Guiding materials handling towards effective innovation

Image: Overland Conveyor Company.

Innovation is the cornerstone of great many companies within the mining industry.

Without innovation and investment into research and development a company is more likely to fail or become irrelevant in influence towards the future.

Everyone is searching for the next great idea that will disrupt the status-quo and open the floodgates of fame and fortune. That seems to be the high-level goal, at least.

However, in practice, it can be hard to evaluate if an innovative idea is worth implementing on a project.

Suppliers may try to pack innovations into their products, but the complexity of systems makes it hard to measure the impact of the promised innovation.

Operators deal with the inherent level of risk within innovation, and a failed implementation can result in very real dollars lost. The complexity of the problem feels paralysing, the risk of failure feels limiting.

The resulting attitude towards new products or innovations within mining can be that of caution or even indifference.

And yet… innovation still occurs within mining.  What drives an innovative idea towards industry adoption?

Within the small world of conveyor design, many innovative ideas are lost within the complexity inherent to the interdependence of the performance and evaluation of each conveyor component. Each component is reliant upon the system of other components to work properly.

As an example of this component system dependence, the successful performance of a belting splice (assuming quality design and manufacturing) is dependent upon the load given it by the belt.

The load or tension in the belt is dependent upon the material load on the conveyor, the drag of the idler sets resisting motion, the takeup system, the rubber compound visco-elastic properties, the alignment of the conveyor, the number of conveyor accessories on the conveyor, and even more contributors.

The number of contributing variables towards the success of the splice becomes very high. And someone who innovates by creating a higher quality belt splice will have a hard time proving their splice is better or worse.

Without a clear and proven positive effect, the adoption of any innovation will be slowed even if it is truly innovative.

In other words, it is hard to say you have the secret ingredient that made the cake delicious if five other chefs collaborated to make the cake.

Successful innovation within a conveyor system is reliant upon solving a relevant problem and proving the innovation’s effect through a concrete and practical understanding of the system interdependence of components.

An emphasis should be placed upon the value of practical and understandable methods to describe the system relationships.

Image: Overland Conveyor Company.

 

Within North America, the Conveyor Equipment Manufacturer’s Association (CEMA), an organisation representing the interests of the North American conveyor industry in general, has regularly published a conveyor design handbook to provide insight into how the many components of a conveyor may be integrated to create a successful conveyor system.

In 2005 and again in 2014, Overland Conveyor Company partnered with CEMA to create a state-of-the-art design methodology based upon the published work of researchers and innovators throughout the world.

The methodology focussed on taking the complex nature of the hard science within scientific publications and distilling them into a series of equations (usable with a basic understanding of math and use of a computer) describing the system effects of each component through the language of resulting belt tension and power demand.

The design guidance and methodologies within the CEMA book can therefore foster a common language of understanding for innovators to use to describe how and why their innovations can work within a conveyor system.

This effect is seen on a regular basis within the yearly CEMA meetings and throughout each year whenever the CEMA method is used for conveyor design purposes.

Competitors and partners alike can use it to communicate why and how their products are right for each application.

The hard work of bringing practical understanding of any innovation to any industry has an accelerating effect upon its adoption (should the innovation solve a problem or improve the system).

Taking the time to fight the fog of complexity with sound engineering and clear understanding should be a priority for any organisation wishing to influence the future.

Industry engagement through partnerships and technical memberships should be used to develop common ways to communicate and to drive improvement of understanding.

It is the true innovators who benefit from the greater collective understanding.

Overland Conveyor Company (OCC) is a wholly-owned subsidiary of thyssenkrupp Industrial Solutions.

OCC has the mission to develop and utilise the best numerical analysis and simulations tools possible in order to design reliable and cost effective equipment.

For over 30 years OCC has brought practical innovation through conveyor design consulting, research and development, and its conveyor design software suite of Belt Analyst, Dynamic Analyst, and Bulk Flow Analyst.

To keep up to date with Australian Mining, subscribe to our free email newsletters delivered straight to your inbox. Click here.