Material Handling = Good, Bad, Ugly

I know all of you readers have been on the edge of your seats waiting for another Good, Bad, Ugly post. Well, the wait is over...happy reading. I hope this drives home that while bulk material handling can be good/bad/ugly, there are simple changes/improvements that can be incorporated into your operation to get rid of the bad/ugly. 

The Good

GoodBadGood2Feb2023UglyThis is a bucket-wheel excavator that I saw on my trip to Germany. This was used to move the stuff (overburden) above the coal to expose the coal underneath. I actually got to climb into one of the buckets…don’t worry, it was on the ground for maintenance. Wow! You can't imagine the scale of these things. I was standing in the center of the bucket, and I couldn’t even touch the walls. Lying down with my arms stretched above my head, my fingertips barely grazed the walls. After I got out of the bucket and inspected the belt cleaners, our host called the excavator “The Babyeimer.” This translates to roughly “baby bucket.” He called it that because it was actually the smallest bucket-wheel excavator on site.

He pointed across the mine and it was like that scene in Jurassic Park where they saw the dinosaurs for the first time. I saw the biggest piece of machinery I had ever seen in my life. There was not one, but an identical pair of these beasts crawling around the mine, eating the dirt at about 3000 tons per hour. I have never seen anything like it before and I assume I won't again.

On a side note, they were transporting the overburden “behind” the mine. The mine was slowly moving across Germany. In addition to reclaiming the land, they were planting trees as they went, so the land will look untouched in a decade or so.

The Bad

Material blockages require manual interventionI was visiting this facility, diagnosing and resolving some carryback issues when I saw this gem. ➡️ I don't want to throw shade, but this is the perfect example of one of the things wrong in the industry. This facility had a problem with one of the chutes clogging so they assigned a person with a sledgehammer to impact the chute to get material flowing. Experience showed them that hitting one side was not effective. So, management created a “guide” to clear the chute. As soon as the paint dried, this became part of the culture.

A more effective solution would be to install industrial vibrators or air cannons to get the material flowing again. These solutions would save the chute steel, connectors, and hardware from unnecessary stress, extending the service life and freeing up maintenance time and tasks.

Another solution would be to redesign the entire transfer point to prevent blockages from forming in the first place. This is a considerable upfront expense and may not be the solution for everyone. A facility should explore ROI to find what is right for them.

The Ugly

Material spillage reduces productivity and safetyThis facility brought me in to help answer the question “what can we do?” I thought to myself “burn the building down and start over.” Of course, I didn’t say that…it would be unprofessional and steel and limestone do not burn that well. However, there was very little that was salvageable at this point. We redesigned the chute, added belt support, dust sealing systems, and a new belt cleaner. The only thing we kept was the stringer. The facility had to replace the belt and perform extensive cleanup after our part was done. It becomes a bigger chore and expense to correct an issue like this as opposed to starting out with a well-designed transfer point. 

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But, don't get discouraged if you're seeing less than desired results in your operation. Remember, the "bad and ugly" can be turned into "good" with process improvement. Until next time.