Drill & Blast

A century of maximising belt conveyor productivity

Productivity, innovation and efficiency – they are the ingredients for financial improvement in the post-boom era, and it is these initiatives that the Australian mining industry is focused on when improving its operations.

These operating principles have been around a long time, especially for belt productivity solutions supplier Flexco. When company founders George E Purple, Albert B Beach and Phillip S Rinaldo opened their small workshop in downtown Chicago, USA, 110 years ago, they aimed to manufacture a metal fastener to join leather transmission belts that did not ruin the belt when it needed replacing, and lasted longer than other mechanical fasteners of the day.

As global production pressure increased, the demand for tougher, stronger and reliable belt conveyor products became critical. Flexco has moved in tandem with the world’s industries and, as the company celebrates more than 110 years since formation, Flexco Australia’s managing director Mark Colbourn has reflected on the company’s most significant innovations and best practices for maximising productivity, innovation and increasing efficiencies of belt conveyor systems.

Mechanical fasteners

According to Colbourn, in the early 1900s, Flexco engineers designed a mechanical belt fastener with a joint and a hinge that could be easily separated and rejoined, allowing for lengthening of the belt, for adding new sections or for on the spot repairs.

“These original design principles are still relevant today,” he said. “The Flexco 190 MegAlloy fastening system that is widely used in aggregate applications is based on this original design from the early 1900s – it was intended to increase productivity in real time situations, be stronger and safer.”

The 190 MegAlloy fasteners were called upon when a major quarrying operation experienced a work stoppage after a plate of steel fell out of a receiving hopper and jammed into the corner of the conveyor.

{{quote-A:R-W:300-I:2-Q:"We have continually led the field in productivity-enhancing products for belt conveyor systems,"-WHO:Mark Colbourn, Managing director of Flexco Australia}}Before the crew could react, the sharp triangle tip ripped the incline belt. The year-old belt had been in good condition until the 100m rip caused it to stop, bringing activity to a halt on-site.

Replacing the new belt would take too much time and was not in the quarry’s budget. Since the 1200mm belt had already lost 450mm of width, the only solution was a mechanical fastener rip repair.

The 190 MegAlloy fasteners were ordered to stitch the middle of the belt together.

“First, workers cut out 450mm of belt to ensure that the belt they were working with was fresh belt, with no possibility for additional rips,” Colbourn said. “Several workers then pulled the belts side by side and placed the 190 fasteners approximately seven to 10 centimetres apart for the entire length of the belt. More than 1200 Flexco fasteners were used when repairing the belt.”

A crew completed the entire repair job in only three days, avoiding further downtime. The operation was quickly back up and running, carrying stone up the incline to the scalping screen. The choice of MegAlloy fasteners was beneficial to the quarry, as the hardened steel is highly resistant to wear and abrasion, making it ideal for an aggregate application.

Belt cleaning systems

Colbourn said in the latter half of the 20th century, mining operations began focusing not only on productivity but on operational efficiency with cleaner running systems.

At the same time, safety programs were implemented to provide a safer environment for workers. Seeing the need for belt conveyor products to increase productivity and efficiency along the entire beltline, Flexco expanded its product line.

“We have continually led the field in productivity-enhancing products for belt conveyor systems,” Colbourn said.

“As shutdowns continue to extend, it is important that our products not only provide superior performance but also last the distance. Products like our powerful but affordable Y-type secondary cleaner provides easy and quick maintenance and is perfect for aggregate applications.”

At the beginning of every shift, crushing operations at a sand and gravel plant would halt for the operators to clean under the discharge belt.

The primary cleaner was overwhelmed by the amount of material sticking to the belt, so the carryback would build up to the point where the conveyor belt would be dragging through the abrasive material, shortening the life of the belt and the mechanical fasteners.

For operations to run the complete shift, they would shut down the crushing conveyor and dig out the area below the belt with a skid steer loader or shovel. Both methods presented safety concerns to the people doing the work.

“The maintenance supervisor on-site knew there had to be a better way and turned to Flexco for an answer,” Colbourn said. “After examining the belt, the Flexco team specified the Y-type secondary cleaner with a urethane blade for the belt.”

Instead of shutting down every day for cleaning, the plant now shuts down only once every five days, allowing the maintenance crew to include carryback clean-up in their routine preventative maintenance program. Operators now spend less time under and around the conveyors, reducing the possibility of accidents. The use of urethane blades in the application also helped prevent premature fastener wear.

Looking to the future

Colbourn noted an increase in market optimism in the past two years, which bodes well for the aggregate supplier business in 2018.

“Operations are focusing on improving productivity with current assets,” Colbourn said. “As a company, we are continuing to concentrate on making our customers more efficient and reducing their downtime.

“Over the past 110 years, Flexco has been at the forefront of designing and manufacturing innovative solutions for belt conveyor productivity.

“However, we view ourselves as more than a manufacturer of products, but rather as a provider of belt conveyor solutions, and more and more frequently we see the need for custom solutions and innovation on-site.”

As Flexco continues into its second century, the company is poised to meet the challenges of the industry with fresh ideas and high quality innovation.

“While adapting to market conditions, Flexco’s experience will be the foundation for new conveyor system solutions, advanced material science, engineering strategies that optimise operations and predictive conveyor maintenance,” Colbourn said.

One thing is sure: as industries seek out innovative, efficient and more productive systems, Flexco will be ready to meet the demands worldwide.

Source: Flexco Australia

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