Pumpable Emulsion System Launch Imminent
Explosives manufacturer BME is in the process of commercially launching its closed pumpable emulsion system. This is set to revolutionise narrow reef underground explosives methodology, says BME manager research and development Selwyn Pearton.
Delivering cutting-edge solutions in response to the mining industry’s explosives challenges remains BME’s strategy.
Having successfully trialled its portable emulsion pump system over the last few years on a number of industry heavyweight operations, in commodities such as gold, chrome and platinum, BME is eager to roll out its technology.
Last year, BME trialled the technology on both gold and platinum operations, where the results surpassed those of competitor products, notes Pearton.
Subsequently, large players within the narrow reef industry have been extremely eager to implement the emulsion system across their operations.
While large-scale surface and mechanised operations have used pumpable emulsions technology for decades, narrow reef operations have been limited to the use of Class 1 explosives, due to the constraints on equipment necessary for the implementation of pumpable emulsions in confined environments. This has prevented the advantages possible through the use of Class 5.1 blasting agents.
“Over the past few decades industry has relied on large mechanised equipment to transport emulsion throughout underground operations ahead of blasting. The associated challenges, including safety and bulky equipment that could not access the narrow reef environment, saw BME evaluating the possibility of developing technology suitable for narrow reef-blasting, which subsequently led to the development of the portable charging unit,” explains Pearton.
The new technology – a compact, lightweight, easy-to handle pump, with a closed emulsion system for the supply of pumpable emulsions to the workings – is ‘ideal’ for the confined narrow reef environment, and brings with it a number of benefits, key among them being increased safety, cost-effectiveness and ease of use, says Pearton.
Safety remains a key priority for the mining industry, with the Department of Mineral Resources clamping down on high-risk activities on mining operations such as the handling and control of explosives.
Failure to comply with the storage and handling of explosives can result in a Section 54 stoppage – impacting on time, productivity and finances of a mining operation. As pumpable emulsions are classified as a UN Classification 5.1 oxidiser and not a Classification 1 explosive, the legislation applicable to their storage and transportation is significantly lowered, easing the burden of explosive control on the underground operation.
“The pumpable emulsion system is a Classification 5.1 oxidiser until it is sensitised during the charging process at the face, and therefore only becomes an explosive within the blast hole,” he explains.
A further benefit of the 13kg portable charging unit is the associated cost-effectiveness. Besides the reduction in costs associated with transporting, packing and storing bulk blasting agents, reduced labour costs are an attractive benefit. Unlike traditional cartridge explosives, which require a team of personnel throughout the logistics system to offload and pack Class 1 explosives for distribution to the necessary areas with the operation, pumpable emulsions can be pumped into the necessary vessels faster by a single operator.,
In addition, as the portable charging unit requires only one employee to activate the pump and charge the blast face, states Pearton, “the product is faster to load and there presents the opportunity for a further reduction in labour.”
As a result of violent wildcat labour strikes in the mining industry particularly in the gold and platinum sectors, which has led to the loss of productivity and of billions of rands, industry is looking at opportunities to reduce its labour force and mining giants are increasing looking to technology to increase productivity.
“Mechanisation is being considered as the way forward in order to increase productivity and mine safely, and underground equipment manufacturers are investigating opportunities to produce ultra-low-profile mechanised equipment in order to allow for a reduction in stoping width to below a metre in height. As this is essential in order to maintain the competitiveness of South African narrow reef operations, BME’s suite of emulsion technology has been specifically designed for operation in these demanding conditions,” he notes.
Meanwhile, the company believes that the new system will give it a strong foothold into the underground narrow reef market, significantly increasing its market share.
Piggy-backing on the latest technology is the development of a cruiser charging unit (CCU), a low-energy pumping unit that delivers the same performance as the traditional bulky equipment, while allowing for a dramatic increase in pumping efficiency
“The highly efficient CCU reduces the hydraulic operating pressure from 160 bars to 80 bars and the flow from in excess of 40 litres per minute to only six litres per minute. As this technology can now be installed on a Land Cruiser, the capital equipment cost when compared to large traditional equipment is radically reduced,” Pearton explains.
In addition to the CCU, BME has also released a development charging unit capable of delivering pumpable emulsion and optimal charging rates which can be powered by a number of energy sources, including air, hydropower or electricity. These systems have become possible as a result of the significant increase in the pumping efficiency of BME’s pump technology when compared to traditional charging equipment, using less than 20% of the energy required compared to the traditional bulk pumping equipment.
The product is scheduled for commercial launch in the next few months, Pearton notes. Hand in hand with the latest product developments has been the investigation of a highly efficient and advanced control system.
“Programmable Logic Controller systems are custom-built and pre-programmed to deliver specific functionality. This makes it difficult to achieve all the controls and functionality necessary without making each unit very expensive and complicated to manufacture and maintain.
“BME, however, is in the process of developing a PC-based system, with the ability to allow for optimal loading functionality while monitoring and recording variables such as flow-rate, pump pressure, operating temperature, mass per hole and the total mass charged per face. Automatic blast reports are generated and passed to management to allow for maximum operational control and on-going blast optimisation. Due to the in-house development of the controller this functionality can be offered for a faction of the price of current systems, with increased reliability and reduced maintenance requirements.
“The product will be available to the market within the coming months,” concludes Pearton.