Having the advice of chute experts at an early stage of developing a minerals processing plant will save costly downtime and unnecessary maintenance down the line, according to Alwin Nienaber, technical director at Weba Chute Systems.
“Despite the constantly improving technology that goes into modern process plants, there is still insufficient attention paid to chute design,” Nienaber says. “This becomes a costly oversight for plant operators, who pay the price later in terms of expensive downtime and frequent maintenance.”
He highlights that it is still common to see corners being cut in overall plant design and construction, with project owners often prioritising fast start-up at the lowest possible cost.
“This approach is false economy. In particular, chutes play a vital role in keeping material moving safely and efficiently through a plant,” he says. “A poor chute design or construction will simply mean that the end result is not fit for purpose, and that will cost the plant dearly.”
The solution, Nienaber says, is to involve a chute expert as early as possible in the plant design process. This will ensure that each chute’s duty is clarified and the relevant parameters can be included in the upfront design. With its decades of experience, Weba Chute Systems can also contribute valuable insights into the process of placing and configuring of chutes within the plant layout.
“We witness many situations where a plant design does not give enough consideration to issues of material degradation, impact, noise, dust and safety around the transfer points,” he says.
The same applies to extensions or alterations to existing plants, where changes in ore characteristics or throughput necessitate modifications to the plant arrangement. Where the operating configuration changes, it is likely that the chute design and placement will need to be modified too, says Nienaber.
Customers also benefit from the company’s experience in the chutes’ interaction with other equipment – affecting equipment sizing, clearances and support structures.
“In our experience, for example, we see many mines underestimating the top size of the material they plan to handle,” says Dewald Tintinger, technical manager at Weba Chute Systems. “It may be necessary to specify larger conveyors, to reduce spillage and damage to equipment.”
He emphasises the importance of getting the solution right the first time, as incorrectly specified equipment may be difficult to move or modify at a later stage.
“Working with 3D modelling, we start the chute design from basic concept and develop the solution from there,” says Tintinger. “The use of design databases by EPCMs can potentially lead to an inappropriate design element. We can ensure that the chutes are suited precisely to their duty and application.”
He also notes that Weba Chute Systems takes full responsibility for its chutes, which has led to considerable interest from EPCMs. The chutes’ reliability reduces EPCM risk and contributes significantly to project success and uptime.
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