ABHR editor Charles Macdonald spoke to Schenck Process Australia’s general manager minerals and metals, Raja Ratnam, about the company’s strategy and its embrace of closer customer and industry collaborations.
While Schenck Process is still securing marquee new projects — like Caval Ridge’s train load-out system, which was highly commended at the 2015 Australian Bulk Handling Awards — the company has not been immune from the slowdown in greenfield projects.
In response, Schenck Process is working closely with its customers who are intent on squeezing more out of existing assets, while continually trimming costs.
“Our customers want to squeeze more out of their assets, get more performance out of them and reduce the cost of maintenance,” explained Raja.
“As an equipment supplier, we have been looking at ways to help them run their equipment for longer durations between planned shutdowns and also looking at ways to reduce their shutdown times.”
With the recent uptick in coal and gold prices, Raja has seen a few green shoots in terms of new business.
“Of course we realise that the market has a cycle,” he said. “Looking at the signs now, there is a resurgence of enquiries and feasibility studies being done.”
At the same time, with new projects harder than ever to get off the ground, it makes sense for Schenck Process’ customers to make the most of existing plants.
“It’s very hard to establish a new operation because of all the hurdles over approvals and licences, so customers will hang on and improve their existing footprint,” Raja explained. “What they are looking at is how they can improve the productivity and performance from that same site. We help them, for example, with the uprating of machines which can do more from the same footprint.
“We talk about ‘whole-of-life’ support from cradle to grave. That means working very closely with our customers, with their asset management and reliability teams, so we know the challenges that they have.”
An example of Schenck Process’ focus on reducing its customers’ downtime is its recent work around train loading chute change-outs.
Traditionally this is an onerous task, involving lots of manual handling and change-out times of over 72 hours. Schenck Process worked with its customers and external specialists on a mechanised solution involving a hydraulically operated dolly and frame system. This solution, dubbed ProLift, has eliminated manual handling and, in one application, reduced the cost of a chute change-out by over 30% and down-time by at least 50%.
Elsewhere, Schenck Process has launched its own condition monitoring product. This is still undergoing further development to capitalise on the company’s fleet knowledge from the data and field experiences it has collected across several customer sites. The intent is to establish a central condition monitoring centre to support its customers.
“Many people offer condition monitoring equipment but what they don’t have is the knowledge base of the range of the equipment to be monitored,” said Raja.
Globally, Schenck Process invests heavily in research and development.
“We talk to our customers and ask – what sort of things would help you? Also, we ask ourselves, what else can we do to bring products and services to our customers that they haven’t even thought of, whether it’s for safety, performance improvement or longevity of the equipment?”
Schenck Process has numerous centres of excellence globally for its plethora of technologies and products. Australia is its centre of competence for vibrating equipment and train load-out products, supporting other global locations.
Besides its ever closer involvement with its customers, Raja says that Schenck Process is happy to embrace collaboration with other suppliers, where they can bring location or technology-specific value to the table.
“To be a good partner to a customer, like a big miner, you can’t do it alone. It’s quite okay to engage with other suppliers and vendors in a partnership,” Raja explained.
“We can provide a customer an integrated solution. They don’t want to have to go to four or five different people to sort something out. They would rather go to one player that pulls it all together and helps them. So Schenck Process will work with suitable partners and, to date, we have developed partnerships with various manufacturers and vendors.”
A big footprint
Locally, Schenck Process has an extensive footprint in Australia, with offices, engineering, assembly and field services centres in Sydney, Melbourne, Henderson near Perth, Rockhampton, Mackay and Newcastle.
“Our philosophy is to have design centres and then after-market service support in various strategic locations, close to what we think of as the hubs of mining operations,” said Raja.
Importantly, the company also has “high value low cost” manufacturing bases in China and India, that can meet demanding Australian quality standards.
“Where it suits, to help a customer with cost pressures, we will bring equipment from overseas,” surmised Raja.
A strong Awards supporter
Schenck Process Australia has been a stalwart supporter of the Australian Bulk Handling Awards.
“It’s an important event to showcase the innovations local Australian companies and their talented people have rolled-out,” said Raja. “This promotes the importance of innovation and develops talent.”
Schenck has been recognised at the Awards by industry judges for its technologies around train load-outs. Besides its highly commended certificate in 2015 for the Caval Ridge TLO system, Schenck Process was also a winner in 2010 with Rio Tinto for a system supplied to the Yandicoogina mine in the Pilbara.
Schenck Process sponsored the Awards in 2012, 2013, 2015 and is doing so again this year.