Saturday 23rd Oct, 2021

45 years of bulk solids handling research and education

TUNRA Bulk Solids will celebrate its 45th anniversary in 2020. ABHR looks back at the work the organisation has done for the bulk solids handling industry around the world since it began.

TUNRA Bulk Solids will celebrate its 45th anniversary in 2020. ABHR looks back at the work the organisation has done for the bulk solids handling industry around the world since it began.

When Alan Roberts moved to the University of Newcastle (UoN) in 1974, he was elected to the Board of the university’s research company, TUNRA.

In the following year, following his research and industrial consulting interests, he established the research and consulting group TUNRA Bulk Solids Handling Research Associates (TBS). This organisation would go on to provide a service to the industry, becoming internationally recognised for its contribution to research and its industrial interactions.

TBS’s main focus is to establish fundamental design concepts with specific recommendations made for the detailed design of new and ongoing projects. TBS has successfully completed in excess of 5000 projects for more than 1000 companies in over 40 countries worldwide.

In parallel with commercial contract research and consulting activities, TBS provides a mechanism for technology transfer by research output and ensuring the expertise gained is widely disseminated and utilised by industry.

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TBS has comprehensive laboratory test facilities established to aid the research and consulting activities encompassing storage, flow and handling, instrumentation and control, belt conveying, mechanical handling and industrial fluid mechanics including pneumatic and hydraulic transport.

Along with its parent university company, TUNRA, TBS is a self-funding, not-for-profit company – its income is used to employ professional, research and support staff, post graduate students and visiting scholars. TBS has a continuing role in supporting final year undergraduate students in their honours project assignments and has also provided undergraduate scholarships for students studying mechanical engineering.

Industry Research Interaction

In 1995, The Australian Research Council (ARC) awarded the Key Centre for Teaching and Research in Bulk Solids and Particulate Technologies. Established under the name Centre for Bulk Solids & Particulate Technologies (CBSPT), this was a joint Centre of the Universities of Newcastle and Wollongong with Alan (Newcastle Node) as Director and Peter Arnold (Wollongong Node) as Associate Director.

With the aim of continuing the role of the Centre beyond the ARC 6-year funding period and its interactive role with TBS, Professor Mark Jones was appointed Director of CBSPT and TBS.

Advancing the discipline

Along with its research, consulting and knowledge dissemination objectives centred in Australia, TUNRA Bulk Solids aims to advance the bulk solids discipline globally” through research, problem solving and education. TBS staff participate in international conferences and interact with colleagues in many universities, research institutions and industries throughout the world.

The organisation’s interaction model of industry consulting, education and problem solving to guide the ongoing research, has led TBS to establish similar operations in some selected countries. Specific examples of collaborations formed by TUNRA are illustrated below:

TBS South Africa

The links with South Africa and the University of the Witswatersrand (Wits) began in 1981 when Alan was formally invited by Roelof Vogel on behalf of the South African Institution of Mechanical Engineers (SA IMechE) to present a key-note paper at the inaugural “BELTCON” conference in Johannesburg.

This marked the beginning of the international, biennial BELTCON conference series, which has had the continued support of TBS through research paper presentations by Alan and TUNRA staff. During his trips to South Africa, Roberts presented short courses to industry and interacted with South African engineers who were involved in materials handling.

As part of this collaboration, the Master of Engineering Practice Bulk Solids Handling Degree was established at the Universities of Newcastle and Wollongong. While this course was primarily offered in Australia it was also offered in South Africa. A major milestone occurred in 1999 when the first group of graduates included five South African Engineers.

Following the foundation work of Professor Alan Roberts, Professor Mark Jones, Director TUNRA Bulk Solids and Professor Craig Wheeler, Associate Director TUNRA Bulk Solids  carried on the collaboration with South Africa and Wits University, this in turn saw the established of a bulk solids research, consulting and testing laboratory at Wits University in Johannesburg.

The TBSA lab was officially opened in 2012, with a ceremony involving academics from Wits and UoN. While the flow properties test work was conducted at the TBSA lab, the analysis and reporting thereof was conducted by TUNRA Bulk Solids staff, an arrangement which still stands today.


Many research academics and engineers have been instrumental in the development of TBS, but none more so than Alex Harrison, who established Belt Conveying Research and Technology as a major subject area within the University and TBS.

Alex completed his PhD in 1984 while he was a Research Scientist with the Division of Applied Physics of the CSIRO based in Lindfield. His involvement with the University of Newcastle led his professorial appointment in 1989.

He moved to the United States and established a consulting company, based in Denver, focusing on belt conveying design, analysis and belt monitoring. To continue supporting research links, course and workshop presentations in the United States, Alex established TUNRA USA Inc. A flow property testing facility was set up, and for 10 years, the company ran short courses and provided local and overseas industry with a new knowledge base to improve testing and bulk handling designs.

TUNRA USA Inc was a member of the Australian-American Chamber of Commerce in Denver. Following his return to Australia, Alex, in his role as Conjoint Professor, has continued his association with the University of Newcastle and TBS.

TBS Turkey

During the early 1990s Alan visited Turkey on behalf of the UoN. It was here that he took the initiative with the aid of the Australian Consulates Office in Turkey to explore opportunities for collaboration for developing bulk solids technology with major industries in Turkey. This gave rise to a collaborative arrangement between TUNRA Bulk Solids and Istanbul Technical University (ITU). In collaboration with ITU, Alan presented the first bulk solids handling course to industry for Senior Engineers and Managers, visiting again in 1993 to run a second course to industry.

Throughout the years, Post Graduate Students from ITU have been visitors to Centre for Bulk Solids and TBS at the University of Newcastle to further their studies and to engage in work experience. It was through this collaboration that in 2012, Kerim Turkdogan relocated from Turkey to Australia complete part of his master’s degree at the Centre for Bulk Solids & Particulate Technologies.

The foundations for collaboration with ITU have been firmly established which ultimately led to the establishment of TBS Turkey, under the leadership of Kerim Turkdogan as a Business Development Officer. During its six years of existence, TBS completed a number of successful projects in Turkey and neighbouring countries, presented training seminars and was an exhibitor at the International Mineral Processing Symposium. 

TUNRA introduced concepts of bulk materials handling to the Turkish mining industry with its academic and research-based approach, and in spite of not having a dedicated person on the ground at present, TBS continues to serve the local market.

TBS Brazil

The expansion of TBS into Brazil began in 2014 with the appointment of Priscilla Freire as Business Development Officer-Brazil, Priscilla was a graduate engineer who attended a Bulk Solids short course in Perth the previous year.

Priscilla engaged in the research and marketing of potential clients in the mining, steelmaking and mineral processing areas, in addition to conducting site visits to mines and ports to assess material handling issues. The role also entailed initiating collaboration with TUNRA Bulk Solids and Brazilian Universities, research institutions and industries involved in bulk solids handling.

TBS participated and exhibited in several conferences and expos and hosted the first Brazilian Workshop of Materials Handling, which was organised and promoted by TBS Brazil, in association with the University of São Paulo (USP). Bulk solids handling courses soon began at USP as part of its master’s program.

The future

The organisation aims to continue advancing the field of bulk solids handling through industry and academic collaboration, education and outreach which are the hallmarks its success.  The achievements of TBS are a result of the ongoing work, dedication and loyalty of the staff and students, past and present. Alan to this day remains active in research and consulting at TUNRA Bulk Solids as the Founding Director.