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Opening up on shut downs: Rand-Air takes the stress out of mine shutdown equipment hires

With the vast amounts of capital invested in them, the production pressures on major mines are immense and unscheduled production stoppages need to be avoided at all costs.

However, a mine’s major plant installations such as compressor and metallurgical facilities are pivotal to production. Breakdowns in these areas can be hugely expensive to recover from. Planned shutdowns provide a mine with the means to avoid unscheduled stoppages, as these allow for maintenance, repair and upgrading of plant and facilities, which, because they often work a 24/7 duty cycle,  cannot be taken out of service in the normal run of duty.

Rand-Air, during its 46 years of operation, has proven itself as a valued partner in the service of many mines during both planned and unplanned shutdowns.

“The keys to a successful scheduled shutdown are meticulous planning and effective communication,” says Rand-Air Internal Sales Consultant Adele Matthee, who speaks from vast experience as every year, for many years, Rand-Air has partnered with many of its mining customers to ensure their planned shutdowns are successful.

“With many of our mining customers, we have been involved in their planned shutdowns for many years and have a very good knowledge of the type and quantity of hire equipment they will typically need,” says Matthee. Many of Rand-Air’s mining customers have the foresight to start planning a shutdown months in advance. “This is immensely valuable for us at Rand-Air as we can plan to have all necessary equipment ready at the due date,” she continues.

Often with planned shutdowns, specialist contractors are brought onto site to carry certain specific contracts. However, to avoid the unwieldy situation of contractors hiring and rehiring equipment, mines tend to place a single order for hire equipment which they then put at the disposal of the contractors concerned.

However, even with planned shutdowns, the parameters involved can change from one year to the next. In the light of this, Matthee explains that experience has taught Rand-Air staff what salient questions to ask mine engineers who are planning a shutdown.

Having really good knowledge of a mine’s operations is very valuable when preparing for a shutdown, explains Matthee. One needs to know practicalities such as how hire machinery will connect to a mine’s reticulation systems or whether a mine will be able to use electric machines or not.

Rand-Air has a long-standing reputation for supplying high-performance, reliable equipment. This factor is critical during mining shutdowns as servicing or repairing a machine in the middle of one of these events would be prohibitively disruptive for the customer. “Even if it means servicing a machine prematurely, we would rather do this than risk interrupting a shutdown,” she continues.

With both planned and unplanned shutdowns, the volumes of air that a mine requires can exceed what Rand-Air can supply from its own fleet. However, Rand-Air has other trusted suppliers from whom it can hire additional compressors to make up the volume required.

Once the necessary hire equipment has been sourced, the next challenge is to transport it, often from various distant locations, to the mine itself. “Here, once again, we have years of experience of working with certain trusted logistics companies who we know will deliver safely and on time.” In this respect, Rand-Air’s knowledge of specific mines safety and permitting requirements is of great assistance. “Many mines are sticklers for safety and so truck drivers carrying out Rand-Air’s deliveries need to be equipped with the correct PPE and paperwork before they will be permitted to drive on to a mine,” she continues.

Once the machines are on site, should a mine hire more than a certain number of machines, Rand-Air will place a full-time technician on site as well as a containerised mini-depot stocked with all the spares that the technician is likely to need. Usually shutdown projects work around the clock to ensure rapid completion. When this is the case, Rand-Air will ensure that technical support is also available on a 24-hour basis.

Unplanned shutdowns place entirely different demands on Rand-Air. Matthee explains that the first notice Rand-Air often receives is a phone call asking for immediate help.

As Rand-Air hires out portable compressors, the largest being a 1,500 cfm model, this means sourcing and delivering many compressors to make up the volume on these occasions.

When Rand-Air receives an unplanned shutdown call, Matthee immediately consults with Rand-Air’s logistics section to establish what equipment is available within the company. “We have a computerised system operating throughout Rand-Air which we call our ‘fleet board’, which tracks the bookings and the availability of all our equipment. This is essential as we do not want to be taking a compressor, for example, from one of our depots for a certain hire when it has been booked for another,” she says.

And then again, if Rand-Air does not have the fleet available at that specific time, Matthee and her colleagues have the experience and know from which suppliers they can cross-hire reliable, quality equipment. In this instance, Rand-Air takes on the role of the project manager. “For our customers, it means that they can make one phone call and know that, for a shutdown, they can source all their hire equipment from one reliable supplier,” she says.

“Over time, the role of project consultant is one we are increasingly taking on,” Matthee explains.

As mentioned, continuous effective communication during the planning and execution of a shutdown contract is essential for success. Matthee explains that Rand-Air has developed a system which allows everyone involved from both the supplier and the customer sides to be fully apprised of exactly what is happening at any given time. If for example a compressor is being sourced from a distant site, the customer will know when the truck has been dispatched to fetch it, when the compressor is being loaded, when the truck is once again on the road and what the estimated time of arrival is. “This affords the customer peace of mind so they can concentrate on their core activities,” she says.

An advantage that Rand-Air has is that, for many years, the company has had a consistently low staff turnover. When a mine contracts with Rand-Air to supply equipment for a shutdown, it will benefit from the accumulated expertise of Rand-Air’s highly experienced staff.

“For us at Rand-Air, mine shutdowns, while they are challenging, are also very exciting as they give us the opportunity to show what our company is capable of,” explains Matthee.

“The achievement of finding 50,000 cfm of compressed air for a customer at short notice and getting it safely to site on time is a satisfying and rewarding experience both for ourselves and, ultimately, for our customers,” she concludes.

Rand-Air compressor assists the CSIR to ‘view its airs’ in wind tunnel tests

“Although this type of hire is not a first for us, at Rand-Air, we are always pleased to be able to be of service to an esteemed organisation such as the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR),” says Rand-Air Sales Representative Marinda Enslin. Earlier this year, over a period of five weeks, the CSIR in Pretoria hired a Rand-Air compressor to provide an auxiliary airflow for its Medium Speed Wind Tunnel (MSWT).

The MSWT is one of seven CSIR wind tunnels frequently used to provide an engineering test, measurement and evaluation foundation to the aerodynamic design efforts of mainly the South African aeronautical industry. The CSIR wind tunnels include a closed circuit sub-sonic tunnel, a transonic tunnel, a trisonic tunnel and a large test section open-circuit low-speed tunnel.

“The wind tunnels are generally used to measure airframe aerodynamic performance in a controlled ‘simulated flight’ environment. The object tested in this environment can be anything on which the movement of air exerts forces. This can be anything from a supermarket trolley in the Cape winds to a supersonic missile produced by the South Africa defence industry – though the latter in a different wind tunnel obviously,” explains the CSIR’s Works Engineer DPSS: Aeronautic Systems, Louis van Wyk.

Data collected at the facilities is used for airframe characterisation, and to populate complex modelling and simulation environments for broader mission simulation predictions, doctrine development and training.

Testing in the MSWT where the Rand-Air compressor was used is state-of-the-art. All operations are proceduralised, so as to make the projects cost-effective for the clients using the facility; which is typically used by large industries such as aeronautics and defence.

However, it is important that all aspects of these tests function optimally.

“In this respect, Rand-Air was able to contribute to the success of the testing by providing a state-of-the-art Atlas Copco PNS1250 portable 24-bar oil-free compressor which delivered air reliably as and when our customer needed it,” Enslin continues.

The specific wind tunnel test required an auxiliary airflow, supplied through a 2” hose into the wind tunnel test section, with the following specifications:  oil-free air, with an FAD (free air delivery) of 1200 cfm at 24 bar pressure.

“Although this is at the upper limit of the general capacity of portable compressors, it was within the capability of Rand-Air’s PNS1250 portable diesel oil-free high pressure compressor,” explains Enslin.

As the compressor needed to stand outside the building housing the wind tunnel, Rand-Air provided the CSIR team with extended high-pressure hoses to make the connection.  “After that the CSIR team took over as they knew exactly what they were doing and were fully familiar with the workings of this compressor,” Enslin adds.

A Rand-Air technician was available for immediate call-out during the rental period of the wind tunnel test. “A technician visited the test site once a week to inspect and service the rental compressor,” she adds.

“Ultimately, the compressor performed exactly according to its specifications, and successfully – and reliably – delivered the flow required for the tests.  At the CSIR, we were fully satisfied with its performance, and the service we received from Rand-Air,” he comments.

“We appreciated the opportunity to be able to contribute in some small measure to South Africa’s excellent scientific research efforts, which serve to keep South Africa at the forefront of international knowledge development,” Enslin concludes.

A really ‘refined’ solution: Rand-Air Durban supplies Class-0 oil-free air to oil refinery shutdowns

While Durban is one of South Africa’s major industrial hubs, it is also home to some of South Africa’s major oil refineries. The fuel and oil from these refineries keep much of South Africa and its economy on the move and flowing smoothly every day.

A refinery is a very large and highly complex operation which has been designed to run most of the time with a minimum of supervision. However, usually every two years, oil refineries need to be shut down for a period of intensive maintenance, replacement or repair. Naturally, this disruption to fuel supplies has to be very carefully planned and timed.

This is according to Rudi de Vry, Rand-Air’s Area Manager in Durban.

“During oil refinery shutdowns, thousands of subcontractors are hired to carry out the many maintenance procedures which are required. These subcontractors need to be supplied with temporary compressed air and power – as well as with other equipment – in order to carry out their allotted tasks. This is where Rand-Air comes in,” de Vry explains.

Over its 46 years of operation, Rand-Air has become the preferred rental equipment partner to South African oil refineries, including those in Durban.

“We have built up these relationships over many years, on the back of service which invariably goes beyond what the customer expects of us,” he says.

The Durban branch has recently completed just such a project, partnering with South Africa’s largest oil refinery during a shutdown which extended from 15 May until 15 July this year.

During the shutdown, the refinery needs dozens of equipment items. All of these have to be sourced and if necessary transported to Durban. The equipment then has to be checked by our technicians to make sure that it is as reliable as they it can possibly be, and then dispatched to the refinery site.

De Vry observes that with a small but highly motivated and efficient team in Durban, for Rand-Air during the refinery shutdown it was a case of ‘all hands on deck’, and extended working hours.

“Fortunately, we have an excellent, committed team here in Durban on both the sales and the service side. They always have a positive attitude and work well together as their aim to achieve a common goal,” he adds.

Recently, the Durban branch was pleased to be able to rent out one of the larger oil-free compressors in Rand-Air’s range to the same customer.

“Ironically, even though it was for an oil refinery, the customer required Class 0 oil-free air to keep its systems operational during a maintenance shutdown!

We have furthermore found that being able to supply Class 0 oil-free air – which is absolutely free of contaminants – has created a very nice niche for us with the various refineries in the region. These refineries therefore regularly hire our oil-free compressors. In this particular instance, the refinery concerned rented the PTS 1600 for a period of two weeks. When the compressor was returned to us, the customer feedback we received was very positive,” de Vry remarks.

Renting equipment to any refinery has to be done with considerable care, due to the nature of the business, and safety regulations are therefore stringent.

“When it comes to refineries, safety is their number one concern,” emphasises de Vry.

Rand-Air’s Durban team works closely with the refinery to meet their safety obligations. “Before our equipment is delivered to a refinery site, there are a number of procedures we need to carry out on the units to ensure that our standards are aligned with those of our customer. This involves close consultation with the refinery’s safety officials,” he explains.

Rand-Air supplies temporary compressed air and power to Oil Refinery shutdowns.

“If, for example, a refinery needs to have a compressor pressure-tested, we fully understand why this is needed and what the legal implications are. Once the equipment is on site, Rand-Air technicians continue to monitor it to ensure it delivers faultless performance,” he comments.

“Our refinery customers really do appreciate the effort we put into keeping them safe.”

Of course, during a refinery shutdown, even though we might be very busy, we still continue with our normal day-to-day rentals, which are to a wide variety of industries.

At present, we are looking forward to the rest of the year because there are some exciting opportunities coming our way. And, in spite of the tough economy, the Durban branch has been performing exceptionally well,” he concludes.

‘Do It Again’ and Rand-Air – clear consecutive winners at this year’s Durban July

This year, the gelding ‘Do It Again’ was the fifth horse – in the 123-year history of the Durban July – to win for two consecutive years.

In a similar vein, Rand-Air’s Durban team were called on to ‘do it again’ and supply the organisers of the race meeting with temporary lighting for the 2019 event.

Rand-Air is extremely proud to have been selected to supply lighting for added visibility and security at this year’s iconic Vodacom Durban July.

“While the organisers of the Durban July told us that they were very happy with our 2018 rental, we were still delighted to be called to Greyville race course for the second year in a row,” says Rand-Air Sales Representative Natlee Bennie.

A further testimony to Rand-Air’s excellent service was that, whereas in 2018 the organisers rented six units, in 2019, they increased this number to ten.

The equipment on hire consisted of Atlas Copco QLV, QLT, and QLB lighting towers; as well as solar lighting.

Every year, the Greyville racetrack hosts this historic and prestigious race meeting, an occasion when South African high society turns out in force to ‘see and be seen’ at this glittering event. The display of July fashions has become something of a South African legend.

Bennie advises that, to cater for all the visitors’ vehicles, the organisers have made extra space available on grounds near the racecourse. However, they found that these vehicles and their contents presented an attractive target for the unscrupulous.

This prompted police to warn racegoers to secure their vehicles and not leave valuables inside them. “As lighting serves as an effective deterrent, Rand-Air was contracted to provide the necessary equipment,” Bennie continues, adding that last year, the extra lighting covering the temporary parking and golf course proved to be very effective at protecting the many expensive vehicles.

The planning of the Durban July has to start well beforehand, and for this reason, six months prior to the event, the organisers contacted Rand-Air to book the necessary lighting. A week before the event, Rand-Air held a further meeting with the race organisers and Rand-Air’s Zane Hippolyte and Bennie carried out a site walk to finalise the planning and assist in strategically placing the units at the venue.

Hippolyte also did the setup on the Friday before the race after giving the mandatory ‘toolbox’ talk to the team. The organisers also provided Rand-Air with access to the arena, as on Saturdayhe had to carry out checks to ensure the units were running perfectly. “And on the day, apart from monitoring the equipment, Zane actually got to watch the Durban July in action,” Bennie continues.

The lighting units that Rand-Air provided feature the latest LED technology, which has the added advantage of being light on fuel, while providing excellent light coverage. On the day, they performed perfectly. Feedback from the race organisers was that they were more than satisfied with Rand-Air’s equipment and service. They commented that they would definitely be use the company’s services next year again.

“The Durban July involved the entire Durban team in one way or another; and Zane Hippolyte, Fieza Moodeen, Petros Mngoma, and Khula Mkhwanazi in particular,” says Durban Area Manager Rudi de Vry.

“The Durban July organisers were very impressed with our lighting towers and our service and support,” says Rand-Air Sales Representative Natlee Bennie.

“At the depot, there was a real buzz of excitement about the Durban July, and the cooperation between the various team members contributed to a sense of camaraderie.”

“The exposure that our lighting sets gave us at the race meeting has really been excellent. We have found that since the 2018 event, enquiries for our lighting towers have increased significantly, largely due to word-of-mouth,” de Vry says.

“We are very proud to have been selected to supply lighting to the Durban July and look forward to being able to ‘do it again’ in 2020,” he concludes.

Rand-Air’s customised containerised compressor helps customer bust the dust

One of the ways it is possible to exceed customer expectations is to produce effective and innovative solutions to the challenges that they contend with. When Rand-Air Business Development Manager Henry Fourie was faced with a dusty and demanding challenge, he needed to come up with a solution which would address the problem effectively.

The problem was that the customer manufactures an industrial mineral and, in so doing, produces a very fine, but exceptionally abrasive, dust. This would get into equipment such as compressors and forklifts and clog them up in a very short space of time.

What prompted the request from the manufacturer was the fact that they were upgrading and doubling the size of their plant. This new plant would produce an even finer product. However, they were experiencing downtime with their two existing compressors, which – as the plant works 24/7 – were essential for its operation. Faced with ongoing downtime, the manufacturer approached Rand-Air for a solution.

Fourie and his colleagues put their heads together and devised a plan. Although this specific solution was a first for Rand-Air, the team was prepared to develop the solution specifically to address this particular customer’s challenge.

The answer to the abrasive dust problem lay in placing the compressor into a specially designed, hermetically sealed housing – somewhat like a shipping container. This sealed housing was fitted with special filtered air intakes to make sure that none of external dust reached the compressor.

Air filtration is not a particular speciality of Rand-Air; however, to provide an effective solution in this instance, the Rand-Air team tested various air filtration solutions until they came up with one that was optimal.

“We put this proposal and the pricing structure to our customer, who was very pleased with the idea and accepted it,” says Fourie.

In October 2018, Rand-Air commissioned the construction of the compressor housing and its special filtration arrangement. “We had everything ready for delivery to site on December 21,” he explains.

The compressor that was supplied for this hire is an electrically-driven Atlas Copco GA132FF full-feature unit.

Rand-Air’s answer to a customer’s abrasive dust problem lay in placing a compressor in a specially designed, hermetically sealed housing fitted with special filtered air intakes.

To source the housing for this compressor, Rand-Air contracted a manufacturer of portable, insulated cold rooms and refrigerated truck bodies to build the housing for the GA132FF. This housing has special doors built into it to allow for the removal and replacement of the compressor if necessary. The container walls are constructed of a robust, waterproof aluminium board which has an interior filled with polystyrene foam. While it is designed to keep out fine silica quartz dust, it also protects the compressor against severe weather conditions and prevents unauthorised people gaining access to the compressor.

“In summer months, the insulation in the container walls will also protect the compressor against overheating,” says Fourie.

The fineness of the dust was an issue that Rand-Air had to deal with. “First of all, we installed two high-density filters which we believed would cope with the incoming particles. However, these filters clogged up very quickly; and so, to get around this, we installed lower density filters which, as part of our service to the customer, we change frequently. On the housing, there is an inlet for filtered air, and there is an outlet opposite it, to help dissipate heat. Over and above that, we have two extra filters on the container as well as an extraction fan.”

Asked about feedback from the customer, Fourie explains that they are very happy with their uninterrupted supply of compressed air.

“At Rand-Air, we are constantly aware that we are in a very competitive market and, to keep ahead, we have to be extremely innovative and ahead of the market. By doing this, we will continue to successfully differentiate ourselves in the eyes of our valued customers,” he concludes.

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