Thinking outside the box

Flexco Australia’s custom-engineered washbox solution has been the go-to for a Western Australian iron ore miner looking to reduce spillage and downtime.  

The Pilbara region of Western Australia is home to some of the world’s largest iron ore operations, with sites running around the clock to process millions of tonnes of material.

Record high demand for Australia’s iron ore requires reliable and effective solutions that ensure mine sites can operate without any hiccups. 

To ensure commodity demand is met, the conveyor belt system is central to keeping mineral processing operations moving. 

However, issues including carryback and spillage can lead to faster belt wear and additional clean-up activities, with both translating to further downtime and a loss of production. 

A major iron ore mine in Western Australia was suffering carryback issues, where material was being caught on the underside of the belt. 

The mine site’s construction engineer reached out to Flexco to develop a custom solution for the conveyor-belt system.

Flexco WA regional manager Jayden Baker says carryback build-up posed a significant issue for the mine site. 

“Below the conveyor’s structure, a lot of material building up resulted in clean-up cost, and also resulted in wear on rollers and structure,” Baker tells Australian Mining.

“This resulted in a lot of clean-up costs during their shutdown cycles and premature belt wear which can be costly on an overlander belt.”

Baker says carryback is a common issue in the mining industry which is often caused by an insufficient cleaning system.

Flexco’s in-house engineers developed a custom washbox solution to combat the carryback.

Washboxes provide enhanced cleaning efficiencies that are a step above primary and secondary cleaners.

It is mounted on the return side of the belt, and is fitted with pressure rollers, spray bars, two secondary cleaners and a recovery system. 

“We determined a washbox would be the right solution based on recent results we’ve had on other sites, and the cleaning and efficiency we get out of them,” Baker says.

Flexco developed a custom washbox solution to combat the carryback at a mine site.

According to Baker, washboxes can be effective solutions if they are custom designed for a specific conveyor belt. 

“If a washbox is designed incorrectly, they can block up and fail to move the water and product from the belt.

“Our design team review data taken by our engineers from the site and they’ll see the design process through from start to finish, working with site engineers to make sure they design the optimum washbox for that application.”

Flexco used belt data to ensure the correct washbox was used for the mine. 

The mine site has not needed to deal with clean-up around the beltline since the washbox installation.

Flexco’s washbox has also added a further nine months of life out of the site’s overlander belts, which Baker says can cost up to $3 million to replace.

This site usually replaces the belt every three years because of premature wear.

With the additional months the washbox has added so far, this now provides $250,000 to $300,000 cost savings every four years.

“If you can clean the belt as much as possible at the head end of the conveyor, that reduces the carryback that flows down the conveyor,” Baker says. 

“For example, if a belt is five kilometres long, build-up can work its way down and create piles of material below the structure which is not an easy place to get to. 

“You also run the risk of product building up on the structure – one lump of product built up in the structure could fall down which could be catastrophic.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has limited international travel and continues to disrupt supply chains.

Flexco’s washbox solution is manufactured locally in Western Australia, which has proven to be a key advantage for lead times both before and during the pandemic. 

“It’s made here, which means waiting four weeks instead of four months if you relied on an overseas manufacturer,” Baker says. 

The prospect of buying local also ensures Australia’s economic recovery continues by supporting companies such as Flexco.

Flexco’s commitment to developing custom solutions for its customers has helped grow its exposure among mining companies.

“By doing this sort of engineered solution for our customers coupled with the results we’ve received, we’ve now become a trusted advisor and partner with this iron ore mine,” Baker says.  

This article appears in the October issue of Australian Mining.

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