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Powering towards zero downtime

A complete power feed system at a Vale iron ore terminal was recently upgraded by Conductix-Wampfler

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The new festoon systems were delivered preassembled
The new festoon systems were delivered preassembled

Replacing power feed systems on materials handling equipment is usually a fairly standard procedure. The superstructures of handling systems like shiploaders are usually built to last several decades.
However, components such as cables, reels, and festoon systems tend to show their age much more quickly, and need to be replaced or updated.


One such task was recently undertaken by power systems supplier ConductixWampfler for Terminal Marítimo Ponta da Madeira (TMPM), a private maritime terminal owned by mining company Vale.

Located near the city of São Luiz in the state of Maranhão in Brazil’s northeast region, TMPM is connected to Vale’s Serra do Carajás project, the largest iron ore deposit in the world, located in the state of Pará.


In 2017, 168 Mt of iron ore were exported (about 46% of Vale’s iron ore production in 2017), making it the biggest such terminal in Brazil and the third largest in the world based on load volume. Due to its natural depth, TMPM is one of the few deepwater terminals able to serve Valemax (Chinamax) ships, which are the largest bulk carriers ever constructed in terms of deadweight tonnage. Ranging between 380,000 and 400,000 dwt, and with an overall length of 360m, these behemoths are among the longest ships of any type currently in service.

For some years ConductixWampfler has been supporting Vale with different products, from motorised reels for stacker-reclaimers, trailing cable reels in electric shovels, and festoon systems for stackers and shiploaders.


Festoon concerns

According to Lucas Talhadas, Conductix-Wampfler’s mining market manager in Brazil, the first meetings with Vale’s maintenance team about the TMPM project concerned downtime issues with the festoon systems installed on the 35-year-old Zanini-Italimpianti shiploader. These problems started about five years before the issue was raised with Conductix-Wampfler.


The shiploader is the largest in the terminal, having double the capacity of the second largest unit, and is considered one of the most strategically important machines in the facility. Reducing downtime and maintenance timeframes was critical to improving productivity.


Two legacy festoon systems were interconnected through a cable package with continuous lengths all the way down to the substation. The individual replacement of cables and trolleys was very time-consuming, and the challenges with downtime remained unchanged.

In order to start improving this situation, severalinterviews were held with key users, which proved essential to mapping Vale’s needs. The issues that transpired from these interviews were safety, ease of system replacement and maintenance, availability and, most important of all, reducing downtime to zero.


The scope of the project included disassembly of the old system, delivery and installation of the new system, electrical connection and final commissioning.

“Users were used to having problems and downtime with the legacy festoon system, and the idea that a new festoon system could run with minimal corrective maintenance seemed revolutionary,” said Cleuber Souto, head of Vale’s implementation engineering team.


For the project to go ahead, said ConductixWampfler, it was essential to win the trust of Vale’s team and show them that a festoon system could indeed work for many years with minimal corrective maintenance downtimes.

The first big challenge was to have all of the system components delivered before the next maintenance timeslot. The second challenge was to optimise the installation time, by having all system components installed during the very short maintenance window, allowing the customer to minimise crane downtime.

TMPM is connected to Vale’s Serra do Carajás project, the world’s largest iron ore deposit
TMPM is connected to Vale’s Serra do Carajás project, the world’s largest iron ore deposit


The only way to meet both challenges was to deliver the two new festoon systems preassembled, install additional junction boxes and have the internal static wiring redone, not only to reduce installation downtime, but also to optimise and reduce preventive maintenance time in the future.

Having the system preassembled in the factory increased safety on the job site, while at the same time reducing installation mistakes. This meant, for example, that the distribution of the cable weight on the trolley trays was balanced properly. At the same time, festoon loops could be set and adjusted in the factory which was far easier and more reliable than doing it at a great height.

Festoon system 1 comprised 13 trolleys and four cable supports per trolley. The cable package was composed of 116 cables of 72m each, totalling 7,410 kg of cables.

Festoon system 2 had 15 trolleys and three cable supports per trolley, with 69 cables of 106m each, and some 6,832 kg of cables.


The entire system was finished off with medium-voltage cables (reducing overall festoon trolley and system weight), low-voltage control cables, and 12 fibre optic cables for high-speed data transmission.


The new festoons were designed and engineered by Conductix-Wampfler’s Centre of Excellence (CoE) at Weil am Rhein in Germany, while the cable sourcing, festoon system support frames and pre-assembly were undertaken by Conductix-Wampfler’s Brazilian manufacturing plant in Itu.

With a total weight of 15t, the systems were raised to a height of 40m, and moved to the runway beam on the crane as planned.

As the equipment is critical for Vale’s operations, the challenge was to guarantee the operation of the equipment with a very short break for the festoon replacement. The installation and commissioning involved different areas of Vale’s operations, such as maintenance, engineering, and implementation, which were responsible for defining the start of installation and the commissioning timeframe.

Conductix-Wampfler said that the support provided by the CoE team in Germany and the operations and sales team in Brazil “rounded up the collaboration that culminated with the project”.


When asked about the new system’s performance, Souto said: “It is very satisfying to see after the installation that a significant improvement in the performance of the machine could clearly be evidenced by our team. It changed our perception, by showing that a festoon system can be run with minimal corrective maintenance.”


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