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Aussie company diversifies into wire screen media

A homegrown company that started life moulding rubber products has signed a major contract with a leading screen solutions manufacturer to distribute the next potential wave of high performance, self-cleaning screen media in Australia. Damian Christie reports.
On Thursday 24 March, 2011, a new partnership was forged in the busy surrounds of ConExpo-ConAgg at the Las Vegas Convention Centre, the world’s second biggest construction expo. Ernie Kilpatrick, one of the directors of Nepean Rubber & Plastics, based in St Marys, NSW, and Jean Leblond, the president and chief executive officer of Major Wire Industries, signed a distributor’s agreement that makes Nepean Rubber & Plastics the exclusive dealer in Australia of Major Wire’s screening solutions, including its modular and tensioned Flex-Mat 3 wire screen cloth.

There is a stark contrast between the two partners. Major Wire celebrated its 125th anniversary in 2009 (it was originally founded in Montreal, Canada in 1884 by EJ Major and manufactured wire fencing and safety screens for windows) and today specialises in screen media for the aggregate, mining, recycling, asphalt, slag and related markets. In the last two decades, Major Wire has expanded internationally with the introduction of several cutting edge products, which include its Flex-Mat 3 self-cleaning screen cloth in tensioned and modular versions, OptimumWire panels and stainless steel woven wire.

The Flex-Mat has been Major Wire’s most successful product, being employed in over 20,000 applications worldwide. The product is constructed of independently vibrating wires and polyurethane strips that can increase material throughput, extend wear life and eliminate blinding, pegging and clogging. 

In 2008, Major Wire opened its first US manufacturing and distribution facility in Seattle, Washington, featuring a weaving and finishing facility and cut and hook operations. This joined its two weaving operations in Montreal and joint manufacturing partner in China. Major Wire has distributors in North America, Mexico, Europe and now Australia.

Nepean Rubber & Plastics, by comparison, typifies an Australian “success” story. In 1979, Scottish-born Ernie Kilpatrick, an engineer with 17 years’ experience in the rubber industry, came to Sydney after he and his family fled the Islamic Revolution in Iran (where he worked for a Canadian company building a pulp and paper complex). Having lost all their possessions in Iran, Ernie and his family were living out of a caravan in Sydney when he persuaded a business partner to invest $50,000 in a new rubber venture.

Nepean Rubber Mouldings Pty Ltd had a modest beginning in 1982. One of its first major contracts was the provision of rubber tyres on plastic wheels for Victor lawn mowers. When the plastics company providing the plastic components for its rubber products went bust in 1985, Nepean bought out the plastics company because of the synergy between rubber and plastic.

Pacific Plastics became an integral part of the Nepean Group and by 1990 Nepean had formed Australian Ultra Polymers to compound its own rubber and mould over three million rubber pads for supporting steel rail tracks on concrete sleepers. Subsequently, Nepean Rubber, Australian Ultra Polymers and Pacific Plastics were integrated into one group.

More recently, Nepean Rubber & Plastics bought out and integrated two of the major rubber manufacturers in Australia and during the Global Financial Crisis came to the realisation that it needed to develop a line of proprietary products to survive in the marketplace.

Today, Nepean employs 130 staff and provides proprietary products for not just the mining and quarrying markets, but a whole range of industries, including chemicals and pharmaceuticals, medical devices, electroplating and metal finishing, food and brewing, materials handling, power generation, water and effluent treatment, civil engineering and the marine industry.

For the mining and quarrying industries, Nepean Rubber & Plastics supplies abrasion resistant rubber linings/coatings for hoppers, chutes, cyclones, sand washing plants, separators and slurry pipe work, as well as bolt-in rubber wear plates for chutes and hoppers, rubber coatings for conveyor rollers and wear resistant linings for chutes, hoppers and storage bins. It now has added moulded screen deck panels (or cross tensioned screen cloths) and moulded trommel screen panels (both rubber and polyurethane) to  its repertoire.

With a purpose-built heavy moulding facility for in-house polymer formulation, compounding and mixing and a NATA registered laboratory, Ernie Kilpatrick and his screens specialist David Hewitson envisage that Nepean Rubber & Plastics will be a “one stop shop” for the requirements of both quarrying and mining operations. “This is quite a diversification, getting into rubber screens,  as against a rubber plant,” Ernie reflects.

As part of the contract signed at ConExpo, Nepean Rubber & Plastics will have the licence in Australia to distribute Major Wire’s Flex-Mat 3 modular and tensioned screen media to the mining and extractive industries. Flex-Mat 3 modular, which comprises traditional self-cleaning cross tensioned screen media - 305mm x 305mm (1’ x 1’) and newly released 305mm x 610mm (1’ x 2’) self-cleaning panels - can fit virtually any flat surface screen deck and can provide up to 40 per cent more screen open area than traditional rigid polyurethane and rubber panels.

The Flex-Mat 3’s point of difference compared with other screen media, according to Major Wire’s president Jean Leblond, is that its independently vibrating wires can increase product throughput over traditional polyurethane and rubber panels by creating more screening action and separation of material, thereby eliminating blinding, pegging and clogging, minimising the downtime spent cleaning and replacing the screen cloth and increasing production time.

“You can achieve higher throughput,” he claims. “It delivers a precise product; no blinding, no pegging, more throughput from the top deck to the bottom deck. We try to promote the use of the Flex-Mat 3 on all decks because you get more throughput on the top deck and the middle deck by the vibrating wires, less runover of fines back to the crusher. So if you can screen effectively and move the fines rapidly, you wear your system out less than with the regular woven wire. Woven wire is a dead surface versus Flex-Mat 3 and its vibrating wires.”

Major Wire also asserts that aggregate producers will not need to modify their screen boxes to accommodate the larger 1’ x 2’ panel. Further, each new 1’ x 2’ Flex-Mat 3 modular panel can also increase the total screen media open area by an additional 4.6 per cent when compared to traditional 1’ x 1’ polyurethane or rubber panels covering the same screen area.

Screening operations can choose panels between snap and step groove types for 1’ x 2’ sizes and pin and groove types in both 1’ x 1’ and 1’ x 2’ sizes. For tensioned screen decks, the Flex-Mat 3’s polyurethane lime green strips align to a screen box’s crown bars and hold individual wires in place as they run from hook to hook, yet allow them to vibrate freely. This potentially exceeds the wear life of woven wire by up to three times because there are no cross wires with high wear spots.

The tensioned Flex-Mat 3 panels are available in a broad range of opening sizes, from 30 mesh (0.5mm) to 102mm, and therefore can be tailored to suit each screen’s production requirements. The tensioned cloths are available in a Series D diamond shape for most standard applications, a wave-patterned Series S for removal of  fines, a triangular Series T for heavy scalping or fine screening and Double Wire for high impact applications.

On modular screen decks, Flex-Mat 3’s modular panels install as easily as traditional polyurethane and rubber panels and therefore can replace existing screen media on each deck where throughput is compromised. They use the same fastening systems as traditional and polyurethane panels and are available in both stainless steel and Major Wire’s proprietary OptimumWire. By stretching the wire and using two different configurations of Major Wire’s signature lime green strips, the new 1’ x 2’ Flex-Mat 3 modular panels employ the same independently vibrating wires it has always been known for without sacrificing wear life. For modular panels with wire diameters smaller than 3.4mm, the wire is tensioned and a polyurethane strip is placed every 152mm to ensure the wires independently vibrate. For modular panels with larger wire diameters, the polyurethane strips are placed every 305mm (1’) of the non-tensioned wire so the wire independently vibrates. The wire diameters range from 0.6mm to 9.5mm. Jean Leblond believes that Major Wire is currently the only supplier of screen panels in the world that is able to offer its customers apertures of less than 2mm in the modular panel and of more than 50mm in the tensioned panel.

He adds that Flex-Mat 3 panels, whether tensioned or modular, 1’ x 1’ or 1’ x 2’, can be employed in a variety of applications, including aggregate, sand and gravel, non-metallic and metallic minerals, salt, agglime, recycled concrete and asphalt, construction and demolition recycling, coal, slag, talc and top soils. “The meshes can be used for all fine materials,” he says. “To remove fines from a product, you can go down to 0.5mm for sand and you can control limestone with 0.8mm.”

He also says that the Flex-Mat 3 can be adapted to potentially any type of screen. “We sell to Powerscreen directly in Ireland and they sell the panels back to their dealers around the world because they believe in  the product. The Flex-Mat 3 is also used  on Jaques machines, so there is no limitation at all.”

Jean Leblond states that based on North American sales, quarries have been more inclined to purchase the tensioned panels rather than the modular ones, which are more popular in the mining industry (larger quarry operations, however, lean towards the modular ones). He anticipates that this trend will also continue in Australia but emphasises that Major Wire, through Nepean Rubber & Plastics, will be able to provide added value and aftermarket assistance by offering to audit a customer’s screen process and products in the first instance and providing training in the initial installation of the screen panels on their screen boxes.

David Hewitson, who has worked for almost 25 years in a range of capacities for screen and wear resistance lining companies servicing quarrying and mining operations across Australia, New Zealand and Asia, states that the tensioned Flex-Mat 3 panel is a very attractive and superior product compared to the rubber screens with which he has traditionally worked.

“You don’t need to be an engineer to look at the local product side by side with the Flex-Mat 3 to see that the Flex-Mat 3 is put together a whole lot better than the local product is,” David says. “One of the main reasons that I believe the Flex-Mat 3 is a superior product is that it’s made with OptimumWire. We sent some of the locally produced steel wire over to Canada and had it analysed and tested, so we know for a fact that the OptimumWire has a higher manganese and a higher carbon content and that at the end of the day it is going to have better wear life, which is extremely important to our customers.

“The availability of aperture sizes is from 0.5mm in the Flex-Mat 3 through to 102mm. Locally produced, they can only go as low as 2.5mm to 25mm, so there’s a whole new scope of business out there that will be available to us that is not available to competitor companies. The Flex-Mat 3 or the self-cleaning style screens will last two to three times longer than normal woven mesh, so when we bring this product to the Australian market, all the mines and quarries will be able to extend the wear life on all decks of their crushing and screening plants just through the availability of the Flex-Mat 3 and the smaller and larger aperture sizes.”

The other benefit for Nepean Rubber & Plastics, says David, is that “we will also  be able to offer to the market place the technical back up that we will be getting  from Major Wire.

“Our intention is to run the screen maintenance simplified seminars that Major Wire has been conducting throughout North America. We will learn how to conduct the seminars and we will bring that to all of the major quarry groups in Australia, the independent quarries and any mining operations that want to come along as well.”

Nepean Rubber & Plastics will have a skilled team of sales technicians around Australia, covering the mining and aggregate markets. David says that the company will follow Major Wire’s lead and offer complete screen audits “from scalping through to the finished product. We’ll be inspecting every screen in the plant, taking photographs of anything worth noting and then we’ll present a report to the customer on what we found that could do with improvement and our recommendations on what they need to do to improve their screening efficiency or reduce their operating costs. That could be in the ways the screens are installed, the products that they are using or any little problems that we see throughout the plant”.

Nepean Rubber & Plastics is already stocking a full range of ready made screens “off the shelf for all of the popular screens”, David adds. “In the quarries in Australia, and really in the smaller independents, your Jaques type machine is pretty much everywhere. So while we can currently only hold a limited amount of stock, we’ll be targeting those particular quarries that are using those Jaques machines with the Flex-Mat 3, but then we’ll be carrying a fairly reasonable inventory of ready made screen cloths from 8’ wide screen decks or 6’ wide and 5’ foot wide screen decks in the woven mesh and common aperture sizes. Customers will be able to place orders via the phone and we can have the appropriate screen panels on a truck to them within  48 hours.”

Damian Christie
Editor • Quarry Magazine

Damian Christie is the editor and a chief writer of Quarry magazine. To contact Damian, please click here.
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