Seeing red: protect valuable mining assets

Paul Boughton

Wear, corrosion and abrasion resistant materials are vital to the mining industry. Rubber products are key to the protection process

Rubber products are used to protect valuable mining assets, including the lining of screen under-pans; small and large bore piping; pump sumps; chutes; cyclone clusters; flotation cells, CCD thickeners; and ball mill backing rubber, to name a few, in the gold, nickel, copper, alumina, iron ore and uranium and mineral processing industries.

The distinctive red colour of Linatex-brand rubber - from Weir Minerals Malaysia - came into existence in 1923 when Bernard Wilkinson invented a rubber (known today as Linatex Premium rubber) to support the need for improved wear resistant materials used in the bourgeoning tin mining industry of Malaya (now Malaysia)

As a British planter on a rubber estate in Malaya, Wilkinson experimented with fresh rubber latex compounds. Wilkinsons 'liquid phase' process enabled him to maximise the retention of the physical properties of natural rubber in a commercially produced sheet.

The superior wear resistant qualities led it to be used predominantly in the mining industry to rubber-line piping and machinery used in highly abrasive minerals processing applications, especially where plant down-time can cost the operator significant loss of profits.

Dr Norman Keane,  Business Development & Innovation Director for Weir Minerals Malaysia, says: "It is not uncommon for manufacturers of inferior rubber to illegitimately pass them off as Linatex Premium rubber by colouring their rubber with something approximating the trademark Linatex red colour. We are often called to a site where the customer tells us they specified Linatex Premium rubber only to find that - while it may have been a red rubber ­ it didn't perform to the same standard as Linatex Premium rubber."

Dr Keane says: "A cheap rubber can appear attractive even though the higher end product may result in three times the wear life."

In a case study at a Western Australian mine site (see diagram), by following the chain of events that led to the end user installing a pipeline on site that was lined with inferior rubber, the case study highlights the true 'cost versus performance' scenario.

Using a high end product, such as Linatex Premium rubber, to line a pipeline, one needs to take into account the costs of adhesives, labour, surface treatment, transport and the rubber material. The fabricator then adds the costs of the completed and treated steel piping.

The pipeline is then transported to site and installed; and the overall cost differential between the two options may then be as little as 7-10 per cent as shown in the case study. With the expected life of a product like Linatex Premium rubber being potentially up to three times that of a cheap imitation red rubber, some customers may be tempted to accept a product that often can provide two to three times less life for an upfront saving of only around 10 per cent as shown in the case study.

"This scenario is a fairly common occurrence, especially in the construction of new mines," says Dr Keane.

Dr Keane says mine operators today face big challenges.

"The industry is focused on future growth through expanding production and increasing yield, without losing sight of operational efficiencies and cost optimisation. It is also faced with the increased challenges of maintaining social responsibility, skills shortages, effectively executing capital projects and meeting revenue expectations. In addition, operators also face the challenge of increased capital project risk and general global uncertainty resulting in volatility of commodity prices."

The Weir Minerals Malaysia manufacturing plant is certified to ISO 9001:2008 guaranteeing that the process is operated according to certified operating standards.

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