Tauranga's Page Macrae Engineering has just completed a $5 million contract to design and build the largest bulk cargo hopper ever made in Australasia.

The 200-tonne, 17-metre high hopper, which will be used to discharge and load zinc concentrate and by-products, will be shipped out as deck cargo on a specially commissioned project ship next week to its client in Townsville, Queensland.

Page Macrae general manager Mike Lehan said the hopper was the largest single item the company had ever designed and built, and had taken about 10 months to complete.

"That's a very short time frame for what we have done," he said. "There is a lot of very complex equipment installed."


The computer-controlled hopper has wheels allowing it to be positioned alongside the ship by remote control when required, and a 280kW generator to power the systems. It also has sophisticated pumps and fans allowing the hopper to create a vacuum to eliminate contamination by lead, which is contained in zinc concentrate and zinc ferrite, a by-product, which is shipped out after the zinc is extracted into ingot form.

Both the concentrate and ferrite are in a powder form, meaning that dust containment is crucial to meet port environmental requirements.

The hopper will be used at the Townsville Wharf to discharge cargoes for Sun Metals, the Australian subsidiary of the Korea Zinc Company, which produces 10 per cent of the world's zinc from plants in Korea, the USA and Australia.

Page Macrae cargo handling equipment manager Bruce Ennis said nobody else in Australasia had made anything like the hopper.

"It's a real one-off," he said. "We weren't competing with anyone in Australia or New Zealand for the contract, we were competing with companies out of Europe."

Mr Ennis said meeting the client's requirements had been challenging, and the hopper was unusual in that it allowed backloading.

When being discharged, the zinc concentrate is unloaded by clamshell grabs from the hold into the hopper, with the dust contained by a vacuum system. After the concentrate has been processed at Sun Metals' refinery into ingots, the zinc ferrite by-product will be loaded into the ship by a fleet of side-tipping trucks, which can drive right inside the hopper and load onto a conveyor system.

A massive vacuum system creates prevent lead-contaminated dust escaping.

The ingots are shipped back to Korea Zinc for use in manufacturing, although some go onto the open market.

Mr Lehan said Page Macrae had sold about a dozen hoppers in Australia.

"Typically they are smaller and a quarter of the weight and can be loaded inside the ship's hold," he said.

"Because of its size, this one is going as deck cargo. And we have had to lease a project ship with heavy 300-tonne cranes on board."

Mr Lehan said he understood the hopper would be the primary and priority cargo on the AAL Fremantle, a 140m long, 18,763-tonne cargo ship run by the Austral Asia Line, which will loading in Port of Tauranga next week.


Page Macrae Engineering
• Established in Tauranga in 1955
• Managing director Ian Macrae, who took over from his father, company co-founder George Macrae.
• Ian Macrae is well-known in the Bay of Plenty for his support of high-value, advanced manufacturing. He is a shareholding director of a number of companies and was pivotal in setting up 3D metals printing operation TiDA (the Titanium Industry Development Association). TiDA is also a partner in tech incubator WNT Ventures.