Perennial Parsons

CHINA National Coal Mining Equipment has been on a mission over the past 18 months to prove itself on an international stage. The first link to Australia is its Chinese-manufactured Parsons Chain product which has already found a home at Mandalong and Moranbah North mines.

Angie Tomlinson

Published in September 2007 Australian Longwall Magazine

CME bought the Parsons Chain manufacturing plant and intellectual property rights for Parsons Mining Chain, picked up the factory and planted it in China. It had to prove to the world's longwall industry that it could make the same quality chain as the former United Kingdom owners.

With help from some former Parsons experts, rigorous quality standards and positive results from its first international buyer, the company believes it can reach its goal as number one longwall chain manufacturer in the world.

Operational since 1958 and in joint venture with Parson's UK for 10 years, CME's chain factory at Zhangjiakou (north of Beijing) was the obvious choice as a buyer when Parsons' UK parent company FKI decided to sell off its chain arm.

So in March 2006 negotiations began, and in August the factory began to be moved and installed in Zhangjiakou. The factory is now producing up to 48mm chain with Centennial Coal's Australian operation, Mandalong, the first international buyer, recently installing a 42mm Compact Xtra chain.

The Mandalong order was placed just as the transition began to China. While there was some trepidation at the beginning, Centennial agreed to proceed with distributor Ellton Longwall under conditions. An acceptance criteria spreadsheet was developed to ensure the product out of the UK was the same quality as that made in China, including chemical, dimensional and heat treatment analysis.

During the manufacture of the chain, Ellton Longwall managing director Mark Newton and Parsons Chain's Dr Jeff Price followed on site the chain through the factory and checked each item off the spreadsheet. The analysis showed the Chinese product was exactly the same as the product made in the UK.

During July Newton took the first measurements of the monitoring he will do at Mandalong for the life of chain. With an excellent benchmark to work on, from previous Parson Chain's performances at the mine, the elongation and sprocket depth and smoothness of cut on the drive link of the chain showed the same as that of the UK product. Ellton will take the measurements every six weeks with a gauge developed by Newton for accurate elongation measurement so they "can be part of the solution, we are not just a sales organisation". Ellton also supplies chain maintenance and monitoring services for top performing mines in Australia.

During monitoring of the connectors, sprocket cut and overall appearance of the chain are also checked. The monitoring gives Ellton the opportunity to recommend when to end, for ending the chain or turning through 180 degrees is required during a longwall move. This allows the whole chain to be worn more evenly, increasing its overall life.

Anglo Coal's Australian mine Moranbah North has also placed an order, with delivery in October (also under an acceptance criteria spreadsheet) and Chinese domestic sales have hit the ground running with Shenhua ordering the Parson's chain.

"For the Centennial and Anglo chains we wanted to make sure, for our own safety, that we were supplying product the company wasn't going to throw back in our face. I wouldn't sell the chain if it wasn't the best "it is my reputation on the line too," Newton said.

CME has gone to great lengths to ensure the quality of chain produced is exactly the same as that of the former UK owner. Raw material and forgings are still sourced from Corus steel UK. CME vice president and China Coal Overseas Development managing director Julian Dai is confident the product is of the same quality as the past UK chain, "if not better".

Part of that focus on quality has been inherited by hiring four ex Parson's Chain experts who have spent a great deal of time in China over the past year, passing on project management, quality control procedures and research and development expertise to the Chinese factory.

Former Parson's MD, and now MD for FKI switchgear, Brian Gardner, said he was confident CME would reach its objective to become the number one mining chain supplier.

He said his optimism was for several: the "remarkable progress" made at Zhangjiakou with the purchase of new equipment installation of Parson's process line; "the same process, same raw material, same forging and same processing all supported by UK technical experts"; and during the evolution of the project the "desire and drive" at CME he witnessed for the project to be successful on a strategic and operational level. "They will hit their ambitious path," Gardner said.

The process at Parsons China begins with steel that arrives from the UK, which is first checked for roundness before it goes through a spark spectrograph to ensure all allowed elements before cropping to length and fed into a lacing machine. Forgings sourced from Premier Stampings in the UK are also fed into the machine for lacing of the compact chains.

It is then shot blasted to remove any outer imperfections and then fed into a fusion welder. Next is calibration (pulled to length) before heat treatment. There is then the differential hardening and tempering process.

Unlike other manufacturers, the chain is tempered through a rotary hearth furnace (other manufactures use an induction coil) where the steel is heat soaked to give it a more consistent grain structure. It is then shot blasted to clean it again and laid out into matched pairs.

When Australian Longwall visited the Parsons Chain China factory it could here to read on.

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