Nickel refinery in Canada optimizes the process of rotary converter exchange

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Nickel refinery in Canada optimizes the process of rotary converter exchange

A 90-ton Top Blown Rotary Converter
A 90-ton Top Blown Rotary Converter shell moves steadily and easily into the NRC aisle thanks to the new Hydra-Slide system, Copper Cliff, Ontario, May 21, 2015

We are always on the lookout for new systems and technologies that will help us do our work better and more efficiently. So when our colleagues in Copper Cliff got the chance to improve the method used to swap out a key 90-ton piece of equipment this month, they jumped at it.

Copper Cliff Nickel Refinery has two Top Blown Rotary Converters - or TBRCs. They are rotating metallurgical furnaces, shaped like huge eggs, with open tops. TBRCs are used for the refinement of metals. At Vale we use them in the nickel refining process.

Every few years, one of the TBRCs has to be removed from service so that the two riding rings - the parts that support and drive the shell - can be replaced. "On average a TBRC shell change takes seven days," said Brian Sliede, senior engineer, maintenance, applied engineering, at Copper Cliff. "That meant we were not processing nickel for those seven days."

After the last shell change in 2014 took 11 days, Joel Montgomery, maintenance manager at the Nickel Refinery, formed a team to come up with a new way to change the shell and make it safer, easier, faster and less expensive.The most time-consuming part of the job was moving the TBRC into the Nickel Refinery Converter building. A system of welded-together steel plates and dollies were used to move the massive shell, but the work was finicky and slow going.

Last month, however, when the other TBRC needed to be worked on, Sliede and his team used a new method to move the giant piece of equipment. And they got their work done in just three days. "We used what is called the Hydra-Slide with hydraulic cylinders that push forward at one foot per minute," Sliede said. "Mammoet, a contractor who specializes in moving heavy equipment, used their Hydra-Slide system to do the move, and we didn't have to use a mobile crane or a winch system inside the NRC."

I'm extremely proud of the team. A huge amount of thought and innovation went into redesigning this job and a lot of people had input to help get the final plan right.”


According to Sliede, the old method for changing the TBRC shells has been in use for 40 years, but newer technology allowed room for a quantum leap. "We reduced the cost of the TBRC change-out by $200,000, increased the availability of the TBRC by four days and also eliminated the major safety risks," Sliede said. "We think we could do it in two days next time."


Nickel refinery in Canada optimizes the process of rotary converter exchange