Technology and Creative Thinking are Improving Materials Handling

The global push to reduce carbon emissions is increasing the demand for renewable energy and the materials needed for its production. Materials handling plays a key role in this transition as it ensures the seamless transportation of minerals from extraction and processing, to storage and shipping.

As the need to decarbonise intensifies, how can mining companies improve materials handling to meet demand, without impacting on their financial, operational and ESG performance?

Australia still has a vibrant resource-based economy, yet we are seeing significant changes towards more renewable energy power generation.

While coal-fired power will eventually be phased out, coal as a resource still has a role to play in the provision of reliable energy in the short-term.

Critical minerals such as copper, nickel, cobalt and rare earth elements are essential components in many of today’s clean energy technologies – from wind turbines and electricity networks to electric vehicles.

Put simply, we are now using more minerals and in greater volumes than ever before.

Daniel Ausling (Principal Mechanical Engineer and Materials Handling Specialist) at BG&E Resources (BGER) says, “Materials handling has changed dramatically particularly as technology continues to disrupt how companies extract, process and transport resources.”

A Technology Rich Future

Technological innovation continues to disrupt the status quo in all industries, including Resources. 

Many companies are embracing the industrial Internet of Things (IoT) to automatically connect equipment and people using intelligent sensors and RFID to digitise operations, with little human intervention and to make informed and precise data-based decisions in real-time. This is improving visibility and traceability of materials throughout the life cycle and automating maintenance and operations.

Daniel says, “The digital mine of the future is here. Diesel powered trucks are being replaced with autonomous and electric vehicles. Predictive maintenance and 3D/4D printing is allowing replacement parts to be printed and ready on site when needed to optimise maintenance and shutdowns. Big data and digital twins are reducing the cost of operations, robots and drones are helping to mine at different depths, biological techniques are being deployed to reduce environmental impacts while virtual reality (VR) and robotics are creating the ability to test hazardous operations in virtual environments. And, machine learning is enabling equipment to automatically adapt to the composition of materials and optimise energy use.

“Australia is making considerable inroads in the research and development of materials or bulk handling systems. The University of Newcastle’s Centre for Bulk Solids and Particulate Technologies (CBSPT) is actively involved in both fundamental and applied research on a range of problems associated with bulk solids and particulate technology. Research areas include storage, flow, processing and transportation of bulk solids,” Daniel adds.

According to Professor Mark Jones (Head of the School of Engineering at the University of Newcastle and Director of TUNRA Bulk Solids), “Bulk handling is not rocket science – it’s harder.” Professor Jones also states, “The handling of materials can be a very significant proportion of costs and the University of Newcastle and TUNRA have saved millions of dollars for many national and international companies through rigorous contract research leading to significant improvements in production.”

Daniel says, “During my 20-plus years in the bulk solids handling industry I have witnessed and played a role in lots of advances in the industry. It’s been an exciting journey.”

Prior to joining BGER, Daniel served as Operations Manager at TUNRA Bulk Solids. At the same time, he held an adjunct position with the University of Newcastle. Daniel maintains this adjunct position as well as close ties to the University and the materials handling research being done within.

BGER is playing a key role in optimising the transport and handling corridor, from mine-to-market and beyond, on both the East and West coasts of Australia. Some of the projects that BGER has delivered to date include engineering for smart system materials handling, debottlenecking: chute redesign and flow optimisation, belt conveying concepts and design, interface of feeders and transfers of difficult material, de-watering systems, dust mitigation strategies, lifecycle assessments, and more.

In the Hunter Region of NSW, we are undertaking a Pre-Feasibility Study for an Australian Resources company to upgrade the processing systems and equipment such that materials handling issues are minimised and throughput and yield is increased.

Also in NSW, we are preparing a Feasibility Study for a new manufacturing plant that recycles excess concrete to produce low-carbon concrete.

In the Northern Territory, BGER is providing advice for a scheduled mine closure plan involving a major sediment pond and rehabilitation of the land. With more than 17 mines scheduled to close in the Hunter Region in the next 20 years, this is a growing area for us, as is aerial mapping where we undertake asset audits and condition assessments.

For further information please contact and/or call +61 2 4902 3025.

Sources: University of Newcastle, Centre for Bulk Solids and Particulate Technologies (CBSPT); and, University of Newcastle, Head of the School of Engineering and Director of TUNRA Bulk Solids, Statement from Professor Mark Jones.

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