Sunday 17th Jan, 2021

Fenner Dunlop: From gold rush to mining boom

With more than 100 years of history, Fenner Dunlop is a key player in the Australian Market. ABHR looks at how the company has grown and developed over the decades to where it is today.

With more than 100 years of history, Fenner Dunlop is a key player in the Australian Market. ABHR looks at how the company has grown and developed over the decades to where it is today.

Fenner Dunlop’s history can be traced back to 1890 when two British conveyor belting tradesmen, Arthur and Charles Hopkins, began to manufacture leather belting in Melbourne.

In 1891, Australian George Odlum joined them, forming Hopkins Bros & Odlum. The company went on to prosper during a boom period in Australia’s mining industry. At the time, the company made belting for Mt. Morgan in Queensland, Broken Hill in New South Wales, Mt. Lyell and Mt. Zeehan in Tasmania, and Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie in Western Australia.

As technology developed, eventually rubber and textile belts gained popularity, becoming the prototypes of the products found in today’s market. In 1940, the company started manufacturing at a site in West Footscray, only eight kilometres from Melbourne’s central business district, deliberately located with easy access to the main highways.

In 2020, Fenner Dunlop is celebrating the 80th anniversary of its Footscray plant, which the Australian Heritage Commission has recognised as a building of regional historical and architectural significance. Outside the factory stands the original Apex Belting neon sign, one of the oldest in Melbourne, which harkens back to a brand with almost 70 years of history. The Apex Belting brand was formed in 1952 and can still be found on all Fenner Dunlop belts.

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The company has made significant progress since opening its factory. Weaving capacity was established in 2003 in a strategic move that aimed to showcase the organisation’s commitment to local manufacturing. Fabric is produced in-house, helping Fenner Dunlop maintain stringent quality standards, reduce lead times and material waste. International Standards Organisation 9001:2015 informs the basis of the quality management system, which is supported by continuous improvement initiatives to increase performance.

“We’re proud to be celebrating the 80-year milestone of our plant in Footscray. Our commitment to customer service is stronger than ever, and we have a plan for growth which will see us deliver even more for our valued customers,” says Hong Koh, Fenner Dunlop Manufacturing Manager.

Growing forward

Over the years, Fenner Dunlop has evolved from being a traditional belt supplier to providing head-to-tail conveyor solutions. As part of this, the company offers a suite of services it calls ‘engineered conveyor solutions’ (ECS).

This strategy was implemented in 2012 and looks to tackle complex engineering challenges facing mining companies. One example is when a local longwall coal producer in New South Wales contacted Fenner Dunlop’s Australian Conveyor Engineering (ACE) team to develop a unique trunk cover.

A 3.2-kilometre-long trunk conveyor system was needed to improve the mine’s productivity, which currently produces 5.5 million tonnes of coal each year. The system needed to include all the terminal equipment, from the transfer and impact station to the drive head, loop take-up, belt maintenance and boot end. The challenge for the engineering team was to ensure all of the equipment was roof mounted and fitted with a power of 2250 kilowatts.

Fenner Dunlop ACE worked alongside the site installation and maintenance teams to develop a system that not only met the specifications, but increased the mine’s safety and ease of installation, operation and maintenance. Integrated belt maintenance, support frames, extra-wide access platforms and rail-mounted transfer components were also included in the conveyor, which is now hard at work.

Similarly, Fenner Dunlop ACE has redesigned a rockbox transfer system and ongoing conveyor modifications at another underground coal mine.

Water was causing ongoing effects to the mine’s conveyor systems and components but due to the low height, typical dewatering systems were not practical with the amount of coal, sandstone and mudstone being mined. The challenge was to design a dewatering system that could isolate the water with the existing rockboxes and reduce the liner wear and chute damage.

Fenner Dunlop ACE designed a low-height dewatering transfer rockbox that uses auger and cutter blade technology. It uses a dedicated dewatering vibrating screen. This has significantly increased water separation performance and increased the residence time of the product in the dewatering circuit, maximising availability.

Since its implementation, the system effectively removes the water from the coal flow, ensuring the product settles efficiently with the water directed to the sump. This new technology can extract significantly more amount of water from the burden than existing technologies while operating in heights of four metres.