Chute Technology has developed a multidirectional rotating underground coal chute system that can be installed in less than a single shift at a typical mine in what the Australian technology and manufacturing partnership believes is a world-first.

The cost-saving universal chute – which can rotate output through 160 degrees left or right – can remove completely the need to custom-manufacture individual chute types to fit the confined spaces and particular angles of individual mines. The versatile bolt-in system – comprising a complete integrated structure from head end to conveyor outlet – features a rotating outlet beneath the head that can be angled to any position required to facilitate product flow.

In addition to radically reducing the labour required for manufacture and installation, the chute’s ability to be installed in a fraction of the time of custom chutes minimises downtime by keeping production moving when chutes wear out.

“This is a brilliantly simple breakthrough in cost and time saving at a time when the mining industry needs it most to maintain production,” says Chute Technology partner Tom Woods, whose experience of coal chute manufacture through family company TW Woods Construction extends back more than 40 years. “The benefits are obvious when you look at the basic concept, but we don’t know of anywhere else in the world where it has been done.”

Chute Technology combines the local and international manufacturing experience of TW Woods, with the similarly broad engineering and technology experience of Engineering Consultant Dennis Pomfret of Dennis Pomfret Engineering, and Design Engineer Gary Telford of McKajj Services, which contributes extensive design engineering, detail drafting and project management experience. Between them the three partners have a combined experience of more than 80 years in a wide variety of resource industries including coal, iron ore, alumina and limestone across Australia, the USA, South America and South Africa. The company’s technologies are also applicable to gold, nickel and other bulk minerals and ores.

“A great thing about the new system is that it is easily configured to flow with the hugely diverse geology of mines throughout the world, which have shafts joining other shafts at whatever angles the geology and conditions underground dictate,” says Woods. “Instead of having to engineer custom-fabricated chute systems to suit unusual angles, this system just bolts into place in a fraction of the time and at a fraction of the cost in time and money.

“In addition to savings in extending mines and adding new production, the chute system is far more time and labour-efficient in replacement of worn-out chutes, when you usually have to dismantle the old and install the new piece by piece. This one just slots into production virtually overnight.

“It’s like comparing keyhole surgery with old-fashioned surgery – there’s far less disruption, is quicker and it’s neater. The system is a unique synthesis of the skills at Chute Technology, which is involved in materials handling projects ranging from individual mines to entire port facilities.”

A bonus of the system they have produced is that it is designed from the outset to solve spillage and conveyor bulking problems common in coal mining and coal handling facilities. The tough hardened steel design – built to easily outlast conventional types –features a conical head developed by mining specialist designers to maintain high-volume flow rates when conveyors change direction, either underground or on the surface.

“Frequently in underground mines you get 90-degree turns as coal conveyors emerge from one shaft and have to transfer into another within very tight spaces,” says Woods. “It is usually very difficult to get coal to turn that quickly without spillage and bulking up on the conveyor belts as coal is dropped from the belt above onto the one below while changing direction.”

The chute’s conical head is configured to provide a smooth transition through the turn for coal moving at typically three metres a second and dropping up to 1,500mm onto a belt below.

“Drawing on our designer’s highly respected problem-solving expertise and our own hands-on experience over scores of mines, we set out to eliminate the spills, splatters and bulking that can disrupt production in mines where time truly is money,” says Woods. “Eliminating frustration, delay and cost is vital in today’s economic climate.”