Off-the-shelf thinking a threat to bottom line

Wed July, 31st 2019

A one-size-fits-all mentality when it comes to screen media can lead to higher costs and significant lost revenue opportunities for operators. The key is to shift from product to solution thinking, as PAT CAPUTO explains. 

Across industry, operators must necessarily look at ways to reduce costs while increasing output and maintaining safety performance.

In many ways, those things are at odds with each other – how can you possibly get more for less without negatively impacting something? It’s the old time-cost-quality argument.

If it’s a case of simply cutting up-front costs, quality is bound to suffer. Likewise, the historical balancing act of trimming until something breaks is not a successful solution.

When it comes to consumables, there’s often a tendency to think that a one-size-fits all approach may be cost beneficial. However, due to the intricacies and uniqueness of every mining operation, it rarely is.

Rather than thinking in terms of product, operators should adopt a solution focus.

Screen media is commonly overlooked as a consumable with operators opting for off-the-shelf products provided by equipment manufacturers.

But for those who treat screen media as a specialist science, significant value can be unlocked – from improving the effectiveness of ore screening, to reduction of overall maintenance and OEM equipment costs.

Every lump of ore – and in that case every potential income dollar – passes through the screening process. So optimising screening is vital to achieving better results and increased profitability.

No two ore bodies or mine sites are alike and screen media that may yield good results in one situation could be totally inadequate in another. It’s a complex science to analyse site-specific factors and determine the most beneficial solutions when it comes to screen media.

Elastomers Australia’s technical solutions team, which operates with mining clients across the country, has seen all manner of issues brought about by less than optimal screen media.

That ranges from uneven feed and wear patterns, to problems removing and replacing screen media, to panels completely dislodging mid-operation and requiring entire screening houses to be shut down.

Firstly, operators need to consider the characteristics of the ore including how coarse or abrasive it is. That can greatly impact the life of panels due to excessive wear. A product that wears too quickly or unevenly can seriously impact production schedules and potentially lead to unplanned outages.

Ore characteristics may also necessitate variations in the flexibility of screen media panel systems.

The overall size, weight and composition of the ore needs to be accounted for. For example, fine, clumping particles such as clay-type materials can quickly blind screen media, necessitating different design elements to reduce the risk of screening and broader plant failure.

Heavy, coarse material can also lead to screen media becoming dislodged, and potentially compromise screening equipment and lead to unscheduled plant downtime.

Our technicians have encountered cases in which poorly suited screen media has led to excessive vibration and contributed to poor performance of other components, ultimately leading to plant failures.

Weather conditions also impact the performance of screen media. For example, compounds that suit dry conditions may not be the best in sub-tropical environments.

It’s not only about minimising downtime and maximising the life of screen media, but also optimising the ease with which it can be replaced. If fixing systems are difficult to access and maintain, shutdown times can blow out and safety of maintenance personnel is put at risk.

For that reason, the overall solution should incorporate an appropriate screen media mounting system, which not only reduces maintenance hours through improved access and handling, but can also significantly improve overall plant reliability and maintenance costs.

The value of custom-made and tailored screen media solutions is significant. Elastomers Australia’s extensive client base has reported improvements ranging from hundreds of thousands of dollars at smaller operations, to tens of millions of dollars per annum at major iron ore and coal projects.

Pat Caputo is Elastomers Australia’s General Manager – Business Solutions