Outdoor laboratory hits the road

13 March 2006

In the field: (From left) Designers Jason Waters, Andre van der Westhuizen and Dr Malcolm Powell with the trailer.

The Mineral Processing Research Unit (MPRU) has launched a novel mobile sample processing trailer that can be used as an outdoor laboratory at sites around the country.

Dr Malcolm Powell, a senior lecturer in chemical engineering, struck on the idea after some years of struggling with sample processing requirements associated with the group's numerous site surveys.

These surveys use production mineral processing plants at research sponsor mine sites as a "laboratory" for developing and testing process models. However, the sites do not have adequate facilities for processing the tons of samples they collect.

So, with the support of an industrial advisory board, the MPRU utilised Technology for Human Resources Programme (THRIP) funding to build a mobile unit.

The challenge was to house a large room full of heavy equipment fed by compressed air, water and three-phase power in a unit that could be towed by a bakkie and set up next to any site. The concept was to turn the laboratory inside out, with the equipment in the trailer and the workers outside.

Andre van der Westhuizen, supported by Jason Waters, embarked on the long haul to specify, design and detail the trailer, in consultation with the manufacturer.

This included a full-scale mock up to test equipment placement and ergonomics of usage. Detailing includes specially designed features like an auto-switching power inlet and transformer to cope with the range of site supply voltages, an on-board air compressor, doors that form a roof, and an adequate storage area. The weight had to be kept down to 2.3t when it is fully equipped.

The sample processing trailer was launched by the MPRU members with the customary shower of champagne.

It is already on site in the Northern Province at Potgietersrus platinum mine, hard at work.

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