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4 Things You Need to Know About Bulk Materials

The world is full of bulk materials! Now, you may not think of them as bulk materials – but rather as rocks, grains, powder, tablets, granules, or maybe just good old-fashioned dirt. Whatever your bulk material, there are four things that you need to know about them.

1. Bulk Materials are Everywhere

In fact, 70% of all industrial processes involve the handling, conveying or processing of bulk materials. For example, in mining you have things like iron ore being mined or transported on conveyor belts; in the pharmaceutical sector bulk materials appear in the form of powders or tablets being processed; in agriculture – grain being harvested, or soil being ploughed.

And where there is an industrial process, there will be an engineer somewhere trying to make sense of what is going on. Getting a grasp of designing for bulk materials can lead to significant improvements in the performance of equipment that needs to handle, transport and operate in such environments.

So that is our second important fact…

2. Bulk Materials are Big Business

For example, if you can increase iron ore throughput by 10% in a transport system carrying 4,000 tonnes/hour you can generate over half a million dollars a day in additional production. Similarly, if you can do more simulation-based design earlier in the design cycle and reduce the amount of prototype testing needed, you can save hundreds of thousands of dollars and deliver an improved design.

On the flip side, if you have a piece of equipment that doesn’t perform and it shuts the process down, you’re losing potentially millions!

3. Bulk Materials are Highly Influential

As well as being everywhere in industry, bulk materials are often highly influential in dictating how a piece of equipment will perform or how efficient a process will be.

For example, consider a bucket excavator – when in operation, nearly every aspect of equipment performance – from stresses on excavator load arms, to the hydraulic forces, to the traction on the tyres and delivery of power – is dependent to some degree on the bulk material being handled.

This is because the bulk material will cause loads to act on the system and this load will have an influence not just at the point of contact – it will affect the system of components that make up the machine. Understanding how a design will perform in a particular material environment is critical to ensuring an optimal design that combines strength and durability, with performance efficiency.

The same is true in other applications where material will be handled, processed, mixed, or moved. In the pharmaceutical sector, for instance, mixing of powders is a key step in the manufacturing of drugs. A poor mixing process can cause problems in the operations that follow that step such as granulation, milling and tabletting, it can adversely impact product quality and result in potential batch failure and added costs due to production delays.

Being able to predict and optimize such processes is therefore key to successful and profitable operations of manufacturing plants.

4. Bulk Materials are Complex

Finally – and most challenging of all – is that not only are bulk materials everywhere, playing a crucial part of many businesses, and being highly influential on the performance of  equipment and process efficiency, they are also complex in their behavior.

This is due to a number of reasons. One is that such materials vary greatly, both in terms of the size and shape – for example sand vs quarry rocks, or gravel vs soil. The second is because such materials are often susceptible to variations in properties such as moisture or levels of compaction.

Take a material like sand, it can be dry and free flowing and behave in ways that are more like a fluid than a solid. However, after a period of heavy rain the moisture content increases and the material becomes more cohesive and stick. It will be more resistant to motion.

Another example is powder, a unique material that has no consistency. Small variations to either temperature, moisture and even equipment can result in totally different behaviors. You might end up with a free flowing powder or a very cohesive one – which will lead to issues such as uneven mixing, segregation, caking, blockage, and more.

So to summarize, bulk materials are everywhere, they affect equipment performance, they’re big business and their behavior is difficult to predict…

This is the reason why we have developed Altair EDEMTM software, based on the discrete element method (DEM). Our objective is to help customers handling or processing bulk materials to optimize the design of equipment and machinery to be able to cope with any materials in any operating condition they might face. EDEM simulates and predicts the behavior of bulk materials of any type and their interaction with equipment during a range of operation and process conditions.

By integrating EDEM into their design workflow, our customers worldwide have been able to optimize equipment design, increase productivity, reduce costs of operations, shorten product development cycles and drive product innovation.

Whether you are brand new to bulk material simulation or require an advanced solution for modelling complex material behavior, EDEM will suit your needs. Want to find out more? Visit the EDEM software page or contact us to discuss your requirements.