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An Education in Pneumatic Conveying

January 4, 2012

Professor Don McGlinchey
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Don McGlinchey

Particulate materials are all around us, are handled and conveyed in quantities of the order of thousands of millions of tons per year, have a value to the economy of billions of dollars per year, yet in general most people know very little about how they behave.

Looking around it seems that the coverage by universities in Bachelors level engineering programs is dependent on the interest of individual professors. This means that in some cases, graduate engineers leave college having never been taught even the basics of granular mechanics, never mind the complexity of gas-solids flow in pneumatic conveying systems. I had no knowledge of the area at all until I undertook a Masters degree specifically designed to provide an education in particulate solids handling.

Some 20 years ago, I was extremely fortunate to find a group of great teachers and researchers at Glasgow Caledonian University – David Mills, Mark Jones, and Predrag Marjanovic - and received an excellent education in particulate solids handling and, in particular, in pneumatic conveying. Not everyone can be so lucky and perhaps not everyone needs such in-depth knowledge. So if you don’t get your education during your time at college or university, what can you do? The answer for most people is that they get their training ‘on the job’ from more experienced colleagues, who may in turn have received their knowledge the same way. Traditionally this has been fine - if you remain in the same company, conveying the same product - but in many cases this is pretty limited and limiting for the ambitious engineer. Traditions are also changing rapidly, more people change jobs, and companies are changing products more than ever before as they struggle to remain competitive in this challenging economic environment. I believe there is a real and pressing need for both individuals and their employers to recognize the benefits of an education in this discipline. There are several sources of good information and training in pneumatic conveying and each has merits based on the needs of the individual. So what is needed?

At a basic level, there is a requirement for the coverage of the operation and an overview of the principles of pneumatic conveying: the way in which the air or gas flow rate, the product flow rate and the line pressure drop are related; an appreciation of the effect of changing the pipeline components or the product can have on system performance; an understanding of the parameters that need to be monitored and why. Typically this level of information can be picked up on industrial short courses or from webinars by reputable experts.

At a more advanced level, the education should give the individual: the ability to carry out ‘engineering calculations’ of flow rates from basic data; to predict and quantify the effect of specific changes to conveying line routing or substitution of pipeline components; provide an understanding of how material properties affect conveying behavior and system performance; the ability to interpret the data of pressure, air flow rate, and product flow rate in relation to system performance; an understanding of the influence of each component of the plant, for example, the influence of feed hopper design on conveying system performance; an understanding of safety issues such as explosion hazards. The depth of understanding required here may be beyond the level of a short course and a formal education program may be more appropriate.

At Glasgow Caledonian University we have set up a Web site, www.particulatesolidshandling.com, which has information on our Masters level program in Particulate Solids Handling. This program is designed to be taken by people in industry by distance learning, whether this is to upgrade knowledge in just one area by taking one module as part of continuing professional development or to obtain the full Masters degree. The full program includes modules in characterization of bulk solids, pneumatic conveying, and particulate solids handling. Over the coming months, introductory level material will be put on the site as ‘free to view’ content.

I hope this column helps in raising awareness of the significant benefits such an education can bring to individuals and to companies who use this technology.

Don McGlinchey, PhD, is a reader within the School of Engineering and Computing  at Glasgow Caledonian University (Glasgow, UK), where he is active in education,  research, and consultancy in bulk solids handling. His research interests are in the  areas of characterization of bulk solids, gas-solids flow, and multiphase flow modeling.