Saturday, 11 July 2020
Industry Q&A: Optimising Coal Loading Operations

Industry Q&A: Optimising Coal Loading Operations

As we begin 2019, Australian mining companies are maintaining a strict focus on driving productivity throughout the life cycle of their operations, seeking to get more from their assets from pit to port.  This trend can be seen in the highly competitive NSW coal sector, where many mid-tier and junior coal miners are locked in a battle to improve efficiency and reduce costs in extracting and transporting coal to terminals in Newcastle and Port Kembla for export.

However, rail operations for these businesses can prove costly, with many inefficiencies arising in the process. For example, incorrect loading of wagons can add up to tonnes of lost production and lead to environmental concerns to stakeholders.

IMODAL (the product and technologies arm of Taylor Rail) have recently engineered a new solution to ensure optimised loading into coal rail wagons. Austmine recently caught up with their General Manager, Neil Balbirnie, to explore the challenge of coal loading and to discuss their solution further.  

1. Sub-optimal management of coal loading into wagons can create significant operational and environment headaches for mining companies. What are some of the major issues you encounter in this area? What Implications does this have for mining companies?

In my experience, many of the smaller mines with train load outs are missing out shipping significant amounts of extra tonnes of coal reaching port per annum due to tougher environmental and network regulations that older technology struggles to meet. They either go out under loaded, over height, over loaded, poorly distributed or with spillage onto the coal load out pad that can cause train delays.

iModal's Application in Action

iModal's Application in Action

For example, to keep the coal within regulation heights many wagons are under-filled, sometimes by as much as 3 – 6 tonnes per wagon. Even much smaller amounts when considered over a couple of million tonnes per annum add up to a lost opportunity worth looking into. Over the long-term, this translates into more significant increases in trains and loading operations required plus more track wear, all leading to a corresponding increase in a higher transport component cost for miners. You can see the solution in action here in our video.

Not only is there a production impact, sub-optimal loading of wagons can lead to environmental and stakeholder concerns. The Katestone report commissioned by the EPA in 2014 found that 80% of coal loss during rail transportation was from the surface of wagons due to poor loading and dust blow off and that improved profiling, load distribution and veneering should be the main improvement priorities. To ensure compliance with industry standards, mining companies must consider new solutions and technology to improve loading procedures. Dirty wagons present potential environmental and operator licence breaches and a poor public image for the industry, especially when travelling every day through suburban areas.

2. IMODAL have created an innovative, cost-effective solution to assist clients in this space. How does your technology work and how was the idea formulated?

IMODAL’s new solution was born out of conversations with miners about ways to clean coal spillage from the track and trying to prevent it from occurring in the first place. The aim is for it to avoid the issues I have mentioned above, providing a consistent flat top and a full coal load. The system was designed and workshopped with the mine operator and rolling stock operator to ensure safe and effective operation under all circumstances.

Essentially, when a wagon is loaded unevenly, it will pass underneath our profiler blade, which has been specifically created for this challenge. The profiler pushes the coal into voids while also brushing the gunnels and putting dust suppressant over the coal load. Dual over height and over speed sensor systems measure the difference between a wagon and the locomotive, allowing the system to profile them in auto operation with very little spillage as the train leaves site at up to 10kph. The system is certified SIL1/SIL2 with fail to safe functionality so that any failure will cause the profiler to raise. 

Whilst the first installations have been designed for front-end loader sites, the core system can be adapted to suit existing bin loader systems where incremental improvements might be smaller but still very significant and a very attractive return on capital employed realised. This is even more likely to be the case for older less sophisticated bin loading systems where it can be used as an additional measure to optimise the coal volume and distribution.

The profiler system is available with CCTV to monitor the loading process, veneering system with longer lasting bio-degradable veneer product to reduce dust lift-off on longer journeys and in track weigh systems.

3. What results have trials achieved?

All trials have proven extremely successful thus far, and we are ready to ramp up and help mining companies around the country with coal loading challenges.

The system has been tested on 3 different types of coal, at various speeds and at differentiated coal heights. It was able to restore full capacity to the wagon and allow each one to go out at regulation height and cleanliness. Average tonnage increases on some coal types were up to 7% (front end loader site).

It was tested in normal site conditions, along with extraordinary site conditions, with variations in speed, gradient, train control and loading procedures tested.

Studies to date on bin loaders suggest promising potential.

4. Is there anything else you would like to add?

IMODAL is continuing to explore extended applications for the core concept. The systems described are essentially ‘bolt on’ addition to existing train load out operations, meaning a relatively low cost turnkey installation that fits in with  normal shutdowns and which delivers significant savings from day one and hence a quick financial payback. Future designs will also be able to incorporate multiple height positions, along with compacting to get lower profiles on less dense coal types. This will allow higher tonnages with compliant load heights.

For more information contact




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