Sunday 11th Apr, 2021

The surprising versatility of mobile conveyors

Mobile conveyors can often be thought of as too niche for most bulk handling applications, but Greg Keane from Mobile Conveying Services says the machinery is more flexible than many would expect.

Fixed conveyors tend to get most of the attention in mining and shipping applications, while mobile conveyors tend to be seen as primarily something for quarry applications.

While wheel loaders, excavators and dump trucks are generally seen as the primary mobile means of moving bulk materials, Telebelts were traditionally seen as a “last resort” means of placing concrete that was difficult to pump.

However, Mobile Conveying Services (MCS) has used these machines for applications such as placing filter materials for bio basins (avoiding the compaction of conventional machine movements), placing fill materials in otherwise inaccessible areas, backfilling tailings dams and backfilling over underground fuel tanks and steel arch culverts.

MCS’s focuses primarily on non-traditional applications for mobile conveyors and has grown rapidly from its inception in 2007. The business now has a significant fleet of Putzmeister Telebelt telescopic truck-mounted conveyors.

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Concrete placement is a growing area, particularly with the mixes combining fibre reinforced concrete with a single layer of conventional mesh for high capacity hard stands and warehouse slabs. As MCS has one of only three Telebelt TB 200 machines (61 metre reach) in the world, it is ideally placed to service dam projects, should current talk about dams come to fruition. The other two machines have been used on some of the largest dam projects in the world and set a number of records for this.

Investing in reliability

MCS bought some other types of mobile conveyor early in its history but found that these were not sufficiently robust for applications such as ship loading. As a result, it searched the world for something that met its requirements, taking on the agency for a US brand that was not sold in Australia at that time.

When it found that its partial reliance on outside businesses for maintenance of its equipment did not produce consistently acceptable standards of promptness and quality, it employed additional tradespeople and brought the work in house. This allowed MCS to have key people trained in the factory or by factory people who travelled to Australia.

This started a path of self-reliance not just for reliability and improved customer service but also for having people with practical operational experience who could identify areas that could be improved, and make engineered modifications in house.

Graeme Cooney, MCS Director and Founder, says his father spent his working life as a toolmaker, which helped him develop an appreciation of what good tradespeople can bring to a business.

“Being a tightly knit business with operational and trades people working closely, with some crossover, has helped to develop a culture of ingenuity and responsiveness. We have found ways to not just respond quickly to maintenance and repair issues but also to see how equipment can be modified to operate more reliably and productively,” Cooney says.

“A great example of this is our truck unloaders, which were bought with a single bay and a need for a support machine to set up the ramps. We developed hydraulic folding ramps that were self-contained, and then developed a dual-bay truck unloader primarily for ship loading. The idea of a conveyor is that it operates continuously but, with truck unloading, there are disruptions when an empty truck moves off and a full truck sets up in its place.

“With a dual bay unloader, the trucks tip out of sequence so that there is always flow to the ship loading conveyor, shortening the ship loading time.”

A tri-bay unloader was developed as part of a package of equipment used for receiving tunnel spoil from a major infrastructure project in Sydney at a peak rate of 2500 tonnes per hour and distributing it to backfill a disused quarry, facilitating its redevelopment.

A train unloader has also been designed and built to suit an application with constraints that did not allow an off-the-shelf solution.

The next step

Recently, MCS responded to a challenge to develop an efficient solution for receiving and transferring bulk material unloaded by a ship’s grab crane. The resulting grab hopper was designed and built by MCS, is now protected by patent and is operating successfully, with further orders pending.

The hopper is trailer-mounted so that it is transportable between wharves. It has a belt weigher to ensure accurate and complete loading of trucks. Cooney says this is the start of the next era for MCS.

“In Australia, we have an advantage in being close to the end user,” he says. “As a company, we have a culture of employing and developing skilled, resourceful people who can observe machines in the field and work together to develop ideas for doing things better.

“Instead of asking ‘why?’, we ask, ‘why not?’ and then go ahead and do something. The grab hopper is the start of developing a range of MCS-designed and built equipment for identified market niches.”

MCS plans to invest in more advanced manufacturing equipment to support these market niches and Australian manufacturing in general.

“We were already on this path before COVID-19, but see opportunities for Australian manufacturing in general now that there is a greater community awareness of the benefits of local manufacture,” Cooney says.