Rubber manufacturing specialist Transvaal Rubber Company (Truco) has launched an upgraded version of its yellow detachable low-density poly- ethylene (LDPE) floatation systems to cater for the needs of the ever-changing mining industry.
Truco chairperson Mike Anderson says that continuous development in the mining industry is driving innovation in the rubber sector.
Weighing 70 kg, the yellow floats comprise patented LDPE collars fitted around hoses that are used in dredging applications, besides others.
The improved locally produced system’s collars are completely spherical, as opposed to the flatter shape of its predecessor’s collars. Made from router-moulded LDPE, the collars have a 1,2-m diameter and are fitted to a 500-mm hose.
Anderson explains that, although the advancements bring with it an increase in the cost of the systems, the improve- ments will “dramatically” decrease damage done to the collars on site, increasing the system’s life span and making it more cost effective in the long term.
“Unlike the former version, which was designed more for inland water use, the new completely spherical collars can withstand rough waters and high impact, which, at any angle, will be deflected rather than absorbed, making it less susceptible to damage,” adds Anderson
He states that the system, which allows for easy installation and replacement, is more effective on high-density polyethylene piping because of its poor flexibility.
“Traditionally, hoses at dredge-mining facilities were supported by pontoons, which are expensive to produce and susceptible to corrosion. Needless to say, these plastic collars are more flexible and considerably more cost efficient than the original pontoons,” says Anderson.
The company’s patent has proved to be successful, with the system being used at a number of facilities in Richards Bay, Namibia and Zambia. The great success of the new advanced model is, thus, highly anticipated.
Research and Development
Anderson points out that most research and development efforts in the rubber sector continue to take place abroad, as South Africa’s rubber industry is yet to reach levels that warrant the same level of research.
Nevertheless, he believes that South Africa is abreast of international developments in the rubber industry.
“The rubber industry in Europe and America is enormous, therefore, they have the required resources to research and develop new products. As this is not the case in South Africa, we have to rely on these international innovations and ideas,” Anderson adds.
However, he states that, locally, smaller-scale research is being done on specific problem areas, such as failures and low performance.
Another contributing factor to the lack of local research is the industry’s ongoing skills deficit. Anderson feels that the local shortage of qualified technicians is a result of South Africa’s tertiary rubber education being pitched at a level that is not competitive with international standards, which, in turn, is brought on by a lack of resources and potential students because of the scarcity of job opportunities.
“I do, however, think that we have adequate skills at factory floor level, because we have proper training courses in basic rubber machinery and polymer technology. The problem becomes evident at tertiary level,” he adds.
“Despite this, one really needs to consider if it’s worth our while to do that kind of research and development when taking into account that South Africa does not have a sophisticated rubber industry,” Anderson explains.
He goes on to say that it is, thus, the small-quantity specifics that are required at high- technology levels that South Africa needs to develop.
Rising Rubber Price
“One must keep in mind that global natural and synthe- tic rubber demand peaked towards the middle of 2008; from there on, until February last year, the industry saw a massive fall in demand as world economies were impacted on by the financial crisis. “Demand in our mining industry only started to recover towards the end of last year, largely because of an increase in demand for commodities from the Far East and finance starting to become available to these mining companies to proceed with new mining projects in Africa,” Truco MD Roger Tait tells Engineering News.
“Because various synthetic polymers have replaced natural rubber, the price difference has become quite competitive, with synthetic rubber currently selling at a discount of 40% over natural rubber. However, with the worsening natural rubber shortage, the price of synthetic polymers will continue to go up during the year,” Tait adds.
He says that it is this sudden increase in global demand for rubber that contributed to recent hikes in international natural rubber prices, with China using a substantial amount of global rubber production.
Anderson says that this ever-growing demand has also led to an international shortage of rubber over the past 15 years.
Further, international media reported earlier this year that unseasonal rain in major rubber-producing countries, such as Malaysia and Indone- sia, interrupted the harvesting of the base ingredient of natural rubber, namely liquid latex, acquired from rubber trees through a process known as tapping, which slowed down supply in the market and led to increasing rubber prices globally.
Before the collapse in rubber demand, Truco constructed a new production facility next to its original facility in Krugersdorp, specifically for the manufacturing of large-bore hoses from 400 mm to 1 m in diameter; however, this stood dormant during the period that sales were down as a result of the difficult economic conditions.
“With the increase in mining activity in Africa, it’s fully occupied again. Large-bore hoses are traditionally a small share of the overall market but, owing to the substantial scale of new mining operations, it has become a major product for us,” says Anderson.
To prevent instances of unexpected system failure owing to an inability to keep tabs on wear, Anderson has designed electronic wear detectors, which are fitted into the hose liner and connected to a computer system that triggers an alarm if the circuit is broken and provides information on the precise location of the problem.
“In this way, we are able to detect failure before it happens,” explains Anderson.
The device enables 90% use of hoses.