Mining & Resources

A global ‘Taylored’ approach to bulk materials handling

Imagine having Mozambique, Borneo, Vietnam, and Suriname on the list of places you have worked? These are just a few of the many exotic places Michael Taylor has travelled to and worked in, originally starting out from Perth, Western Australia.

Mr Taylor has worked on a number of projects during his extensive career within the bulk materials handling industry, and was kind enough to answer a few questions about the sector as well as his global experience.

You will be speaking at the 12th Annual Bulk Materials and Handling Conference and sharing with delegates an international perspective on materials handling infrastructure in Mozambique – can you tell us a bit about your journey in the materials handling world, particularly your international experience?

My experience in the bulk materials handling world started in Western Australia when I managed the Wesfarmers Coal operations in Collie. During this time I was responsible for updating and developing of the existing bulk materials handling infrastructure. Some of my key projects included:

  • Integrating the pit grade control operations with the materials handling operations, this included improving coordination and planning activities;
  • Tracking and managing stockpile qualities to meet customer specifications which included installing on line sampling systems, truck scanning and installing a control and dispatch system;
  • Installing a site laboratory to undertake rapid grade (quality) analysis for feedback to stockpile management and grade control.
Michael Taylor - "Mr International"

Michael Taylor – “Mr International”

After my WA experience I worked with several engineering firms undertaking process plant design and materials handling design, mostly in the coal industry. A large portion of this work included undertaking designs of coal handling facilities. However, some key learnings that I took away from my experience, included:

  • Whilst undertaking materials handling designs in Borneo I learnt the value of understanding the significance of ground stability on stockpile design. Several handling facilities on the Mahakan river which included aerial tripper conveyors were slumping due to the very soft ground adjacent to the river (even after piling);
  • The design of an anthracite plant in Ha Long bay (Vietnam) required the installation of a wood bath, this was to remove splintered timber props from the open cut excavation of previous underground mines. The timber splinters created problems with blockages in the plant;
  • The design and construction of handling facilities in third world countries required detailed logistical and construction planning. The Ha Long plant was located in a region with poorly skilled tradesmen and very little accessible construction materials, this required containerizing most of the equipment and materials and where possible pre-assembly prior to shipment.

I gained additional materials handling insight whilst working with Hatch in Pittsburgh, some of my key learnings during this period included:

  • The need to design handling facilities for cold weather climates and very cold weather climates. This included undertaking handling design that would minimize the impact of surface moisture (ice). For example including wagon defrosting facilities prior to rail offloading and thermal drying coal in the process plants;
  • I worked on plant design for several coal companies in the Appalachians, this region is extremely hilly with virtually no flat ground and stockpile development required significant amount of excavation. The cost to excavate resulted in prohibitive costs for the design of standard stockyards, consequently the use of large silos was often the most cost effective solution. This is where I gained experience in the design and use of silos.

“To remain competitive requires being able to understand existing limitations and constraints”

I moved to work with the mining operations including BHP Billiton in Suriname and with Rio Tinto in Mozambique as the owners’ team representative on major capital projects as the engineering and processing manager. During this time I gained valuable insight into the strategic level of decision making of bulk materials handling design for example both projects started with a “clean sheet” and the development of the materials handling design needed to be optimised. This optimisation process included identifying best locations for handling facilities, size of facilities, modes of transport and blending requirements. This work was undertaken with supply chain simulation modelers in conjunction with design engineering firms and business analysts to undertake various trade off studies.

My work with BHP Billiton in Suriname dealt with a Bauxite development with significant amounts of Kaolin clays. Given Suriname has 3 to 5m of rain per annum the handling characteristics of this material was very challenging with regards to design and required specific designs for chutes and screens. Another key issue was the development of projects in 3rd world countries with very limited skills base to draw upon and high costs to draw upon technical support in these regions. This influenced the handling design and operations to keeping the infrastructure as robust as possible with minimal technical design. For example in Mozambique we assessed the value of traditional stackers/reclaimers versus installing large bins or silos.

There have been increased pressures on organisations to remain competitive – in your opinion, where do you think the opportunities to improve productivity and maintain plant reliability lies?

To remain competitive requires being able to understand existing limitations and constraints, understanding competitors strengths and also being able to identify opportunities when they arise. I believe the opportunities to improve productivity can be addressed in terms of addressing short and midterm responses and longer term strategic decisions.

The immediate areas to address productivity is associated with improving the effectiveness of ongoing operations. Various tools are used to undertake these analysis such as Six Sigma. The areas that require focus include:

  • More detailed assessment of staff skills and developing staff and management training and promoting training;
  • Include larger incentives (KPIs) into plant performance measures;
  • Undertake regular review and audits of plant performance to identify gaps and build a knowledge database;
  • Provide greater access to technical experts for online access, for example remote control hubs;
  • Review maintenance strategies to assess for greater flexibility in maintenance planning and undertake rigorous preventative maintenance.

The mid-term improvements are typically associated with minor modifications to the plant and equipment and could include:

  • Installing more reliable equipment and or equipment with superior efficiencies;
  • Improving plant sampling and online monitoring;
  • Improving control and reporting software and systems.

The longer term strategic decisions require additional analysis as they can be costly to implement. However, there are several developments worth considering including:

  • Developing plant and handling designs or modifying exist plants to include flexibility in the processing and handling designs, this allows the plants to adjust the product streams based on changing future market criteria;
  • For an operation that has several processing and handling facilities ensuring the design and operation of all the components of the operations are fully integrated, i.e. rather than one plant operating in isolation to produce a single product have all the operations operate at optimal settings that meets the overall requirement.
Image courtesy of Bulk Materials Handling & Processing Pty Ltd

Image courtesy of Bulk Materials Handling & Processing Pty Ltd

Bulk materials handling processes for resources are generally similar, however may slightly vary – are there a unique set of challenges involved with the coal preparation industry?

Specific challenges associated with the coal industry include:

  • Dealing with a commodity that oxidizes and ignites under certain circumstances. The key threats are that some coals are subject to spontaneous combustion and emit CO2 and CO. This is critical criteria in the design of tunnels and confined spaces and requires the inclusion of ventilation in handling designs (such as reclaim tunnels);
  • As metallurgical coal oxidizes it loses its swelling properties and value and a requirement is to minimise surface area contact. This influences the design with regards to storage time required and product sizing distribution;
  • Coal is generally sold as a sized product and some mines produce specific sized products with penalties being applied for product falling outside contractual size distributions. This impacts the design of the facilities to include handling facilities designs to minimise particle impact, for example soft loading chutes in rail loading facilities;
  • Some coals are very brittle and generate large amounts of dust which can be a workplace hazard, this dust can also be explosive. Significant care must be taken to minimise dust generation.

What are the pressing issues that you and your team expect to focus on in the next 12-18 months?

Bulk Materials Handling and Processing Pty Ltd (BMHP) is establishing itself in the market and is a small engineering consultancy. Given current market conditions, our focus is being able to provide technical support to the industry during this period as well as being able to be competitive with other service providers. The focus has shifted to providing assistance with process optimisation and identifying potential cost savings. In addition the identification of new technologies that provide plant performance benefits is also critical. The Australian market is very difficult and BMHP has had more success and opportunities overseas in Southern Africa. Other areas of focus include providing the market with technical assistance with divestments and acquisitions.

You have worked with a number of organisations including, Hatch, BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto – what is your biggest career lesson to date?

Some lessons based on my past experience has included:

  • Identifying the unique attributes of each operation and project, the assumption of copying on handling design from one project to another is often flawed and can result in significant failings in process and handling efficiencies. The biggest risk is assuming a similar proven plant can be reliably copied;
  • Having worked on several large projects the amount of forward planning cannot be underestimated and the ability to onboard key staff as early as possible. Similarly as a project advances it is critical to ensure the operations team is involved and has buy in in the project as early as possible. They are critical stakeholders!
  • Utilising the company’s organizational process assets. This includes utilising lessons learned from previous projects which provides a great deal of insight and identifies potential project risks;
  • Identifying the stakeholders and understanding how to manage and communicate with the various project stakeholders, not simply at the commencement of a study or project but ongoing throughout the project.

We would like to thank Mr Taylor for participating in this thorough Q&A. Want more? Catch Mr Taylor presenting at the 12th Annual Bulk Materials Handling Conference in Perth this June.

Bulk Materials Handling Conference

Bulk Materials Handling Conference

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