Greasing the wheels of automation

As mines move towards greater automation, there is also a need for an effective automated system to ensure lubrication and minimise component wear.

Traditionally in Australia, mines use manual lubrication, dual line or injector type automatic systems for
lubrication, however it has been “noticed that in the last few years that as mines have become more automated, the progressive system of lubrica­tion really fits within this automation drive,” Alemlube national lubrication systems manager John Knight told Australian Mining.

“There will definitely be a preference for working with a progressive system as you can fully monitor the
flow to the bearings, and you can not do that with the other systems,” Knight added.

The progressive lubrication system works via the distributor supplying lubrication in a fixed order to differ­
ent lube points.

Progressive divider circuits are designed to allow a system to continue to operate even after a bearing is
blocked, unlike dual line systems which stall out.

Saying that this method, and in particular the Beka Max progressive lubrication system, is “the first step
in automated wear resistance,” Knight stated that operators can now remotely track the lubrication of bearings and can tell from the site office if a bearing is blocking.

“The progressive system is also the only one that is self monitoring,” Alemlube recently designed an
automatic greasing system for surface conveyor drives and pulleys at Xstrata’s Newlands Northern Underground mine which utilised progressive lubrication.

Previously at the site, despite main­tenance crews keeping up with regular manual greasing, bearing failures were still occurring and causing unplanned downtimes which added pressure to the maintenance schedule.

“Using progressive dividers was the only way to accurately monitor lubricant volumes to large numbers
of grease points,” Knight said.

According to Knight, problems such as over lubrication, under lubri­cation and the almost unavoidable
aspect of contamination are behind up to 70% of all bearing failures.

The lubrication system worked by ensuring that all grease points were automatically greased and that
labyrinths were topped up at least several times per day, reducing wear on bearings and in turn increasing productivity as maintenance resources could then be redirected to other tasks.

By “keeping the labyrinths auto­matically topped up it prevents contam­ination and wear of the bearings,” Knight told Australian Mining.

Contamination is a major problem on site as excluding coal dust from the system presented a challenge.
However, by housing the system in custom built stainless steel sheds which are internally pressurised by the pump exhaust, all the potentially contaminating coal dust is kept out.

On top of this, as the automatic greasing system at Newlands has the ability to be remotely monitored, crews are now able to detect any blocked or stiff bearings before it becomes a problem.

When ever a blockage is detected an alarm is activated in the mainte­nance office and the blocked bearing is then easily located.

This remote monitoring capacity provides early warning of potential problem or worn bearings and allows
operators to carry out predictive main­tenance without fewer downtimes.

As a result of this progressive lubri­cation system, the surface conveyors had increase operational reliability and reduced wear.

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