Tuesday 30th Nov, 2021

Practical problems push engineering forward

Kinder Australia is harnessing the power of engineering to solve its customers problems with new inventions and devices.
Cameron Portelli

Kinder Australia is harnessing the power of engineering to solve its customers problems with new inventions and devices.

Engineers are in the business of solving problems through the building of tools and infrastructure. When a horse and cart just wouldn’t do, engineers helped develop the automobile. When a harbour or river divides a city, engineers are called on to find a way over or under it. In the early days, engineers helped solve the inefficiencies in mining with machines that could shift hundreds of tonnes of ore out of the ground.

Charles Pratt, Operations Manager at Kinder Australia, says problems are the driving force behind the company’s engineering team.

“Our engineers make sure to get out there and find the problems our customers are facing,” he says.

“These problems are what help our engineers innovate. You can’t just force innovation for its own sake, it needs to be creating a solution.

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“Some of the best engineers out there are the ones that go out and get hands-on experience, solving problems by pulling something a part and rebuilding it.”

The company’s engineering capabilities have grown significantly since it was first founded in 1985. Around 27 per cent of its staff are trained engineers, featuring a mixture of mechanical, chemical, electrical and aeronautical specialists. In addition, the company has a greater focus on developing its own custom solutions that can target specific problems more effectively.

As a family-owned company, Pratt says this focus on innovation and engineering has become more important than ever to stand out in the market.

“We’re not the biggest, but we want to be the best. To do that, we need to be constantly innovating or risk falling behind,” he says.

“While others have the benefit of scale on their side, we focus on quality and custom solutions that provide long-lasting, effective solutions.”

Cameron Portelli, Senior Mechanical Engineer and head of Kinder Australia’s engineering team, says this is why the company’s engineers attempt to get out onto its customer’s sites as much as possible.

“Our customers have direct access to our engineers and field application specialists, which helps build good relationships and collaboration,” he says.

“This enables us to develop products with a deep technical understanding of exactly what challenges are facing the industry.”

When Kinder’s engineering team isn’t liaising with clients and getting industry feedback, they’re working to develop new custom-made parts. These are made through a combination of laboratory testing and real-world data collection and trials.

By using a mixture of the theoretical science and data captured from current applications, Pratt says the overall developments create safer, efficient and more targeted outcomes.

Some of the main engineering challenges Kinder Australia is trying to solve are problems arising from transfer points. Transfer points are critical locations within a bulk handling system where material is moved from one conveyor to another. As a result, spillage, wear, dust emissions and damage to the belt or surrounding infrastructure can occur.

Pratt says that there is no silver bullet fix yet that can completely solve these problems. However, that hasn’t stopped his team from building new inventions to help. One example is the K-Dynamic Impact Idler.

A finalist for the Innovative Technology award at the 2019 Australian Bulk Handling Awards, the dynamic impact idler is suspended above anti-vibration spring element mounts to provide cushioning and absorb the impacts of conveyed materials.

This helps to reduce unplanned maintenance and extend the life of the belt, rollers and frames in heavy-duty applications such as the hard rock and iron ore industries.

“The dynamic idler was an international first,” Pratt says. “It addresses a major issue that high-speed conveyors were facing that couldn’t be fixed with standard components.”

Engineering software and equipment is also used to assist the development of new products. This includes conveyor engineering and design software Helix, SolidWorks and AutoCAD to create 2D layout drawings and 3D models, a 3D printer and a unique in-house transfer point analyser.

The latter is a new tool, currently still in development, designed to gather data about what exactly is occurring at a transfer point. It can assess the temperature, wear, and material impact.

While COVID-19 restrictions have meant the number of site visits has slowed, Kinder Australia has shifted to digital platforms to ensure it can still collaborate with its customers.

“There have been plenty of new opportunities to meet with customers virtually,” Portelli says. “People are keen to embrace new software and keep moving forward.”

“The future is bright, with our team set to grow and take on highly technical custom projects, as well as the potential to design and install complete conveyor systems for our diverse customer base.”