There is no question that working with molten iron is dangerous work. Blast Furnace employees must wear full protective clothing, insulated gloves, purpose designed boots, goggles and chest shields. Until recently, some tasks could only be completed manually.
As part of its continuing employee health and safety program, BHP is designing and installing more materials handling equipment to distance workers from dangerous areas without replacing or removing their control.
A number of semi-robotic industrial manipulators, manufactured by Dalmec, have already been installed at the Blast Furnaces within the Flat Products Division at BHP. Dalmec's manipulators also bear the weight of the load and position heavy objects, eliminating the need for workers to bend and lift, avoiding the risk of injury.
Although mandatory maximum protective clothing safeguards workers in the event of hazard, Dalmec's manipulators further decrease the risk of injury, by distancing workers from hazardous areas.
The nature of the procedure did not lend itself to an easy solution. The process demanded a tool capable of gripping, lifting and guiding an 80 kilogram steel rod and inserting it into a mechanical device to be then positioned and drilled into the blast furnace taphole.
In order to create lifting equipment able to imitate the manual procedure, BHP and Dalmec set up a test replica furnace. The final result is a customised Dalmec tooling device designed to complete this very specific task.
Like many factory sites, it is critical that all lifting equipment used at BHP's steelworks at Port Kembla, is spark-proof. BHP required a materials handling device that is able to withstand extreme temperatures.
The manipulators are located on the tapping floors of the blast furnaces and are used to activate the flow of molten iron from the furnace. The process involves positioning a 80 kilogram tapping rod and inserting it into a tapping gun to be drilled into the furnace and later removed. Previously, the task required two operators in order to lift and position the rod.
BHP has incorporated the Dalmec manipulator concept into a variety of other operations, where there is a risk of back injury.
Whilst, productivity gains were not the driving force behind the decision to install the new equipment, the introduction of the pneumatic industrial manipulator has meant that only one operator is required to facilitate the process.