“Smart, connected conveyors offer exponentially expanding opportunities for new functionality, far greater reliability, and capabilities that cut across and transcend traditional boundaries,” observes MATIMU MAHUNDLA
Advanced sensing technology and Internet-enabled connectivity has enabled mines to track, identify, monitor, analyse and optimise the performance of the conveyor systems through a single platform. This has proved very convenient when mining companies are more focused than ever on increasing conveyor productivity, an objective which is not always easy to achieve with manual inspection, which has its limitations.
Pitfalls of manual means
At the outset, it would be easy to comprehend the benefits of an integrated conveyor monitoring system when one examines the limitations of manual inspection.
Mines rely heavily on conveyor systems to transport minerals to various overland destinations. These conveyor systems consist of several parts which includes belt drive system, pulleys, brakes, etc. Some components are clustered together and can be inspected easily, while others are spread along the entire length of the conveyor system.
Traditionally, this task requires someone to physically walk along the system to inspect/monitor the performance of the various components, which is a cumbersome exercise to carry out. Apart from chances of error seeping into manual checks, there are substantial costs incurred in terms of time and effort of manpower involved.
Traditional inspection of conveyor systems does not detect all problems, and it can be an intricate task when a miner has tens of thousands of kilometres of conveyors in operation.
Digital broadens range of inspections
Based on the common limitations of manual inspection, unquestionably, the advent of digital technologies has turned to be convenient.
With many capabilities, digital technologies have broadened the scope of inspections, most importantly enabling the practice of preventing rather than reacting to problems, says Segran Pillay, research head at Accenture Mining Practice.
Sensing technology, computing power, and the reduced cost of data gathering and storage allow integrated systems to track, identify, monitor, analyse and optimise the performance of conveyor systems.
Sensors deployed along the length of the conveyor feed data to engineers and maintenance personnel via visual interfaces as soon they detect aberrant behavior. This enhanced ability to take action based on real-time information is transforming the performance of conveyor systems and automated material handling systems by ensuring that equipment performs its function as required while minimising interruptions (downtime), maintenance costs, and negative impacts on safety.
Another phenomenon that has eased the burden of conveyor inspection is “The Internet of Things” (IoT). The Iot is driving much of the change occurring in conveyor system maintenance, particularly when it comes to monitoring the condition of equipment. Emphasising this in an article Conveyors: A method to the maintenance, Josh Bond points out that, every belt, roller, motor and drive can provide bits of data that add up to a comprehensive, real-time view of the equipment health status. “Smart, connected conveyors offer exponentially expanding opportunities for new functionality, far greater reliability, and capabilities that cut across and transcend traditional boundaries.”
Further substantiating this view, Tom Jansen, senior vice president and general manager at AMK Automation, states that, with uptime as the goal, intelligent conveyors are vital not just for the movement of goods, but also for the methodology for designing, maintaining and optimising a system. “With data flowing from sensors to operational dashboards, companies can define baseline performance metrics and then turn to machine learning to weigh the variables – component temperature against ambient temperature, for example – to set thresholds for maintenance alerts.”
Why an integrated solution
Jansen tells mining companies to look for solutions with a wide range of capabilities and not just limited to one area like belt condition monitoring. “The key is to integrate a range of sensor data in a central monitoring system, and apply analytics more broadly to understand that data. By doing so, miners can understand and manage the specific material on the conveyor and how the conveyor is being operated. Ultimately, this knowledge makes it possible to manage the health and maintenance of the conveyor system as a whole more effectively.”
Specifically, Jansen suggests that the integrated sensors can cover the following areas:
· Voltage sensors, for determining how long a conveyor has been running
· Temperature sensors, to detect overheating components
· Moisture sensors, to determine whether product spillage poses a risk to the conveyor equipment
· Vibration sensors, to determine whether motor components are damaged or being overworked
· Position detection, so operators can adjust for drift and measure and account for brake wear
Each of these components is part of a comprehensive predictive maintenance system. It’s not just about locating problems once they arise. Actually, it is also about keeping an eye on the system to head off failures before they occur.