Keeping slurry pumps going: UJ Engineering Management student wins national PhD competition

Date: Sep 4, 2015 | News


A UJ Postgraduate School of Engineering Management student, Mr. Gavin Robinson, walked away with top honours at a national thesis presentation competition in Bloemfontein hosted at the University of the Free State.

Mr. Gavin Robinson, a mechanical engineer and Director at Curo Pumps, won first place at the Three Minute Thesis Competition (3MT) in Bloemfontein on at the end of August 2015. Mr. Robinson is a PhD student at the UJ Postgraduate School of Engineering Management (PSEM). His research is supervised by Prof Jan-Harm Pretorius from UJ PSEM and Prof Leon Pretorius from the University of Pretoria.

Mr. Robinson presented on ‘A systematic approach for the implementation of an effective management model for gland service’, focusing on glands in slurry pumps used in tailing plants in the mining industry. He designed an Effective Management Model (EMM) to optimise a Gland Service System, to improve the performance of the tailings plant which can then result in improved production at the mine.

Tailing plants at mines and municipal waste water plants have a gritty challenge in common: having to keep pumping water containing all sorts of corrosive material, or face dire financial consequences. In a tailings plant, a slurry pump that has stopped working can halt an entire sector of a mine, resulting in rapidly increasing financial losses running into millions of rands.

”To keep slurry pumps working, the slurry pump’s gland seals must receive proper Gland Service. Despite the grit they move along all day, their gland seals have to be maintained on a regular basis. However, maintaining the slurry pumps stuffing boxes can cause halts on production, with an associated financial cost. Now add in the cost of water, of maintenance crews, mining worker strikes and falling commodity prices, and the preventative maintenance manager on a mine faces too many parameters to juggle at the same time to keep costs down,” says Mr. Robinson.

In a complex, severely constrained situation like this, a computer model makes a huge difference in keeping the plant going and getting good financial outcomes.

“Each mine has a different layout, different shifts for maintenance crews and different pumps. The (EMM) model built on Simulink software ‘learns’ from the information put in, and generates a gland service strategy that the mine can start implementing straight away to keep the slurry pumps going and the financial costs of breakdowns, maintenance and water as low as possible. As the reality changes on the ground and different information is fed into the model, the model adapts the maintenance strategy as needed,” he says.

Mr. Robinson and four other UJ students competed in a field of 62 masters and doctoral researchers from various South African universities on 26 and 27 August.

For the competition, participants are given only three minutes to explain their research. They have to explain not only the problem and the methodology, but also why this research is important. Participants are allowed to make use of only one piece of static imaging material for support.

“It was daunting to compete against people from Law and Health Sciences and every other research field you can think of,” says Mr. Robinson. “I really didn’t think people would be that interested in slurry pumps. All six of the judges were also from a whole variety of different research fields. It was a great learning experience to present your research to a non-specialist audience and see how they react to it.”

The 3MT international competition was presented on a national level in South Africa for the first time said Mr. Katleho Nyaile, who organized the competition at the Post Graduate School of the University of the Free State.

Keeping Slurry Pumps Going: Uj Engineering Management Student Wi

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