Leading at the Forefront: Composite Materials - Disruptors in the Potash Industry
There is a lot of discussion about disruptive technologies and how they are set to change our world in the next decade. With close to 20 years in the Potash industry, March has always believed in leading at the forefront when it comes to change and disruption. The status quo has never satisfied our curiosity and we have always had the courage to look at new technologies, from other industries, to help solve the problems we encounter in our core work. That is primarily the reason, that in addition to all core engineering specialties and project services, we have and continue to develop specialists in numerous other technical areas. These areas include material handling, asset integrity and inspections, mine ventilation, arc flash mitigation and solutions, as well as our latest expertise in the design and analysis of structural and mechanical components made of composite materials.
Composite Materials such as fiber reinforced plastics (FRP), have been successfully used in a number of other industries. Composites are materials that are made up of two or more phases (i.e. materials) with significantly different properties, but when these materials are combined, they produce a distinctive material that typically possesses properties that are superior to that of its constituent components (e.g. higher strength to weight ratio). Even though these materials have been used in the potash sector, their use has been challenging, in part due to a limited understanding of their behavior and performance in the severe and demanding potash environment. Additionally, the design and analysis of structures made of composite materials is significantly more challenging than traditional materials, such as steel and concrete. The analysis of composite materials typically requires advanced experimental and material characterization techniques followed by a detailed finite element analysis, considering the multi- directional properties of the material.
March took advantage of our experience in Finite Element Analysis and modelling, other available technologies and subject matter experts by collaborating with world renowned composite material characterization labs, to design and analyze structures made of composite materials. As a result, we have been successfully designing fiberglass reinforced tanks and lift stations for the past three years. These lift stations have been installed and used throughout Canada and the U.S. in a number of industries including heavy industrial mining and oil and gas sectors. Some of our other work has included research, analysis and design to replace existing copper piping with aluminum/polymer composite pipes at a potash operation in Saskatchewan. We also performed a detailed study, which included experiential and finite element analysis for the replacement of steel containers with fiberglass reinforced containers for the transportation of uranium in northern Saskatchewan.
In summary, the corrosive effects of potash on steel and other metals affect the structural integrity of bins, tanks, silos, pipes and machines used in potash mining and processing, and are well known and documented. Composite materials can operate in hostile environments and are not as susceptible to these effects, giving these assets, a significantly longer operating life.
Composites also possess superior fatigue performance, hence requiring fewer repairs and reduced maintenance/downtime. The advanced analysis that we have been able to perform, combined with our knowledge of the behavior of structures fabricated from composite materials, gives us confidence that these materials will be one of the upcoming disruptors in the Potash industry.
March Consulting Associates Inc. is a multi-discipline engineering company providing engineering, procurement, project and construction management services to numerous resource-based industrial and commercial enterprises. We have been serving these enterprises for 20 years and proudly call Saskatchewan home.