Today's mines are actively seeking opportunities to cut their fossil fuel consumption as part of a broader effort to reduce their environmental impact. To achieve this goal, mines need energy-efficient materials handling solutions that may include overland conveyors for long distances or hauling equipment in crushing areas and pits.
A facility's carbon footprint is a function of how many pieces of equipment it has. The more equipment there is in an operation, the larger its carbon footprint. Our philosophy in designing material handling systems is to let gravity do as much of the work as possible. After all, gravity is always reliable and it's also carbon neutral. We apply this approach to bin and chute designs, ensuring that they work by gravity alone and don't require any material flow aids, which would ultimately increase the carbon footprint of the operation.
Prevent bottlenecks and protect workers
Material handling activities occur in all stages of mineral extraction, processing, waste handling and transportation to market. Many variables can disrupt the supply chain and can result in congestion or bottlenecks, unavailable equipment, inefficient processes performance and labour productivity issues. If any equipment doesn't perform to specification, it can seriously affect operations, because the associated costs have a direct impact on operational budgets.
If the process plant can't be fed reliably, efficiency will be adversely impacted, and the recovery or production rate won't meet expectations. If the tailings handling system is out of service, the plant won't be able to operate.
Start with defining material flow properties
The most important step in designing a reliable material handling system is to understand the material flow properties. Ores are all different, and metallurgists always insist on robust test programs to define grade and design the process to maximize recovery. The same requirement exists to design reliable material handling and processing equipment. This is especially true for the design of bins and chutes—process equipment in their own right—and reliable designs can only be achieved using material flow properties established by a comprehensive laboratory test program. We need a thorough understanding of the material flowability at each step so that the equipment can be designed correctly for the intended purpose.
The test program and design criteria must also consider variables such as moisture content and ambient temperature because, in cold climates, materials are often stored and handled in extreme weather, including heavy rain, snow and freezing conditions. Many materials exhibit very different flow characteristics after some time at rest, and the equipment must be designed for the worst case. It's also important to determine whether materials are self-heating or explosive. If they are, special features need to be designed in the material handling equipment and operating procedures to ensure that any risk of fire is kept to a minimum.
All of these considerations must be accounted for in the design criteria, as they form the basis of design for a reliable material handling system.