Not all R&D projects need to be large and costly to be a major benefit to our customers. Applying the innovative process and redesigning even small components of a larger piece of equipment can add a lot of value and bring about new and exciting advantages.
Success is attained when these smaller but integral improvements add up to increasing efficiency and reducing downtime for the overall equipment.
One such recent development project was based around FLSmidth’s REFLUX™ Classifier (RC™) technology. The RC is the new leading-edge gravity separator for fine minerals and includes a number of patented components that set it well apart from other competing technologies.
At its heart, the RC is a fluidized bed separator; this fluidized bed is formed with a series of nozzles injecting fluid (generally water) at the base of the vessel. Due to the high velocities required to help ensure that the RC unit operates as required, the fluidization nozzles need to be of low-wearing ceramic construction. A typical mid-sized RC houses between 390 and 540 nozzles. To remove and install a set of ceramic nozzles generally takes two people about eight hours.
The initial nozzle was designed over 10 years ago and was made from 90% alumina. The original nozzle design had a number of limitations, including:
- Difficult to manufacture accurately, especially the thread
- Higher-than-expected wear due to the cone-top design
- Safety issues removing worn nozzles due to sharp edges (as seen in the photo on the left)
- Difficult and time consuming to install new nozzles as teflon tape was required to seal the thread
Although the RC is gaining greater acceptance and its benefits being recognized internationally, some customers were struggling with the maintenance challenges of the original nozzle design and were looking for alternative nozzle solutions. The FLSmidth R&D team had to act quickly to produce a better, more cost-effective nozzle that would overcome customers’ concerns and make the replacement procedure run more smoothly.
Nozzle improvement process
To overcome issues with the sharp edges from the worn nozzles, a flat-top nozzle was first designed with added service-life improvements; however, quality, manufacturing and installation issues persisted. A third-generation nozzle (shown as pink in the photo above) was developed to overcome the thread issues, but the cost of the nozzle increased dramatically and was still very time consuming to install.
Always learning along the way, the R&D team continued to work on an innovative nozzle design to overcome the previously mentioned challenges and to help persuade customers to use OEM parts. A composite ceramic/injection moulded nozzle was eventually designed, tested and then manufactured (the blue nozzle shown in the adjacent photos).
Major advantages are gained with the new nozzle design, including:
- Nozzles are now hammered in, requiring no thread tape, which reduces nozzle installation time by a factor of ten
- Service life is dramatically increased
- Reduced production cost, reducing the price for customers
- Different orifice-sized nozzles are injection moulded in different colors
- Reduced lead times mean customers don’t have to stock large inventories
All these benefits go to show that even small R&D projects, with incremental developments and improvements, can help customers reduce costs and improve the operation of their equipment.
One major customer commented very favorably on the new nozzle design: “The new silicon carbide nozzles installed into RX502 (their RC unit) are still in perfect condition after ten weeks of operation. This is excellent work by our maintenance teams working with OEM FLSmidth for continual improvement and optimization." They continued to say, "This has set the benchmark," as they now expect to achieve increased service life moving forward.
The new nozzles are typically less than 1% of the cost of an RC unit, yet they add a disproportionately high amount of value to the whole RC offering. This development project highlights the need to look at the small components in the larger picture and the value that they can bring to the overall equipment or system. The small, incremental development of components can lead to a major differentiation of the products offered.
Our technology specialists are constantly reviewing all components of our equipment to improve their quality and reduce the overall cost of our products, thus increasing productivity and building greater customer acceptance.
To watch an animation on the REFLUX Classifier's operation, click below
To read more about successes with REFLUX Classifer technology in a pilot program for low-grade iron ore fines, read the "Boosting future prospects in beneficiation" article.
CONTACT: Taavi Orupold