Tag Archives: Weba Chute Systems

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.

CUTTING CAPITAL BUDGETS IN MATERIALS HANDLING IS NO SIMPLE MATTER

When mining operations have to cut their capital costs, it is vital that decisions are based on payback periods rather than simply the purchase price.

According to Mark Baller, managing director of Weba Chute Systems, the trend toward reducing capital budgets in the mining sector is not necessarily going to pay in the long term.

“Saving on the purchase price only delivers a result in the immediate term,” says Baller. “But this relatively small saving may have a costly impact on the overall efficiency of the whole system in the long run.”

This is particularly true in critical items like transfer chutes, which can disrupt the mine’s entire flow of material if they fail or underperform. The serious consequences arising from failure highlight the importance of understanding the lifecycle cost of a chute, as well as the financial impact of downtime.

“The focus should be on the payback period of a capital item and not only on the actual cost of the purchase,” he emphasises.

He highlights that mines often do not quantify the cost of operating chute systems. Costs that should be associated with chute maintenance or repair are often hidden in other cost allocations. Poor chute design often leads to excessive spillage, for instance, whose clean-up costs are allocated to maintenance of the conveyor system.

“Where a mine’s reporting system does not allow for the transfer points as a separate item, it is almost impossible to determine their true cost to the operation,” he says. “Without this knowledge, a mine will struggle to reduce its plant costs. It will also be unable to justify its purchasing decisions in the best long-term interests of the operation.”

He notes that uncontrolled discharge of bulk materials through conventional chutes has been shown to be a major cause of high maintenance and replacement costs. By contrast, Weba Chute Systems take a unique approach to make bulk materials cascade through the transfer point. The engineered flow ensures that 95% of the material runs on other material, with the bottom layer in the product stream moving in a tumbling motion. This significantly reduces wear, noise and dust levels.

WEBA CHUTES TAKE AFRICA IN THEIR STRIDE

With its custom-designed transfer point solutions at mines across Africa, Weba Chute Systems has proved its chutes in commodities from platinum to diamonds to gold, coal and copper.

In addition to mining hotspots including Ghana, Mali, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana, Weba Chute Systems have been installed in countries like Tanzania, Mauritania and Eritrea. Authorised Weba Chute Systems agents are deployed to support customers in key countries, while technical experts from the company’s head office in Germiston, Gauteng, are on call to assist.

“Mines across the continent have recognised the value of our custom-designed chutes,” says Wade Vandenberg, Weba Chute Systems’ technical advisor Africa. “Not only do these operations gain the benefits of controlled material flow in their operations, but they experience first-hand how our engineering design extends wear life and reduces maintenance downtime.”

He highlights that better dust control – a key part of health and safety policies in the mining sector – is another important benefit that Weba chutes bring to an operation.

“Our state-of-the-art digital engineering design facilities and expertise makes use of the latest technologies to simulate the specific material flow conditions in each customer’s application,” says Vandenberg. “This allows us to apply our philosophy that no two chute designs are identical, and to scientifically accommodate exact flow characteristics into our design.”

Discrete element modelling allows close control over the flow of material through the chute. This minimises turbulence reducing the levels of dust created in the working area. It also cuts spillage levels, which in turn means a saving of valuable material and less time spent on cleaning activities.

“We work towards the ISO dust management standards, supporting our customers in managing health and safety in this critical area of transfer points,” says Izak Potgieter, systems manager at Weba Chute Systems. “Our testing measures dust down to 0,03 micron particles, to make sure that our designs meet stringent health-related targets.”

Flow control also creates more material-on-material movement to reduce wear on chute liners, ensuring longer liner life when compared to that of conventional chutes. Custom design and use of simulation technology allow for the wear life to be carefully predicted, based on operating conditions.

“Our technical expertise and solutions-oriented approach mean that customers can always rely on us,” says Vandenberg. “When we commission one of our chutes, it is part of an ongoing productivity journey with our customer, no matter where they are located.”

MANAGING CHUTE ASSETS CLOSELY CAN CUT MAINTENANCE COSTS

Keeping a closer eye on performance of assets like transfer chutes – and carefully monitoring wear – can save not only the cost of unplanned downtime, but also the cost of potential over-maintenance.

“It is true that too little maintenance is usually what causes problems for transfer point equipment on mines, but over-maintenance is also a luxury that mines can no longer afford,” says Amanda Teessen, maintenance contracts manager at Weba Chute Systems. “Under today’s demanding economic conditions, many mines could improve the impact of their maintenance expenditure by being more vigilant and regularly recording wear data.”

This function can also be outsourced through a maintenance contract with specialised transfer point OEMs like Weba Chute Systems. This is especially advantageous to the end-user as both the equipment and its maintenance requirements become more complex.

“It is not surprising that – as equipment used by mines becomes more technologically advanced –more mines are relying increasingly on the expertise of OEMs,” she says. “Not only do we custom-design and manufacture innovative chute solutions for our customers, but we leverage the latest technology to track the performance of this equipment over time wherever possible.”

This has allowed Weba Chute Systems to develop a detailed database of chute performance on sites all over the world and in a variety of operating conditions. The tracking of wear patterns is critical in applying preventive maintenance on site to optimise uptime.

“For instance, chute lip measurements are taken to gauge the wear rate so we can accurately predict when replacement will be necessary,” she says. “The advantage of this is that the replacement can be scheduled at a convenient time, such as when the mine conducts its usual maintenance shutdown.”

Without this wear data, wear parts are often replaced simply as a matter of course during the mine’s maintenance shutdown time, even though they still have plenty of wear-life.

Teessen says that when a maintenance strategy is more scientifically based, greater value can be delivered by the equipment while the unnecessary replacement of components is avoided.

“Observation, measurement and good data is the foundation of a proactive maintenance programme for chutes and transfer points,” says Teessen. “The information gained from regular inspections will highlight critical areas of wear, allowing the mine to prioritise its asset management in terms of each item’s criticality in the process flow.”

A key benefit of a maintenance contract with Weba Chute Systems is that a history of each chute’s performance and wear patterns can be built up. Various components are analysed including liners, lips, bolts and backplates. Teessen highlights that it is impossible to generalise about wear trajectories on chutes, as each application is so different.

“This is why we custom-design our chutes, so that each will suit the customer’s application requirements and operating conditions,” she says. “Like the design, the chute’s wear rates will depend on operating parameters and what function the chute is intended to serve.”

Variables include the nature of the commodity being mined, moved or treated, with more abrasive materials causing faster wear. Also important is the size of the particles, the volume of material being transferred and the conveyor belt speed. All these aspects are included in the data gathered by Weba Chute Systems to inform its maintenance planning.

“Good asset management also requires attention to upstream aspects of on-site processes,” Teessen continues. “If the aperture size on a grizzly screen is enlarged, for example, the chute it is feeding will experience increased backplate wear. Acting on this prior knowledge, the replacement of that plate can be appropriately scheduled.”

She emphasises that a key aim of sound asset management is to avoid any unexpected equipment failure, as this not only disrupts production, but invariably distracts the mine’s staff from their core responsibilities.

“Artisans like boilermakers – as well as technicians and assistants – are all busy with their own inspections, audits, maintenance and new installations,” she says. “When there is a breakdown, though, many of them get called in to help; it has a negative ripple-effect on many unrelated activities.”

Through close collaboration on a planned maintenance system, OEMs can strengthen their partnerships with mining customers while ensuring that equipment is maintained to the highest standard, says Teessen. “This will also contribute to lowering the total overall cost for the operation.”