In-house-developed idler increases mine throughput, product longevity

11th September 2020 By: Donna Slater - Creamer Media Contributing Editor and Photographer

The development of a South African-made conveyor belt idler has resulted in diversified miner Exxaro Resources increasing throughput at its Grootegeluk mine through one of its conveyor load points from 800 t/d to 3 000 t/d, says conveyor products manufacturer Brelko US and Africa manager Brent Weller.

This Exxaro project was undertaken in August 2019 and Weller says the products deployed are still in use today with very little wear.

Weller spoke during this year's Electra Mining Africa 2020 Connect virtual event, for which Creamer Media’s Engineering News & Mining Weekly is a partner, on the theme of innovation and the status of the South African manufacturing sector.

The company was established in 1987 and as it had to compete with other companies that had been around for many years prior, Brelko had to be innovative from the start, says Weller.

“We looked at this challenge in two ways – our sales approach had to be different and our products had to outperform everything that was in the market.”

In terms of product development and innovation, he says Brelko started off with two products – belt scrapers and skirting.

In addition, the company subsequently developed the innovative concept of the positive cleaning angle on the belt scrapers.

In terms of sales, he adds that Brelko decided to be innovative and take the “hardest route possible”, which was to enter the hard-rock mining market, which in the early days involved primarily gold mining.

“As the years went by, we began calling on the platinum mines [also]. These two decisions played a huge role in Brelko’s growth.”

As its customer base expanded, Weller says Brelko expanded its product portfolio with the criteria of designing a product that outperforms the opposition's products.

“As we expanded that, having been in the market at that time for about ten years, we realised we also had to prioritise our service and maintenance division.”

This led to the company reinforcing its research and development (R&D) capability, with every department tasked with contributing to the objective of research and development of products, especially for the South African market.

Starting on the R&D-focused process, he says Brelko’s MD approached the team to start development of an in-house produced idler.

“Everyone in the conveyor industry knows that an idler runs the conveyor network.”

Weller says the development of an idler was “a huge task” as people in the idler industry had been around for years.

“We decided that the idler would be made from polyurethane as we had vast experience with this material for many years.”

Going through the process of brainstorming the idler concept, prototyping it, testing it and taking the decision to commercially produce it is a process that can “really transform a company”, Weller notes.

The decision to undertake the manufacture of idlers involved “huge upskilling” of Brelko’s staff, as well as additional resources to upscale the factory, he points out.