If you’ve ever stood on the refinery floor when a massive ladle of molten metal is passing nearby, it is something you won’t ever forget. The blast of heat that envelops you, even at a distance, is intense, followed by the overwhelming noise of whooping alarm sirens that warn of the danger, followed by the tremulous rumbling sensation of the crane that supports the ladle.
One always wonders, what if the ladle failed and metal poured out? The fact that this has actually happened has prompted one Canadian industrial company to seek a solution.
John Pye, the process instrumentation manager at Wajax, said the company was approached by a large mining firm concerned about a ladle failure.
“The plant experienced a failure of one of the ladles. The failure caused material damages on the process. Some process equipment needed to be replaced. Thankfully, no personnel were in the vicinity of the occurrence,” he said.
Another part of the concern was the fact that older and more experienced workers in the plant were relied on for their judgement to determine when a ladle needed to be relined. There was also the concern that, as senior employees prepared for retirement, junior employees lacked the expertise to judge when a ladle needed crucial maintenance.
Wajax, being the exclusive Canadian distributor of infrared products for Ametek Land Instruments International, combined their expertise to come up with an innovative solution.
“The Ametek Land monitoring system provides the ability to detect a high heat area on the ladle while in operation," said Pye. "A high heat area signifies a significant degradation of the refractory (internal lining of the ladle). This will mean the ladle requires maintenance."
He said this also allowed the company to extend the regular period of maintenance, rather than resort to scheduled maintenance, which may or may not be required. He added that this was not a one-off solution. The system has been installed outside of Canada.
“Ametek Land has installed and implemented this type of application in multiple plants for major metals manufacturers worldwide," Pye said. "The solution is packaged and can be tailored to the particularities of each plant."
The system is not just a safety measure. It is also regarded as an efficient maintenance management tool.
“It is common practice to remove the ladle after a predetermined number of uses," Pye said.
"These number uses are generally determined from experience and are very conservative estimates. This results in unnecessary relines. The vessel management system allows to effectively extend the usable lifetime of the ladle. Other benefits can include evaluation of different refractories, detection of problematic areas and cast refractory uniformity."
Aside from being Ametek’s exclusive distributor of IR products in Canada, Pye explained it was not unusual for Wajax to work on technically demanding solutions.
“Wajax employs a variety of specialists, engineers and maintenance technicians in different disciplines," he said.
"These include instrumentation specialists that would work with metallurgists, process and operations to identify areas of improvement. Wajax and Ametek Land partnered to implement the solution to meet the customer expectations."
Len Gillis is the editor of the Sudbury Mining Solutions Journal.