Conveyor belt monitoring can cut downtime in mining

Conveyor belts play a central role in the mining, processing, storage and transportation of bulk materials. They need to operate efficiently with maximum availability and with a minimum of downtime.

This is because at operations, such as mines, ports, cement plants and iron & steel mills, material handling constitutes a major component of the production and maintenance costs.

Bulk material transportation is tough on conveyors, resulting in continual maintenance and parts replacement, and significant production and financial losses.

It is often labour intensive or difficult to monitor online all areas associated with conveyors. This can result in inadequate maintenance strategies and possible catastrophic production losses.

The Honeywell BeltAIS solution suite allows mining, minerals and metals facilities and other production sites to minimise the impact of conveyors on their overall equipment effectiveness.

With visibility into the actual health status of conveyor equipment, users from operations, maintenance, reliability and other departments gain a consistent understanding, enabling effective planning and execution of maintenance.

Neil Freeman, principal consultant for Honeywell's mining, minerals and metals business talks to Australian Mining about the technology and promise of BeltAIS.

What is the concept behind BeltAIS?

Through talking to many conveyor users, service companies and manufacturers, we understand the need for a holistic view of the entire conveyor system. There is a need for a single view into the health of the conveyor assets, including drives, belt, pulleys and idlers, which is likely to incorporate a number of different measurements.

Our BeltAIS, pronounced 'belt ace', is a Belt Asset Inspection System and suite of products, incorporating a number of our existing solutions together with some unique monitoring technologies.

Additionally we are able to integrate existing measurements from any source and meld all of the data for a unified view of the conveyor system's health. The BeltAIS product suite is being developed to include: Cover Defect Monitoring, Idler Monitoring, and Belt Wear Monitoring.

For Cover Defect Monitoring, we have taken technology that we used in the pulp and paper industry for monitoring paper production utilising video recognition technology, and we've applied that to conveyor monitoring.

As far as we're aware, it's the first of its kind to do that. The belt is basically a big loop that keeps going round. We need a starting point so that we can relate the distance from that starting point. We can embed an RFID tag in the belt or we can paint a white line across the belt.

From that reference point we measure the distance and that's how we can zero in on specific regions of the belt. We store all of the video on the computer allowing you to look back at a particular region over time and see how problems are progressing. The purpose of cover defect monitoring is to assess that belt's surface and then be able to determine the maintenance requirements.

So, if you like, it's designed to be a decision support to aid the maintenance team determine what they need to do for the next maintenance shut-down.

What is the installation time?

One of the key requirements is to make sure the camera has good vision of the belt. That can take a little bit of time, as in a day or so, to determine the best position. Once that's done, it's really a matter of a mounting bracket and just zooming in on the belt.

So it could be anything as little as two or three days to a week.

BeltAIS Cover Defect Monitoring features video-based inspection that is linked to analysis and decision support software.

BeltAIS Cover Defect Monitoring features video-based inspection that is linked to analysis and decision support software.

What about ongoing maintenance, particularly with a dusty environment?

Our camera is quite a smart piece of equipment. It has got an on-board computer and will provide diagnostics in terms of faults with communication and with the camera. Since it's a vision-based system, if the window gets really caked with material, you'll be able to notice that.

However, our camera is rated to IP65 and it's actually got an air window across the front. Dust should be kept off the camera in the first instance.

We can also pulse air across the front to clean it and pulse water as well if required. In most circumstances it's going to stay clean with all these measures.

Additionally the camera is rated up to 100°C using an air cooling system. Air is pushed through the camera keeping it cool, preventing the ingress of material and keeping the viewing window clean.

So basically it will require the minimum amount of maintenance.

How do you use the system?

BeltAIS Cover Defect Monitoring examines the belt surface in real time and using video analytics it determines problem areas.

Information relating to the problems such as location, rating and images are stored for further analysis, reporting or comparison. Thus a particular fault can be tracked over time to determine if it is getting worse and what sort of repairs may be required.

The images for the particular area of the belt can be examined, compared over time and zoomed in on to determine the extend of the damage. We also have a pseudo 3D capability to further assess the damage to the belt.

What are synthetic 3D images?

In order to do proper 3D imaging with perspective and depth, you actually need a stereoscopic camera or two cameras. Since we're only using one, it is pseudo 3D. That means it's as good as you can get with the video technology and the video algorithms and it'll give you a good perspective on 3D.

But we can't guarantee that the depth is a millimetre or one-and-a-half millimetres. So from a maintenance point of view, the 3D perspective will allow you to make a good assessment of the problems that you see with the surface of the belt and then schedule the maintenance accordingly.

How can users derive the best benefit?

BeltAIS stores a log of all the information, but users may be interested in how to manage all of this data associated with their conveyor systems including operational data.

The best approach is to look at BeltAIS as part of an overall equipment effectiveness regime, which can provide a holistic picture of everything going on with the conveyor system as opposed to just looking at individual bits.

That is, BeltAIS can integrate with other systems they might also have on site, for instance internal cord damage monitoring devices Some sites will also want the system to be integrated to their SCADA or control system to allow operators to monitor alarms and enable the belt to be stopped at the correct location for maintenance.

The high-speed, high-resolution camera is built for harsh environments.

The high-speed, high-resolution camera is built for harsh environments.

Once implemented, what kind of savings can users expect?

If a belt fails, then there can be some massive spillages. One operation in Latin America runs their conveyor belts down a mountain through tunnels. At one stage they lost a belt and it filled up the tunnel. It actually took them a week to dig that out again.

Now that's not to say that was necessarily a week's worth of down-time, but what we're aiming to do is to help prevent that sort of accident happening. If we look to iron ore or some of the coal operations, their conveyor belt can be running at five thousand tonnes an hour.

The material on there is worth $100 per tonne; if the conveyor belt goes down, they could lose many hundreds of thousands of dollars per hour.

Is it targeted exclusively at the mining industry?

This particular solution is targeted at any industry that uses heavy duty conveyors.

Certainly in my assessment from a global perspective, I'd say that the majority of those are in mining or mining related activities.

So mining, steel operations, cement plants are all heavy users of conveyor belts as is the coal-fired power industry.

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