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How We Perceive the Materials Handling Industry Shall Look Like In Five Years’ Time.

Perceived future of the materials handling systems related to the belt conveyor industry?

 With the advancement of long overland conveyor design, the possibility of belt speeds, capacities, lengths, and efficiencies increasing including the reduction in transfer points.

The future of both overland and in-plant conveyor systems shall incorporate a holistic approach to designing systems taking into account key design elements at the early stages of design concept including cognizance of life cycle costing of the operating system (discussed later).

Simple, economical design, reduced maintenance, and components that don’t spend their lives imprisoned.

The majority of conveyors are less than 200m long and these are the conveyors that need to be studied in-depth and understood. Fancy conveyor design software is meaningless without understanding the subject.

Previously IP was held in the hands of few capable material handling companies. The combination of conveyor design software packages been used by inexperienced designers indirectly poses threats to the experienced & capable material handling companies. Conveyor contracts awarded based on the lowest prices invariably have safety, reliability, quality, and maintainability issues which are the result of low-priced bids received by the buyer. The input of the experienced and knowledgeable conveyor design engineer is increasingly missing.

“Conveyors as an engineering product have become a commodity in the market.” Customers need to be educated about the remaining risks.

Environmental requirements have resulted in improved designed systems minimizing spillage at transfer points and spillage along the entire route of the conveyor systems resulting in a significant impact of capital cost.

The demand from most clients is to condense the footprint of the plant by incorporating high angle conveyors, bucket elevators, and belt-pocket type conveyor systems.

The possible introduction of high-angle conveyors for the removal of both overburden and product from open cast mining versus trucking and in some cases long shiftable conveyors.

Introduction of more environmentally friendly ropeway conveyor systems with trestles spanning up to 890-meter centers. “

Lighter materials for construction, optimized design, and innovation including automation pertaining to the manufacture of conveyor components (Reference Brelko)

Possibly see the end of typical drives consisting of motor, coupling, and gearboxes, replaced with energy-efficient gearless drives for overland conveyors and increase in the usage of energy-efficient motorized pulleys for in-plant conveyor systems.

End users prepared to try new technology i.e. Kevlar belting.

Chute design is a major problem. Chutes designed correctly are critical, which must be inclusive of allowance for effective belt cleaning.

“No issues with chute on the new systems. DEM is making a difference as regards being able to visualize what is happening in the chutes. Sasol have chute design specifications which must be adhered too.”

Materials handling will remain relevant to the industry, no longer business as usual, business is unusual, clients expecting more for less. We need to think about presenting smarter solutions and cost effective at the end of the day for clients.”

Encourage conveyor equipment suppliers to partner with lead conveyor design engineers and develop their products accordingly?”LLR Belting is a typical example of suppliers partnering with designers. “R & D in terms of conveyor mechanical components needs to progress quick enough to support the world class conveyor designers?”

“There is a requirement for more elegant, automated belt systems that trail behind the Continuous Haulage Systems operating underground.”

All design engineers associated with materials handling conveyor systems – it should be mandatory that they attend Beltcon.” (Form part of Beltcon intro).

“Channel new younger generation of enthusiastic materials handling engineers to participate in Beltcon and carry the Brand and status (form part of Beltcon intro).”


Systems Availability.

Problems related to most key design elements are likely to impact system availability.

  • There is…“lack of planned maintenance, suitably skilled and competent maintenance personnel covering all disciplines.”
  • There are …” Bottlenecks in systems identified as one of the key issues affecting availability of the systems.”
  • There is a …” Lack of understanding as regards systems availability.”
  • Designers …” Typically design for 98% but fail to get feedback, unless the system is problematic.”
  • In many instances lack of maintenance results in reduced availability.”
  • Well designed, correctly installed and maintained increases availability.”
  • Systems Availability …“To be clearly defined in SOW.”
  • “Initially new operations require personnel to go to site to overcome the client’s operational problems and thereafter the availability of the system increases.”


Safe accessibility for maintenance and removal or replacement of equipment is of paramount importance.

  • Maintenance is …” Starting to come together in the past few years, by creating awareness in engineers and designers.”
  • Stats from DMR prove that inadequate maintenance rigs result in accidents. Initial design does not take into account safety factors during Maintenance.”
  • Accessibility can be the death of maintenance.”
  • Traditionally we have not designed for easily removable equipment. The trade-off is a clear understanding of client’s requirements at the time of tendering.”
  • “Mines have skills shortages as regards doing the work effectively and efficiently pertaining to plant maintenance.”
  • Design briefs today are heading towards maintenance free equipment. More thinking is going into maintenance and safety.”
  • Simple, economical design, reduced maintenance and components that don’t spend their life imprisoned.”
  • Very conscious awareness of maintenance by both design team and clients.”
  • Clients want maintenance free equipment. Equipment that is thirty years old is still mining today with minimal maintenance – versus limited state of the art design which requires nursing and caring.”
  • “The greatest training ground for graduates is to spend time with a conveyor equipment supplier on the aftermarket side as part of their obtaining materials handling knowledge in specifically focused at maintenance and causes of conveyor system downtime for end users.”
  • A combination of factors effect plant maintenance such as: safety, accessibility, job requirements, tools, company policies.”
  • Maintenance skills development has become industry’s problems and not the end users.”
  • “Have cases where we have had to build scaffolding to access equipment for maintenance and replacement of wear parts.”
  • “Products designed today are taking into account removal and replacement during maintenance, i.e. mating flange holes; resulting in easy removability and replaceability.”
  • “Good design makes allowance for repair work and replacement maintenance.”
  • “Currently related to engineers we seem to have sufficient skills –in terms of maintenance of conveyor systems just the opposite.”

System Monitoring.

  • “A future subject at Beltcon: Monitoring systems to become more reliable.”
  • Using a 20km conveyor as an example, systems monitoring is extremely important. However system monitoring needs to catch up with technology (i.e. monitor a 20km overland conveyor.”
  • “Technology available today in the industry is a very high level.”
  • Hand in hand with automation, if you have system monitoring use them and do not remove them for production sake. Monitoring equipment requires a special discipline and mind-set and clearly defines to what point you want the monitor to make provision on the input and output cards. Bypassing monitoring systems is bad practice.”
  • System Monitoring …“Not in favor of it. Breeds complacency, brain switches off and becomes dependent upon the monitoring system. “
  • “System monitoring is good as long as the response is disciplined.”
  • “We have experienced that a decoder that we install to monitor the total Scada system ends up been disconnected.”
  • “Sufficient system monitoring to prevent catastrophic failures i.e. belt breakages or pulleys collapsing (health monitoring). “
  • “Condition monitoring conducted on line and offline – proactive approach.”
  • Benefit from condition monitoring i.e. Vibration measurements and analysis of all moving components.”
  • Oil sample analysis.”
  • Magnetic scanning and monitoring to check belt systems. Belt map detecting.”
  • Preventative maintenance.”
  • Put in place what the industry can offer to prevent failures.”
  • Forms part of the in initial design criteria.”
  • Disciplined approach to real time monitoring of belting system under strict supervision. Nuisance trips – real time monitoring with latest technology reduces the likelihood nuisance trips.”

Energy consumption

  • “Everyone is looking at reduction in energy consumption, followed by a reduction in carbon tax and electricity supply. Combined with more efficient gearboxes and electric motors. In terms of the belt conveyor it boils down to reducing friction.”
  • “We all need to be conscious of energy conservation i.e. belts running unnecessarily.”
  • In the life cycle of manufacture through to installation one can question the amount of C02 emitted.”

SHAW: (Refer to Technology benefits not realized & Different motor efficiencies)


  • All systems automated today, coupled to system monitoring.”
  • “Conveyor systems fully automated.”
  • Automation …“Beltcon brings a tremendous amount of knowledge, but it still has to be at the human scale.”
  • Automation …“It is a nice to have and should be fit for purpose; state of the art equipment when set up and working all is well, but when it goes wrong that’s another story.”
  • “VSD drives get tampered with.”
  • “Very effective – however in some instances, automation creates complacency. Part of the problem is overriding nuisance trips.”
  • Since our automation program 5 years ago we have since employed 30 additional staff. Automation in our factory resulted in a skills upgrade for many manufacturing personnel. Automation of conveyor systems today has progressed and become the heartbeat of the system.”
  • “Moved in that direction to reduce the number of operators.”
  • Automation may result in fewer skilled maintenance operators on site. With automation come risks that have to be managed.”

Legally compliant.

  • “Once built, conveyor systems meet all legal requirements.”
  • Legally compliant. The industry has to find ways to work with government i.e. Industry has to establish a forum with government and drill down as regards anomalies as to how safety legislation is applied.”
  • Legal Compliance … “Note: All Key Design Elements inclusive are interdependent and necessary for a successful materials handling system.”
  • “Not negotiable, all part of the bigger picture.ISO certified; OHS Act certified; environmentally certified.”
  • As regards belting …“SABS are dependent on suppliers measuring equipment to test and certify their own product, which leaves much to be desired.”

Field measurements compared against design

  • Absolutely essential, this is what Beltcon is about. The very understanding and design that we use today are a result of field measurements.”
  • Important aspect, especially on long overland conveyor designs – feedback from field measurements refines the design and gives the reputation of the designer credibility and client comfort.”
  • “In the old days overdesigned; today spot-on design.”
  • “Unfortunately only when problems occur, clients reluctant to give one a chance to conduct measurements. Short-sighted approach.”

 Software: 3D modeling, simulation tools.

  • When using design software …“Golden Rule: If you cannot calculate it you cannot draw it.”
  • “Using software like DEM without a clear understanding of design principles – will be dangerous – the same applies to conveyor design software. Conveyor design is not rocket science it is much harder than that. Push the boundaries but stay responsible.”
  • “DEM an excellent tool with the correct data input. Material calibration- representative samples of materials. 2D modeling plays a very important role. 3D modeling (Inventor) difficult to analyze progress and quality until the model has been completed. Complex items modeled in 3D.”
  • “Rocky advanced DEM run in parallel with a computer model developed from first principles. The output of the program requires input that is based on reliable data and an experienced user.”
  • “Order of the day, clients insist on 3D models and use them to walk through. Simulation tools also order of the day.”
  • “Understanding of basic principles of design is necessary for using software design packages. Two-D design still has an important place in the industry, the same for Three-D design. To throw a blanket across three-D design may not be cost-effective.”
  • “Simulations are not cheap and the base starting point is that the input information is validated information. “Garbage in Gospel out.” Users believe in the output.”
  • “Predominantly moving more towards a Three-D environment, which allows engineers and clients to navigate through the plant addressing accessibility and maintenance issues. In terms of disruptive technology – virtual reality software packages that allow one to walk through a plant in real-time (i.e. Bentley suite of engineering software.)”

Equipment training

  • “Requires in-depth product-specific training.”
  • “Companies also offering training at their premises on their equipment for the client’s personnel.”
  • “Artisans lacking training as regards mechanical and electrical equipment has resulted in equipment downtime and failures. All stakeholders require a training mentality, if not keep equipment simple.”
  • “Set examinations that meet the level of requirements.”
  • “The moment one leaves the site, the discipline leaves as well – we go the extra mile to ensure equipment training.”
  • “Offer training courses for our equipment across the board, from OEMs to customer’s service personal.”
  • “Huge opportunity for equipment training by suppliers for end users maintenance people.”
  • “Absolutely necessary to ensure quality as far as support and services go.”
  • “Yet to see an end-user training their staff properly. We offer free training.”

Life Cycle Costing (LCC)

  • Upfront capital cost squeezed and operational cost treated as cost of operating plant?”
  • “LCC and standardization important aspects of projects to be determined at PFS stage.”
  • “As designers and suppliers, we have limited input into LCC once the equipment has been installed.”
  • Value of LCC is subject to interpretation.”
  • LCC is defined as …“Total cost of ownership over the life of the plant.”


  • “Holistic approach to safety, top of the agenda intense training of personal, with regular refresher courses.”
  • “Safety of paramount importance. From the designers’ perspective, every aspect of the conveyor system must be maintainable and safe to work on.”
  • “Conveyors prior to 2010 have not been designed for true maintenance. i.e. A facility to remove a pulley without having to rig up a Jim pole and attached, a hoisting device, and thereafter cut the belt with no belt restraining clamps or even better not having to cut the belt.”
  • “Safety is a major driver and may have been taken to extremes. (i.e. cannot climb further than two steps without having to harness up etc.)”
  • “CMA guideline for conveyor guarding is recommended.”
  • Nip angles don’t work – a necessary evil.”
  • “Conveyors strict compliance in terms of safety versus a railway line.”
  • “Safety, as regards conveyors, is a big issue, fall of ground number one killer; conveyor related accidents number 2 killers. The majority of conveyor related accidents is as a result of stored energy.”
  • “Safety covers health and environmental associated risks – taking full responsibility for what WE DO. The safety we can never do enough. Making sure people are working in a safe environment. Changing the culture i.e. driving with cell phones, safety awareness, and safety culture is not negotiable. Tremendous efforts and cost is spent in ensuring road safety behind the scenes.”

 Environmental compliance, the effect on communities and their safety

  • “Belts getting longer and situated close to communities, require special attention in terms of noise, dust, the safety of local people and animals.”
  • “Environmental impact of a project is of paramount importance and must form part of the design requirements at the onset of a project; i.e. Desktop study phase.”
  • “Noise levels, visual effects, pollution, dust emission, and safety. Environmental issues are surmountable.”
  • “Apart from having a strict company environmental policy we work in strict accordance with client’s environmental specification and very cognisant of the associated costs.”
  • “Major focus on environmental issues in developing countries and great awareness. The very cognisant off environment throughout Africa and maybe more advanced than the Western countries. But there also has to be a balance.”
  • “From an environmental point of view conveyors are a clean effective way of moving material with minimal contamination if designed correctly. “
  • Environmental compliance possibly becoming more stringent, which will require earlier involvement by engaging with all stakeholders and earlier applications for the relevant permits and licenses. Major numbers of projects have not received the green light as a result of environmentally non-compliant.”
  • “Our understanding and compliance with Environmental are at the highest level and compliant with government legislation.”What is a good thing is Environmental governance and compliance by industry is at a high level. Most companies have good environmental policies in place including upliftment of the local community. Communities benefit during the project execution and the challenge that the industry faces is to help the communities ensure sustainability.
  • No major concerns stockpiles properly drained and sealed.”

Skills shortage

  • Skills shortage …“Major problem – need to encourage more newcomers to start careers in the materials handling industries. Secondly, we need to retain our knowledge base and skills.”
  • Skills shortage/advanced technology training is required to meet the technological advancement in terms of system designs incorporating new technology pertaining to equipment, related software, etc. Training of personally responsible for looking after plant equipment is seriously lagging behind the equipment installed.”
  • “Huge skills shortage from professional engineers down to maintenance personal and plant operators. Currently, OEM’s are opening training venters to cope with the shortfall.”
  • Training, training, training, impart knowledge to the next generation.”
  • “Shortage of experienced conveyor design engineers. Shortage of experienced conveyor design draughtsman. As regards fabrication you can see the lack of skilled labor, resulting in quality issues.
  • Massive gap between the retirees in the field of engineering i.e. I am 35 years old and hold the responsible position of Lead Engineer.”
  • “Skills can be created given the opportunity.”
  • “Currently related to engineers we seem to have sufficient skills –in terms of maintenance of conveyor systems just the opposite.”
  • Young Engineers …“Brilliant theoretical skills with minimal background experience in the practical application.”
  • “The level of skills – Quality of skills have declined in terms of training personal in the market ranging from engineers through to construction workers and artisans. Very little planning for skills transfer – more important is to have a senior knowledgeable engineer billable versus spending time transferring skills to the younger engineers. The old school of competent engineers and draftsman is reducing in numbers. There is a massive gap between the competent old school and the upcoming new school.”
  • “As regards, complex technology is very minimal. Control and Instrumentation on the latest technology could cause production downtime.”
  • “Training of key personnel to be competent at fault finding, replacement, and maintenance of equipment based on the latest technology.“
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