Thursday 9th Apr, 2020

Grow with the flow

After being acquired by South Australian engineering consultancy GJC Engineers in 2013, Flow Force Technologies began researching new ways to improve the performance accuracy of its impact weighers.

After being acquired by South Australian engineering consultancy GJC Engineers in 2013, Flow Force Technologies began researching new ways to improve the performance accuracy of its impact weighers.

Flow Force Technologies (FFT) is a South Australian designer and manufacturer of industrial weighing equipment, such as impact weighers. These devices provide a reliable, dust-tight, low-maintenance weighing solution for free-flowing dry powders in applications where there is a continuous flow of particulate materials. Following an acquisition in 2016, the new owners recognised that continued success would require constant product development, which has driven the company’s approach since.

Glenn Jobling, Managing Director at Flow Force Technologies, says the company started development with the electronic components, looking to improve the accuracy of FFT’s impact weighers. Impact weighers measure the flow rates of free-flowing bulk materials by measuring the horizontal force produced by impact on a plate inserted in the product flow. Because only the horizontal force is measured, the accuracy of the measurement isn’t compromised by erosion or build-up of product on the plate. FFT partnered with electronics company Rinstrum to upgrade its software algorithms resulting in a new controller, based on FFT software, with higher accuracy and better reliability that is now being used to develop a new line of impact weighers.

Mr Jobling said the improved controller was especially important for the transport industry where changes to legislation, specifically when it comes to overloading, meant that accurate load measurement had become a key for customers.

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“In the past, operators may have loaded straight from the silo into the truck and had no issues. Now, if a truck arrives over the weight limit, or is involved in any incidents, there can be serious consequences,” he said.

Prior to the acquisition FFT had many different impact weigher designs, depending on the application. To reduce manufacturing costs and for ease of installation, FFT redesigned the mechanical arrangement of its weighers. There are now two basic configurations, the first an inline weigher for insertion in a vertical pipe or chute with no horizontal offset between the inlet and outlet and the second, the MAGNE//FLO unit. This system has been designed to handle hazardous or food grade materials and protects the electronics from the product being measured and cleaning solutions used for clean-in-place procedures.

In the first configuration the impact plates can be attached directly to the load cell or mounted on a trapeze arrangement with the load cell and its electrical connections located outside the measurement chamber. The trapeze mounting provides an almost linear response between the horizontal force on the impact plate and the flow rate leading to higher accuracy and better measurement repeatability.

The MAGNE//FLO unit uses magnetic force to provide the coupling between the impact plate and load cell, allowing the load cell to be located outside of the product flow. Some of the benefits to this are:

• Improved accuracy

• The load cell is protected from the product by being outside of the flow path

• The weigher internals can be washed/chemically cleaned

• Suitable for explosive products

• Suitable for products high in dust

• Easy to perform calibration checks using a built-in check calibration weight.

However, one drawback to this system is that process minerals can’t be magnetic. It is also unable to handle some applications which involve roasting the product to temperatures beyond the 80°C limit of the existing technology.

“We then went back to basics and set about redesigning the impact weigher to make it suitable for high-temperature magnetic materials,” Mr Jobling says. “We needed to be able to retrofit the modifications as well, as we had customers
who could take advantage of a higher process temperature tolerance.”

The answer was to use the trapeze-mounted impact plate with the external load cell in applications involving high temperature and/or magnetic materials from the in-line weigher.

Mr Jobling says FFT’s impact weighers have been used to great success within the cement industry, allowing manufacturers to reduce waste and better control the quality of the product.

“Because cement is made to a particular quality specification, producers predominantly use impact weighers to measure product as it moves through the production process,” he says. “By using our impact weighers, manufacturers can measure the additives as they are being introduced, to keep the product as close to the specification as possible.”

Processes in the rare earth mineral sector have also influenced FFT’s technology development. Rare earth mineral production often requires producing different grades of product and companies use samplers to measure the grade and impact weighers to control the quality of each grade.

As a consequence, FFT has developed an integral sampler for the impact weigher which enables the collection of samples for lab testing to be done without interrupting production. This allows miners to monitor the quality, allowing them to make changes to production quickly if required.

Ruggedness and maintainability were two key qualities that FFT strives to include in its new impact weighers. Stainless steel is used instead of painted steel to remove issues with corrosion, rust or scratching and parts have been standardised, making units easier to repair.

This helps to reduce customer spare part storage requirements and makes manufacturing easier, as components are interchangeable across a number of sizes and designs.

“This is important for most of our customers that are situated in remote locations,” Mr Jobling says. “The cost of spares is expensive, and holding spare parts in storage can be a financial burden. By making spares common to a number of units, people can buy a spare and use it across a number of installations.”

FFT is now looking to grow internationally,
with plans in place to appoint distributors and
begin manufacturing in the USA and South Africa.

Locally, the company aims to have its inline Flowforce truckfilling facilities trade-certified in 2020 and continue to provide more accurate and reliable units to future and existing customers.