With the rush to get tonnes to port it appears many of the trains are leaving the train loadout facilities underloaded.
This seems to be deliberate because the rail operators do not want to overload the trains and risk the damage to vital track infrastructure and rolling stock that may ensue.
When a train is about 3km long and carrying about 42,000t at a time on a single rail line, breakdowns are to be avoided.
Overload a couple of wagons and a breakdown becomes a real possibility. If there is a derailment that can mean an entire line is out of action for days.
Sandpit Innovation looked at six different train load facilities in the Pilbara and found that on average each wagon was underloaded by about 4t.
That is about 800t per train.
With the iron ore price hitting $US80 per tonne yesterday that literally becomes the $64,000 question mark.
To get around the problem Sandpit developed its Payload Optimisation System.
The system uses a volumetric scanner sited at a number of waypoints to identify where the wagons have not been loaded correctly.
Matched with the scanner is a bin that can add extra material in right places in the right wagons so each wagon is loaded correctly.
The system is designed to sit after the train loadout so the mine can trim the wagons so they are properly loaded.
Sandpit Innovation principal Natalie Bussau said several miners were conducting feasibility studies on POS.
“It’s a major operating cost to not be getting the maximum tonnes into one of your most expensive pieces of infrastructure,” Bussau said.
The system is not only designed to maximise the loading of the trains, it can also be used to improve the effectiveness of the train loadout facility.
Identifying where the wagons are incorrectly loaded is a step towards identifying why they are not loaded correctly and taking steps to correct it.
The POS is one of several products Sandpit has created.
Arguably the most memorable is its Spidler idler changeout system for conveyor belts. That system travels up and down the conveyor and lifts the belt – while it is still running – using its own set of idlers while a robotic arm plucks the damaged idler out and replaces it.
However, it also has a system for pulling tramp metal from a conveyor, a stockpile measurement system it developed in conjunction with Lockheed Martin and an integrated condition assessment system.
Bussau believes the POS could be the first product that Sandpit gets developed commercially, given the interest being shown in it.
It was also one of the main points of interest on Sandpit’s stand at the recent Minexpo in Las Vegas.