Featured in Australia’s Mining Monthly - Conveyor Maintenance Feature - September 2017.
Will the recent divestments and purchases of conveyor technology and infrastructure change the landscape of the local conveyor sector? If they won’t, what will? Fenner Dunlop Australia managing director Graham Lenz discusses what could be the future for the Australian bulk material industry.
A thirty-five year veteran of the industry including 20 years with Fenner Dunlop – the last four as managing-director – Graham Lenz experienced his share of changes in the industry. What about this latest change?
“The businesses involved made their decisions based on their reading of the national and international bulk materials handling industry,” he said. “Time will tell if those decisions were correct however whatever the outcome the dynamics of the industry will remain a constant.”
The dynamics of the industry is a regular theme with Graham Lenz. He argues that, essentially, the bulk materials handling industry in Australia is stable but like most industry sectors is cyclical. Fenner Dunlop has a trading record in this country stretching back more than 120 years, giving the benefit of exceptionally long hindsight but he prefers to cite a more recent example.
“In the years leading up to 2012 the sector enjoyed the fruits of the longest, sustained mining boom the country has ever experienced,” he said. “By 2016 any company involved in the mining industry was forced to adapt or shut up shop. Today we are seeing early signs of a recovery. This ten-year period has focused the sector’s mind on the impact of dynamics.”
Another theme is disruption.
Lenz says the traditional ways of business are being challenged. They are being disrupted by new business models. Ride sharing services are now commonplace. Online shopping is making any product, anywhere in the world, accessible. These disrupters provide better, quicker or more economic options.
“As an industry we need to learn from these new ways,” he says. “To rethink and re-assess how we get things done.”
He argues the industry is in the assisted logistics business, helping customers move their unique products – be that a lump of coal on a minesite or a parcel at the local mail sorting facility – as quickly and reliably as possible. He says customers are now expecting more and as far as he is concerned the challenge is to effectively combine all the factors of production – engineering, product development, product support and service – to help customers move their products faster, more efficiently, more economically and more reliably.
It’s a challenge Fenner Dunlop has embraced and moved forward with.
“Location and access are vital,” he says. “Not merely access to customers but equally customers’ access to the company’s products and services. To that end we built the biggest steel core belt manufacturing facility in the world at Kwinana, close to the iron ore miners who are the largest consumers of steel core belt.”
The Kwinana facility is part of a carefully planned national manufacturing and product support service network that puts all customers in this country within a day’s drive of a Fenner Dunlop branch office.
According to Graham Lenz, with customers expecting benefits such as longer belt life, innovation and technology continue to play and increasingly critical role.
“The fastest wearing belts need changing-out more often and it’s this operational life cycle that determines a maintenance cycle,” he says. “With active input from clients we have developed and built a totally new conveyor belt that has doubled the change-out window and improved output and reduced maintenance costs.”
Additionally, Fenner Dunlop’s long-centered belts are now constructed to use less energy. The rubber compound on the underside of the belt is formulated to reduce drag, increase efficiency and deliver the expected life cycle. As Graham Lenz says it’s relatively easy to make a belt slippery; the innovation comes in making it last.
Customers need innovations such as these to help manage production costs.
Lenz believes ultimately people are the key to the future of the industry.
"Find the right people, train them well, set guidelines and encourage them to explore their potential,” he says.
Some fifteen years ago Fenner Dunlop established a self-funded training program for the conveyor industry. That program, now nationally accredited, has trained more than 1000 people as industry specialists and become an acknowledged employment standard.
“From a design engineer to site technicians we want our people to be involved,” he says. "To work within the disruptive business model to deliver faster, better, safer solutions for our customers.”