Monday 13th Jul, 2020

Building the backbone of bulk handling

Doug Hawkes, Managing Director of Structural Integrity Engineering, speaks to ABHR about the value of specialised, independent structural review and advice.

Doug Hawkes, Managing Director of Structural Integrity Engineering, speaks to ABHR about the value of specialised, independent structural review and advice.

Engineering is a multi-faceted discipline, with dozens of streams for different applications.

For example, while engineers are needed in order to build both a high-rise building and an overland conveyor, each has different design considerations that can be the difference between success and calamity.

Bulk handling projects often differ significantly from other types of construction when it comes to structural engineering. Because of this, Doug Hawkes, Managing Director of Structural Integrity Engineering (SIE), says specialisation is vital.

Using the example of a high-rise building, Mr Hawkes says while a skyscraper can handle a heavy maximum load, it will rarely ever reach it. Comparatively, something like a conveyor or surge bin is frequently expected to handle weights much closer to its maximum design load.

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“If engineers without the right expertise are chosen to design bulk handling systems, it is likely that a worse design with far less margin for error will emerge.”

SIE is a specialist engineering consultant that has been operating for almost 20 years. It provides structural engineering services to mining, ports, heavy industrial companies and large infrastructure asset owners.

Its key distinction is its workforce, which is entirely made up of experienced structural engineers who are familiar with critical bulk materials handling infrastructure.

Mr Hawkes says getting the structural engineering correct is vital because, without it, the consequences can be dire.

“Poor mechanical engineering might just mean a machine stops working. Faulty process engineering could potentially lead to an explosion, but most often means a plant will run suboptimally,” Mr Hawkes says.

“With structural engineering, if something goes wrong, the entire structure can collapse.

“Bulk handling systems are usually the arteries of an operation. Not many have redundant structures. If something happens, the consequences can cost millions.”

Poor structural performance can also have flow-on effects with other sections of a system. Symptoms could include excessive vibration and deflection, which can affect drives, couplings, pulleys, bearings and belt alignment.

SIE helps companies avoid the costs of these knock-on effects by providing structural analysis for infrastructure, plant modifications, additions, and upgrades. It can also investigate structural condition status, assess risks, and verify designs.

Mr Hawkes says SIE’s engineers have an in-depth understanding about the requirements for the Australian environment.

“As an Australian company, we understand the local market – including the legislative and environmental conditions that our customers face,” he says.

“It is not uncommon for businesses to procure products from Europe, which may have been designed to withstand wind forces of up to 140 kilometres per hour. However, in the north-west of Western Australia, design wind conditions can reach up to 300 kilometres per hour.

“We also understand the remoteness of our regions. Time and the associated costs of transport are important to keep in mind for many of these remote facilities.”

In addition, SIE has developed training modules for site personnel, particularly for non-structural engineers, to reduce risks building, operating and maintaining mining infrastructure. The course teaches the requirements for materials, load and resistance relationships, bolting and welding, and the standards and legislation in place.

As part of the course, participants are also taught how to detect, manage and mitigate structural risks and how to communicate this potentially critical information to engineers and contractors.

Frank and honest communication is foundational to SIE’s reporting. As an independent reviewer or design auditor, the company can inform plant owners about the risks they face without bias.

Mr Hawkes says there is no place for wordsmithing major issues associated with structural integrity.

“To give an example, if we identify a structure is at risk of collapse, we will say to the executive level management that ‘I have no fear of walking into this room and telling you to shut this thing down’,” he says.

“We will have solid justifications to support this, provide evidence and identify any unknowns. At the senior management level, they expect and appreciate direct language.”

Structural design is SIE’s most cost-effective way of ensuring infrastructure is performing as it should be. The company uses tools such as advanced finite analysis software, electronic calculation, computer-aided drafting and modelling to develop detailed designs for complex infrastructure.

Mr Hawkes says good designs require less attention, inspection, maintenance, repairs and downtime.

“These days, infrastructure needs to run longer and harder, and downtime costs are extraordinary,” he says.

“The cheapest time to address an issue is when it’s a drawing on a piece of paper (or a 3D computer model).

“Getting it correctly designed, fabricated and maintained will have a long-lasting direct effect on the economics of an operation.”