Leading edge companies now provide bulk material testing as an option in their design of material handling systems and their components. Among those companies is a small firm located in the cornfields outside rural Neponset, Ill.
With a population of only 550, Neponset is the home of Martin Engineering, a small company, but a leading global supplier of systems and services that make bulk materials handling cleaner, safer, and more productive.
The new Martin Engineering Center for Bulk Materials Handling Innovation holds the promise of improved productivity and profitability for these industrial operations where the clean, efficient handling of bulk materials is a key to the production process. The Center for Innovation - CFI, for short - is a $5 million facility with the goals of improving bulk materials handling through collaboration, innovation, and education.
CFI is housed in a new 22,600 square foot building at Martin Engineering's world headquarters campus in Neponset. Part pure-science research laboratory and part industrial product development center, CFI enables the opportunity to collaborate with partners, including corporations, industry associations, and universities for practical research to solve common problems in the handling of bulk materials, problems that have plagued industries like coal-fired power generation, mining, cement manufacturing, and aggregate production for years.
These material handling problems include the release of fugitive material as dust, spillage, and hang-ups in material flow. These problems lead to added maintenance expenses and losses in productivity, resulting in reduced profitability for the heavy industrial operations.
The new CFI facility now includes a full-time staff of 15, including scientists, engineers, and technicians, all dedicated to advancing the understanding of the behavior of bulk materials and the performance of materials handling systems.
CFI has both the scientific instruments and the full-scale materials handling equipment to test bulk materials and prototype components under simulated operating conditions. Included in CFI are laboratories for the analysis and testing of characteristics and performance of metals, polymers, and bulk materials, and an environmental lab for accelerated aging.
The labs include the equipment required to do analytical testing of samples of specific bulk materials, including ring and direct shear testers for testing material strength, adhesion, and cohesion, as well as sieves and sieve shakers to determine particle sizes.
The facility's process simulation area features a full-scale recirculating conveyor system for testing both bulk materials and equipment prototypes. The process simulation "loop" is composed of three belt conveyors arranged in a triangle to carry simulated materials from one conveyor to the next in a continuous, recirculating stream for observation of material flow and component life. Two of the conveyors are 30" wide; the long leg of the triangle is 48" wide. One of the conveyors is an air-supported belt conveyor; the other two incorporate conventional idlers.
"This recirculating conveyor system will let Martin Engineering product engineers and material scientists test product prototypes and model the handling characteristics of bulk material cargoes on full-scale material handling equipment," said R. Todd Swinderman, Martin Engineering's Chief Technology officer. "We will be able to work with the specific materials of a customer to develop solutions to their unique material handling problems."
The new research center also will offer education for industry personnel - management, engineering, operations, and maintenance staff - in how material handling systems work and how they can work better. CFI features dedicated training resources, including a state-of-the art, 44-seat training room and a video conference center. The facility also includes an observation deck where visitors can view material and equipment testing underway in the facility's laboratories and on the recirculating conveyor system.