May 2010

An eye for detail

Fine-grained concerns drive the market for new equipment in Canada’s aggregates industry

By Eavan Moore

Like the highways and houses their products build, Canada’s aggregate producers are still standing despite the recent recession. Federal stimulus spending on infrastructure helped rescue this past year’s market for construction aggregates. Recovering house prices in most provinces are a good sign of potential housing starts. More help is forthcoming. In British Columbia, for example, a second series of stimulus projects is just coming to the tendering stage. “So it bodes well for B.C. aggregate producers for 2010-11,” says Paul Allard, executive director of the Aggregate Producers Association of B.C.

But in a subdued general economic mood, ambitious predictions are rare. “We are looking positively to the spring for the start of a busy construction season, but remain cautious because the recovery is dependent on both public and private sector spending to demonstrate solid long-term growth,” says Moreen Miller, head of the Ontario Stone, Sand & Gravel Association. Meanwhile, there is an industry-wide trend of increasing regulation, which tends to push up producers’ operating costs, whether it is the pending water-use legislation in Ontario or land-use laws in Alberta.

So it is no surprise if aggregate producers take caution as their watchword in new equipment outlays. Advanced designs will sell only if they address an operation’s critical concerns. While regulations and specifications may change, the prominent issues of the aggregates industry include the ever-present problems of controlling dust emissions, maximizing efficiency and ensuring the longevity of machinery. The novelty is in the nitty-gritty details.

Fighting dust

Useful as crushed rock and sand, stone turns dangerous in its finer forms. Among other things, it causes respiratory problems and lodges itself in delicate machinery. “Dust control is an issue that simply must be addressed in any sustainable aggregate business,” says Gary Zeitner, general manager of Alberta-based Mixcor Aggregates. “Dust control of gravel haul roads is a topic of tremendous concern for many municipalities in Alberta. Almost every gravel pit operator that we are aware of uses some form of dust suppressant on local gravel haul roads.”

Mines have previously used petroleum- or chloride-based dust suppressants, says Norm Burns, president of Cypher Environmental in Winnipeg. But his company manufactures the more environment-friendly Dust Stop. Available in a powdered form, this cellulose-based product can be mixed with water and sprayed on dusty areas without the risk of vehicle corrosion. According to Burns, Dust Stop works in dry or rainy weather and could last three or four months before another application or an extra water spray is required. “Water regenerates Dust Stop to its original film characteristics and a light application may be all that is needed to last a full season,” he explains. Most importantly, it is completely non-toxic, the food-grade choice for several operations owned by BHP Billiton, says Burns.

Despite efforts to tamp it down, aggregate dust will escape, and a mine haul truck’s engine is one of the worst places it can go. The response from Donaldson Company, Inc. is what Steve Carter, engine air product manager, describes as “the heaviest of the heavy-duty air cleaners designed for maximum performance in high airflow and extreme dust applications, such as mining and construction.” The SSG Donaclone™ Air Cleaner comes either with standard cellulose filter media or with Ultra-Web® nanofiber media technology that enhances its efficiency and capacity. Built-in Donaclone pre-cleaning tubes separate up to 97 per cent of incoming dust. The pre-cleaned dust is automatically ejected from the dust cup. The evacuation system was designed for ease of maintenance — with a clear tube extending downward from each dust cup, operators and maintenance personnel can visually inspect the installation without climbing ladders or encountering nuisance dust. Donaldson has dubbed this tube extension the “Dust Dumpa.”

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