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Keeping coal running

SEW-EURO­DRIVE’s ability to produce two 500 kW gearboxes in under a week meant a ­major coal handling and preparation plant (CHPP) in Queensland could continue to operate without any downtime, after experiencing a catastrophic failure with one of the gearboxes operating the train loading conveyor belt.

And to make matters worse, the failure happened at one of the worst times of the year, at the lead up to Easter 2014.

The gearbox failure meant that no coal could be loaded for rail transport to the waiting ships offshore. 

­However, with the vital assistance of SEW-EURODRIVE the mines were able to avoid any downtime and continue production.

With limited storage space for the coal, it was vital the train loading conveyor belt was operational as soon as possible to avoid shutting down production at the mine; a very costly proposition.

Ben Vandenberg, Sedgman’s CHPP Superintendent, explained that when the gearbox eventually failed completely, he had exhausted all the spares he could get from anywhere in the world.

“In the end it came down to finding a company who could supply replacement gearboxes as quickly as possible.”

With SEW-EURODRIVE ­holding one of the largest range of spare parts in Australia, valued at over $25m, Vandenberg knew that the leading power transmission company would be able to supply replacement gearboxes quicker than any other power transmission company.

“It was vital a replacement was found, we had no way of getting coal off the site, and the costs were adding up very quickly with demurrage and other penalties involved with the rail and shipping contracts,” he said.

“In the end we had the conveyor up and running a day ahead of schedule, and actually commissioned it with a train load of coal.

“We didn’t even get a chance to run the conveyor without coal on it, but it operated very well first up, and still is.”

Vandenberg said the whole project was like a military operation with so many different people involved.

“As well as SEW-EURO­DRIVE, our engineering team in Brisbane was heavily involved.”

He said he was very impressed with how SEW-EURODRIVE was able to assemble the two gearboxes in such a short time, especially considering the circumstances and with it being Easter. “And from a company they hadn’t dealt with before.”

“In fact I have been very impressed with the whole SEW-EURODRIVE operation, with both gearboxes performing very well. This time SEW has put temperature sensors on them to monitor their operation,” Vandenberg explained.

Military precision

Chris Smith, SEW-EURO­DRIVE’s Industrial Gear Product Manager for Queensland, said the project didn’t really get underway until mid-morning on the Wednesday before Easter, April 16, when he received an urgent call from the company saying they needed the conveyor up and running in just 10 days.

“We knew there were problems with the gearbox, but at the time we were advised that short-term repairs were able to be made. However, that soon changed when the major shaft inside one of the gearboxes failed.”

Smith explained that there are two 500 kW gearboxes on the one conveyor, and while only one had failed, that effectively meant two were needed, because it’s not possible to just replace one.

Apart from being such a very tight deadline, the other problem was the four-day Easter break plus Anzac Day was within those 10 days and Smith knew SEW’s production people in Tullamarine were planning to close for that period.

“We had no plans to build any gearboxes in that 10-day period, let alone two 500 kW conveyor drives.”

He said it was not just the two Mining Drive X3KR220HT gearboxes they had to build but had to get drive base plates fabricated from scratch, high and low speed couplings, coupling guards, torque arms, and all mounted and aligned with the clients free issue motors.

“When we looked at what was needed to be done to meet that deadline, it was incredible. All in a week, effectively.”

Smith said a project like this would normally take four to five months to put together.

“However we recognised the importance of getting this conveyor operating again and were able to meet this incredibly tight deadline.”

To start, Smith needed to see how they could build the gearboxes, and to make sure they had the parts.

Secondly he had to have the workshop staff come in over that Easter break, “which thankfully they did, both here in Brisbane, where we co-ordinated the project from, and in our Tullamarine Head Office where the gearboxes would be built”.

Smith explained that each conveyor drive assembly includes a motor, a high speed coupling, a gearbox, a low speed coupling, and guards, all mounted on a steel base plate, with a torque arm underneath it.

“Once we knew we had all the parts, we had to find a drawing to manufacture the base from. Luckily we had produced a similar sized base previously so we were able to modify the drawings from the previous job.

“If we had needed to go through the whole design drawing process, it would have taken at least a week or two to get the drawings to fabricate the bases, but we were able to modify the drawings we had in six hours or so.”

Once Smith had the drawings it was a matter of finding a fabricator prepared to work over Easter.

“Luckily we have a good sub-supplier we use regularly and they came to the party and did a fantastic job to make it over that Easter break.”

Smith admits there were a lot of things that could have gone wrong, but said he was thankful they didn’t.

“We had to pull a lot of things together to coordinate the project to make it happen.”

Another problem the SEW-EURODRIVE team faced was they didn’t have enough of the special steel needed for the base plates.

“Again luck was with us, and we were able to source some in Newcastle, NSW, and get it up overnight to the fabricator here in Brisbane.”

Smith explained that the pro­duction team in Tullamarine ­started building the drives straight away after they had received the order at 1pm on Wednesday, April 16.

At lunchtime the next day, April 17, assembly of the first unit was well advanced, and by mid-afternoon, the first unit was in final assembly.

Incredibly that evening, the first unit was being tested and by the close of April 18 (Good Friday) the team had one of the units fully completed, and the second unit test running.

Next morning (Easter Saturday) at 10am the team had both gear units on a truck ready for freight to SEW-EURODRIVE’s facility in Brisbane.

Meanwhile the Brisbane facility had been manufacturing the drive bases and low speed coupling guards.

By April 21 (Easter Monday) the gear units and drive bases arrived in Brisbane, along with the free issue motors, so assembly and alignment to bases could commence.

By 6pm the next day the drive assemblies were completed and on a truck to the CHPP facility.

“Incredibly the drives were completed in just six and a half days, and that included Easter,” Smith said.

“No one could have done that; build two 500 kW gearboxes in such a short time frame. I don’t even know how we did it. But it all came together perfectly.

“Actually, we managed to do it because we have a fantastic stock holding here in Australia; over $25m worth of spare parts.”

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