In the early 1980’s, Ian Burrell – the Managing Director and founder of Control Systems Technology Pty Ltd – was working for an Australian belt weighing company called Inflo Belt Scales. Having always had a hands-on approach to engineering tasks, from stripping and rebuilding cars and motorbikes, to the more technical area of software development, Ian was keen to launch out on his own with his own design for an improved belt weigher. Having worked as a belt weigher technician on site, in the USA and Australia, Ian was aware of customer needs and concerns. A mechanical engineer by training, Ian has always enjoyed the challenge of finding solutions to complex issues. At the time CST was founded, there was not a lot of industry confidence in the accuracy of belt weighers. Ian was confident that using key engineering principles in designing each and every weigher for its specific application would eliminate common causes of inaccuracy and belt weigher instability.
CST initially focussed on selling equipment to the mining industry, particularly the coal mining industry around New South Wales. The company has since broadened its activities into the power station and ship loading industries, as well as grain and food. CST has grown to become a major supplier of reliable belt weighing equipment to the Australian Mining industry and has also has developed strong links into several overseas markets.
Getting it right, getting it accurate
The impetus for the initial sale was an argument between union members and a mining company. Burrell says that in 1984, the belt weighing systems used in the industry were often highly inaccurate. This meant that loads were often incorrectly weighed; therefore a coal company sometimes underpaid or overpaid mine employees, and had incorrect measures in shipping. The particular case that Burrell was contracted to solve had to do with paying out the mine bonus. This bonus could represent a substantial part of the worker’s income – half of their weekly pay, in fact – so it was important that the weighing systems they were utilising were accurate. This was an issue that both management and the unions wished to resolve.
“The unions had lost confidence in them, and from that there was a lot of trouble at the site,” Ian says. He was asked to build a belt weighing system, and took on the challenge. “Although I knew a lot about belt weighing, it was unusual to trust someone like myself to build a system like this. Belt Weighers were normally manufactured by multinationals and imported into Australia, but I built the system and it worked very well. It was a great entry into the field of belt weighing for my fledgling company.” From early in its history, CST began completing many successful projects, enjoying a great start in a field where new ideas and expertise were very much needed. “We have grown very organically over the 27 years we have been in the game. Our coal jobs expanded into iron ore, and we quickly became the equipment of choice. This is partly because our equipment is very robust – just a look at it tells you that it’s up for the job, and it is a piece of equipment that customers can rely on. We have kept making good, solid equipment with a reasonable amount of scientific calculation and engineering knowledge behind them. And, unlike our competitors, we didn’t take an “off the shelf” approach to manufacturing our weighers. We custom design each and every weigher for the specific site. We just don’t believe it’s possible to offer a credible accuracy guarantee without doing this.”
CST weighers have a weight processor which includes many advanced features such as remote control from a remote computer system, right from the start. “It’s a device designed for the harsh electrical environment of an industrial site with its own local totaliser, flow rate and alarms. But we always have had analog and digital outputs that have been connected to the plant control systems as well.” It is this early integration, and connectivity to other control systems, that established CST’s product as a value added belt weigher.
The accuracy and long term stability of CST’s belt weighers made their systems an early success in the industry. This early success has continued, and a good part of it is due to CST’s commitment to quality. This sometimes means that their systems may cost a little more initially, but the lifetime of service and operational hours will translate into savings for their customers. CST also supports their performance promises, and do not seek to make excuses for poor performance – this is what CST calls their ‘Lifetime Support Program’. Ian also says that their dedication to quality, accuracy, and longevity has been key in lifting customer confidence in belt weigher accuracy in general. “We never tried to make the cheapest equipment, we instead focussed on making something that we were sure would work,” he says.
Recognised as experts
Getting it right is an ongoing process for CST. Their dedication to the scientific principles of belt weighing has led them to become heavily involved in international and national weights and measures bodies. This involvement has not only helped cement their status as one of the most accurate companies at home, but has also led to them being internationally recognised as well. “Since we have started out we have been able to become trade certified nationally and we have also achieved certification to top international standards such as OIML,” says Burrell. “Early in the piece we decided that accuracy was very important and even our very first weighing systems were able to be trade certified later on once we had gone through the process to get trade certified in Australia. This means that right from the start, CST equipment was built to certifiable standards. You could have even our earliest units trade certified and then use them for buying and selling over the entire country. CST has many examples of their trade certified belt weighing equipment at coal fired power stations around Australia.” Burrell says that participation in the trade certified belt weigher market has led to them being able to make a significant contribution to the improvement of international standards for legal trade equipment. This has allowed them to develop a strong presence in the USA and the rest of North America. “Our equipment is trade certified in the USA, and as a stake holder, they regularly invite CST to attend each year at US government sponsored meetings to discuss the laws affecting belt weighing over there, and we get the chance to contribute to a lot of those issues that relate to the law and the use of belt scales for trade measurement,” he says.
“We are also involved with the International Organisation for Legal Metrology, and they have a standard called Recommendation 50, or R50. This is the official international standard for trade legal belt weighing around the world. Australia bases all of their regulations on exactly what the OIML recommendations say,” reports Ian. Member countries attend conferences that allow them to review these international standards, and CST is currently contributing to this review as one of the leading Australian members. This is a relationship that reflects on the international standing of the company.
CST has broken into belt weighing markets in the Americas, the UK, and Europe. “The product itself is known in the British world as a belt weigher, in America it is known as the belt scale, but the operative word is belt. So we weigh in motion on a conveyer belt. As material flows along conveyers, typically material like iron ore, coal or grain, it will pass over a weight sensitive section called a weigh-frame,” he says. The weigh-frame, sensor apparatus, and weight processor are core elements of CST belt weighing systems. These inputs are combined in a continuous calculation that achieves the accuracy that CST has become known for.
CST is proud of achieving 0.1 per cent error rate for their belt scale, a rate which is far lower than the industry standard. This is because CST wants to do better than the industry standard. This has allowed CST to break into markets that require much more accuracy than common belt weigher systems. Canadian regulations have a requirement for 0.1 per cent for belt scales used to buy or sell ‘expensive’ bulk materials. CST has been able to achieve 0.1 per cent trade certification in Canada for a belt scale loading Gold concentrate onto ships in Vancouver.
Supporting the customer and improving themselves
CST is committed to continuous research and development. The company has recently added to its R&D team two engineers with doctorates, Dr Yuanto Huang, and Dr Vladimir Sin. Dr Huang’s research is in the area of electronics and software development, and Dr Sin’s in belt weighing technology. CST holds patents for its belt weighing designs, and recently patented a new design which is a significant leap ahead in belt weighing accuracy. The new CSRR design eliminates a significant portion of the error inducing effects of the conveyor belt. The conveyor belt itself is a major contributor to weighing inaccuracies.
Ian notes that his company has always been very committed to support their customers for the lifetime of the product. A growing service department, with offices in Mackay, Queensland, Perth, Western Australia, and Sydney, NSW, is able to provide skilled, 24 hour support for customers. The CST service team also provides support to overseas customers, where required. The service team is able to access support and backup from the most experienced people in the field.
Based on a solid foundation of integrity, commitment to lifetime support of its customers, its own research and development, and the pursuit of accurate weighing both locally and internationally, the future for this rapidly expanding company is looking very positive.