Tag Archives: Weba Chute Systems

NO SHORT-CUT TO CHUTES THAT PERFORM – RELIABLY AND SAFELY

While there are many ‘look-alike’ transfer chutes on the market, it is the demanding original equipment manufacturer (OEM) standards of Weba Chute Systems that keep mined material as well as industrial materials moving smoothly. 

“Through our focused dedication for many years, we have developed the design, engineering and manufacture of transfer chutes into a science,” says Weba Chute Systems technical manager and designer Dewald Tintinger. “This is what gives our customers the peace-of-mind that their operations will not be disrupted by unplanned stoppages due to premature chute failure.”

Tintinger points out that a chute is often viewed – quite erroneously – as just a platework commodity that any general manufacturer or fabricator can produce on demand. 

The danger in this approach is that the performance is generally not optimal, the reliability is certainly not guaranteed, and there may not be any technical backup when it is required.

“Our extensive design capabilities are leveraged by our experience in the field, where we are constantly installing or improving systems to support our customers’ specific requirements,” he says. “This is why every transfer point solution is custom-engineered, based on our in-depth assessment of the material and operating conditions on site.”

The design is from the ground up, with skilled draughtsmen using the latest specialised software to model material flow in line with operational needs. This facilitates optimising the material trajectory into the chute, out of the initial impact area, through the chute itself and into the discharge area.

Once a Weba Chute Systems product is installed, it can be regularly inspected and maintained by specially-trained technicians, making sure that it reliably delivers the duty required. 

“We stand by every chute we produce supporting the customer to ensure smooth production flow,” Tintinger says. “Where the provenance of the chute is not clear, plants often do not know where to turn when problems arise.”

He also highlights the value of engaging specialists from Weba Chute Systems at the early stages of plant planning, in terms of positioning equipment for optimal material flow through the plant. 

“With our detailed knowledge of how transfer points or chutes work best, we can offer valuable guidance at planning stage about where the chutes – and hence certain other equipment – should ideally be positioned to improve efficiency and results,” he says. 

He emphasises that transfer chutes, while ranking as relatively low cost items in the broader scheme of process equipment, can be the source of costly and major operational problems – all of which can be avoided.

DEMANDING CHUTE DESIGN FOR SINTER PLANT

The recent installation of custom-engineered transfer chutes at a sinter plant in Turkey has highlighted the value of Weba Chute Systems’ decades of experience in design engineering and manufacture.

According to Dewald Tintinger, technical manager and designer at South Africa-based Weba Chute Systems, the application had to deal with sinter material with temperatures up to 700⁰ C, while also reducing the level of material degradation which could undermine the furnace performance.

“The plant process uses heat to produce a solid bed of sinter from imported fines, which is then broken down into manageable clumps of minus 150 mm,” says Tintinger. “Our chute solution had to ensure that these clumps did not degrade unduly as they passed through the chute from the sinter breaker and onto a circular cooler.”

He also emphasises that to ensure the cooling conveyor operates energy-efficiently, the chute delivers a homogeneous feed with coarser material at the bottom and the finer material on top. This is because cooling takes place from below. 

The scale and complexity of the chute structure is substantial, with a double-inlet design and a height of some 12 metres. With top inlet dimensions of 5 metre by 4 metre and 5 metre by 2,5 metre respectively, these chutes were narrowed down to control the stream before widening again to discharge a wider spread onto the cooling conveyor. 

As is common in the design and engineering of Weba Chute Systems, a layer of material passing through is captured using dead boxes, creating a protective lining on the chute surface that reduces wear and resists the impact of high temperatures. The plant had previously been successfully equipped with four chutes from Weba Chute Systems.

“The customer’s experience with our earlier chutes was an indication of what our specialised expertise delivered, especially in terms of fit-for-purpose solutions,” Tintinger says. 

Weba Chute Systems uses the latest discrete element modelling (DEM) software to compute and simulate the interaction of individual particles and boundaries, accurately predicting bulk solids behaviour and building this into each specific design. The company can point to more than 5000 successful chute installations globally underpinning its position as an international leader in transfer point solutions. 

WEBA SAYS NO SECRET TO GETTING REAL VALUE FROM CHUTES

General maintenance service providers often show little respect for the engineering design of specialised on-mine equipment, which can cost the mine dearly in the long run.

This applies as much to transfer chutes as to other mining infrastructure, according to Weba Chute Systems technical director Alwin Nienaber. The result of poor maintenance is usually that mining operations are compromised by unscheduled stoppages caused by equipment failure.

“The tragedy is that what generally drives mines to outsource maintenance to general service providers is an attempt to cut costs,” says Nienaber. “But the result is frequently the opposite – on top of which the mine’s production revenue is severely undermined by misguided attempts at cost-saving.”

He highlights that poor maintenance prevents chutes from delivering the value that the OEM has promised. In Weba Chute System’s case, its chutes are custom-engineered to suit the specific duty; any short-cut taken in maintenance – for instance, in terms of the materials used – will reduce performance and lifespan. There could be costly operational consequences, such as added impact on conveyor belts and resulting damage. More spillage could occur at the transfer point, along with higher dust emissions – all requiring urgent attention.

“OEMs bring a wealth of highly-focused experience with each product, adding tangible value to the mine’s overall efficiency, safety and profitability,” he says. “This expertise translates into smoother mining operations, as we have so much practice in our field that we can assure the customer of the outcome of every intervention.”

This reliability is a key part of the value offered, and extends to the timeous sourcing or delivery of spares and the convenient scheduling of the necessary maintenance. 

“We have witnessed first-hand what can happen to plant availability when critical components like chutes are not well cared for,” says Nienaber. “By collaborating with a customer on maintenance, we helped keep plant availability as high as 98%; when the mine opted for a general contractor to save costs, that availability dropped to below 90%.”

A performance deterioration of that magnitude could be fatal for a mine, Nienaber warns, while the amount saved in operating expenditure was minuscule, and was far outweighed by revenue losses.

“When Weba Chute Systems maintains its own equipment, we ensure the high standards to which they are designed and manufactured,” he says. “That is how we keep our word and earn customers’ trust.”

WEBA FORGES GREEN PATH TO THE FUTURE

A new 390 panel solar plant at Weba Chute Systems’ Germiston facility is now making an active contribution to the South African economy’s environmental protection and energy efficiency efforts.

As part of its green-future strategy, the transfer point specialist commissioned a roof-top solar energy system in December 2020 as part of its integrated response, says Izak Potgieter, ISO systems manager at Weba Chute Systems.

“With a capacity of 160 kW – calculated on 85% performance – the system meets most of the energy requirements of our workshop and offices,” says Potgieter. “This takes considerable pressure off the national grid, while also allowing us to feed power back into the system when there is excess.”

The impact in the first couple of months of operation has already been substantial, he notes; the 62MW generated by the solar panels represents a reduction of about 25 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions that would have been produced from coal fired power. Other elements of the strategy have included energy efficiency interventions such as installing LED lighting in the workplace, and the continuous monitoring of heating, ventilation and cooling (HVAC) systems to ensure moderate use. 

“Our environmental strategy is also designed to address stakeholder pressures and market opportunities,” he says. “While there is no facility yet for us to be reimbursed for the electricity that we feed back to the grid, we believe this to be an important corporate contribution at this time. We are also building up carbon credits that may be traded with other companies at a later stage.”

Potgieter highlights that the company’s approach is based on eight sustainable business practices, which include partnering with employees, conserving water and electricity, developing a recycling programme, and prioritising the management of chemicals.

“We are keenly aware that our environmental efforts are part of the broader commitment by the mining industry towards a more sustainable future,” he says. “We therefore pride ourselves on making a positive contribution to the sustainability of the mining supply chain.”

Weba Chute Systems measures its corporate environmental performance against all its impacts on the natural environment – including resource consumption, pollution, waste generation and energy use – to reduce the effect on climate change.

VALUE ANALYSIS PROVES WORTH OF WEBA CHUTES

With the cumulative technical experience from 5 000 custom-designed chutes installed around the world, Weba Chute Systems delivers long-term value and quick payback times. 

According to Mark Baller, managing director of Weba Chute Systems, most of his company’s chutes can deliver a full return on investment within 18 months. However, the real value for the customer is in reduced operating costs and no disruption to operations. 

“In our experience, many mines pay a high price when they opt for the lowest capital outlay and settle for a standard, off-the-shelf chute,” says Baller. “Any initial cost they save quickly disappears when there is a blockage or spillage that demands a stoppage.”

There are also often higher maintenance costs to consider, and the potential health hazards related to excessive noise and dust at the transfer point. By contrast, a customised product addresses the specific requirement of each customer’s application and will ensure smooth functioning for longer.

“The material that is transferred through a plant is never constant, as the ore body is often not homogenous,” he says. “This means that throughout the lifespan of a mine, the properties change as different sectors of an open pit or underground operations are used.”

The complexity of each design is also that the material being handled will not always be consistent with the test results used for the base design of the transfer point. According to Baller, this is where years of practical experience play a key role. 

“Our specialists can engineer a design that will accommodate a range of material properties and operating conditions,” says Baller. “Most of the expertise invested in chute design is based on practical, applied and site-specific knowledge.”

He notes that many mines are now acknowledging that the initial purchase price is not the best guideline of value, and that the focus should really be on the total cost of ownership. He also says that Weba Chute Systems is frequently requested to replace chute systems that have not met customers’ expectations, either in terms of their performance or their wear life and longevity.

RIGHT CHUTE DESIGN CAN SAVE HIGH CONVEYOR COSTS

Conveyor belts are high cost items in any bulk materials handling application, so it is vital that damage and undue wear is avoided through the correct design of transfer points.

“Where chute systems are not properly designed and manufactured, mines will invariably face sky-rocketing conveyor belt costs,” says Mark Baller, managing director of transfer chute expert Weba Chute Systems. “A custom solution, on the other hand, can reduce these costs by three or four times.”

Baller highlights that conventional chutes tend to allow run-of-mine material – often up to half a metre in size – to drop from considerable heights onto conveyor belts. This is a common cause of damage and significantly reduces belt life. Differences between the material’s velocity and the speed of the belt also aggravates this wear. In addition to frequent belt replacement or repair, mines are faced with the disruption of unplanned stoppages and the unnecessary cost of this downtime.

“The answer lies in a holistic chute design that controls the flow, volume and velocity of material,” he says. “This control is a key factor in reducing wear and tear on belts, while also cutting dust levels which are caused by the impact of falling material.”

Weba Chute Systems achieves this through sound engineering principles, in particular by building the ‘super flow effect’ into its custom-designed products. The customer’s application and environment are also studied in detail to ensure that each design is fit-for-purpose. 

“Our years of experience with transfer points have given us extensive insight into the range of data that we need for appropriately engineering the solutions we propose to customers,” he says. “This includes details of the product being moved and its consistency, the trajectory of the outgoing conveyor, and the transfer height.”

He emphasises that Weba Chute Systems conducts on-site assessments to check that the data being used is correct. The company uses 3D scanning and leverages this data using sophisticated 3D software for the assessment of information ensuring that designs are optimal and accurate. Discrete Element Method (DEM) simulation is also used as a verification tool.

“Many mines are inclined to underestimate the value that can be added to both their process efficiency and their bottom line by good engineering design. Like all other key equipment in a plant, chutes need to match precise operational requirements – hence the need for a customised solution,” Baller concludes. 

3D SCANNING PAVES WAY TO QUALITY CHUTE SOLUTIONS

With the power of three-dimensional (3D) scanning technology, transfer point specialist Weba Chute Systems & Solutions ensures there are no surprises when designing and installing its solutions.

“The accuracy of 3D scanning means that we can rapidly gather detailed measurements of large infrastructure on a customer’s site,” says the company’s technical director, Alwin Nienaber. “This data allows us to generate highly accurate 3D models of on-site conditions, which refines the accuracy of the equipment and componentry we develop and install in that environment.”

Greater accuracy keeps rework costs in design and manufacturing to a minimum, and reduces any downtime during the installation phase. Detailed 3D scan data allows all elements of the existing infrastructure to be considered during the preliminary design stage, so that the customer is assured of a reliable costing in a project’s early feasibility stages.

Nienaber highlights that there may be numerous deformations or undocumented alterations in the customer’s existing infrastructure that could complicate the design and execution of a project. Manual measurement of dimensions may also not deliver the levels of accuracy required.

“Especially when we are replacing transfer points or chutes, we can significantly de-risk the process with our capacity to reverse-engineer the solution within the existing constraints,” he says. “The scanned data is superimposed on our design intent, alerting us to interference that will disrupt smooth installation.”

One of the key advantages of 3D scanning, therefore, is that it contributes to the level of certainty that Weba Chute Systems & Solutions can achieve in the design and implementation of projects. The precision and portability of modern laser scanners have made them invaluable in designing, building and extending technical facilities.

“Our decades of experience in the mining environment give us the capacity to fully leverage the value of 3D scanning to the benefit of our customers,” he says. “This means accurate costing and seamless project roll-out – on time and on budget.”

This is increasingly important as mines drive productivity and prioritise uptime, with many retrofit or maintenance projects required to be conducted during the strict shutdown periods on mines.

“Our engineering know-how is central to integrating 3D scanning into our design and manufacturing processes, improving our planning and scheduling through more precise data,” says Nienaber. “We translate this capacity into reduced project risk and lower contingency costs – allowing us to work efficiently at a low margin of error even under the time constraints in these projects.”

This continuous investment in systems and workflow processes is a pillar of the company’s status as a market leader, with best practice at the heart of its operational philosophy.

PROCESS PLANTS NEED EARLY ADVICE ON CHUTES – WEBA

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.

WEBA CHUTES CUT DUST LEVELS AT PLATINUM MINES

Using the latest dust measuring technology, Weba Chute Systems has been able to demonstrate to platinum mining customers how its custom-engineered chutes significantly reduce dust at transfer points.

“We conducted dust assessments at mines in South Africa and Zimbabwe,” says Izak Potgieter, systems manager at Weba Chute Systems. “The aim was to compare the impact of our designs on material flow and dust levels.”

At the site in Zimbabwe, considerable dust levels were created at bunker discharge chutes. Material of up to 500 mm in size was moving through at a rate of 600 tonnes per hour.

“The material flow was the biggest factor generating dust in the conventional chute, as material was not flowing as evenly as it should,” says Potgieter. “This created a lot of energy for the dust particles to expand into the surrounding atmosphere.”

The installation of the Weba chute – with its engineered design for optimal flow control – reduced the dust levels by about 40%. By controlling the velocity of material, the design not only cuts dust creation but also reduces impact and wear for increased productivity and less maintenance downtime.

At the South African operation, the tests were done at a transfer point in the milling plant where an average tonnage of 190 tonnes per hour was being moved. Despite the use of water sprays, the existing chute was still creating considerable dust. The installation of the Weba chute was able to reduce dust levels by 15%.

“Dust levels have shown to have a serious impact on human health, especially smaller particle sizes of 0,3 micron,” Potgieter says. “Health effects of dust relate mainly to particle size and dust may contain microscopic solids or liquid droplets that are small enough to get into the lungs and cause serious health problems.”

Spores and contaminants associated with dust and aerosol can also adversely impact human health, causing a range of issues from respiratory infections to toxic exposure. Weba Chute Systems develops bespoke solutions for customers’ transfer points, using its experience and years of research and development. When required, discrete element modelling is employed as a verification tool for designs, confirming its suitability before installation.

SAFE WORKING MEANS CHUTE LEADER CONTINUES TO DELIVER

Design, engineering and manufacturing supported by all other functions are up to speed at leading transfer point specialist Weba Chute Systems, thanks to its quick response to Covid-19 restrictions.

“With bespoke chute design being such a vital aspect of our value offering to customers, we have invested heavily over the years in sophisticated software and networks,” says Mark Baller, managing director of Weba Chute Systems. “Covid-19 has been the catalyst for us to take that a step further with advanced remote working capability.”

This has allowed the company’s design team to retain its momentum while working safely from home. With added bandwidth to the office servers, the productivity of the office was able to remain high, says Baller. The technology interventions also served staff in other administrative roles, allowing much greater use of digital platforms to maintain the workflow.

Systems manager and Covid-19 officer, Izak Potgieter says Weba Chute Systems began its preparations early – well before the Level 5 lockdown was announced. This included sourcing personal protective equipment as early as February, and securing adequate supplies of masks and sanitiser.

“We put risk assessments in place to comply with government regulations, and had specialists advising on additional measures so we could run as smoothly as possible,” says Potgieter. “It has been vital to focus on the health of all employees. With induction, training and monitoring, we have seen close adherence at head office and at our sites around the country.”

This compliance – and early recognition as an essential service provider – allowed the company’s manufacturing facilities to be brought back up to speed shortly before the move to Level 4 lockdown. Manufacture of critical spares to customers could resume, and by mid-May there was a full complement on the factory floor, although administrative staff continue to work at home wherever possible. Baller highlights the importance of open communication with all staff, allowing sharing of ideas and suggestions.

“We have erred on the side of caution, as we don’t want to underestimate the impact of the virus,” he says, “especially with the peak of infections still coming.”

Weba Chute Systems was able to resume some of the most urgent site visits to mining customers in May, observing the strict conditions on mine access. This allowed equipment maintenance to continue for those mines that remained operational, and for those ramping up their production after the initial lockdown.

Baller notes that businesses are reconsidering many of their assumptions about working practices in the office. Covid-19 has led to the implementation of new strategies in terms of flexible hours, performance monitoring and digital systems, he says. This shift is likely to assist productivity in future, with remote working becoming more common even after government restrictions are relaxed.