want, whether going straight or round a curve,” Kyle Napoleoni, a project engineer testing a three-roll offset, two-roll return Nepean Relocatable Conveyor unit at a BlueScope site in Wollongong, says.

“The versatility of the design and the handling and adjustment of the legs are majorly beneficial, as is the lateral adjustment in the internal conveyor frames. Everything has been thought about.”

The innovation doesn’t end with the conveyor configuration, however. The head and tail end of the conveyor have also been designed with an eye to improved setup and transport speeds as well.

The all-in-one relocatable head end used for the conveyor trial (compete with jib, drive head and loop take up) at the BlueScope site is powered by Nepean’s in-house Nifty Drive, a rapid deployment conveyor drive system that evolved from the company’s standard underground conveyor equipment range.

The Nepean Relocatable Conveyor system, set for launch in the first quarter of 2019, holds strong potential for international expansion.

Nepean is even in the early stages of adding a fully automated idler change system to the Nepean Relocatable Conveyor through discussions with a Perth startup, delivering possibilities for even more productivity and safety benefits to the relocatable system. With the Nepean Relocatable Conveyor, Nepean promises a strong start to 2019.

“The mining industry has gone through some tough times in the last few years, but we’re starting to come out of that now. We’re seeing much more positive attitudes and can see our business ramping up over the next 12–18 months. We’ve come out of the downturn in an extremely strong position,” Munday concludes.

This article appears in the March 2019 issue of Australian Mining.

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