Conveyors, Transfers, Chutes

Aussie start-up creating a smarter idler roller

Roller technology firm Vayeron has developed a device which can monitor the condition of an idler roller, from within. Director and co-founder Ryan Norris spoke with ABHR’s Oliver Probert.

Early in his career as a bulk handling engineer, Ryan Norris spent time walking the conveyor belts of the Bowen Basin, monitoring them for faulty and failing rollers. His team used a combination of audio monitors and thermographic cameras, but repeatedly missed idler rollers which failed, with little or no recorded warning.

“I didn’t really like that as a task,” Norris told ABHR. “I was frustrated with the monitoring methods, and how flawed they are. It’s very subject to human error, and a lot gets missed.”

Norris and his colleagues understood that the belt was the most valuable part of the conveyor system, and the failure of that belt could represent millions of dollars in lost revenue for the operator, along with replacement costs.

“Every inspection we were finding failed rollers, and we were finding damage caused by failed rollers, because we would always miss stuff.

“I thought, ‘There’s got to be a way to automate this process,’” Norris continued. “If [damage] is avoidable through a more technically advanced system, it’d be a no-brainer for the mine operators.”

So Norris moved to Sydney and teamed up with expert electronics firm Ingenuity to launch Vayeron, and to design the company’s flagship product: the Smart-Idler.

“I came up with the concept of an automated roller condition monitoring sensor system,” he explained, “basically using sensors to monitor the three main physical parameters that you’d experience during roller failure: temperature increase, vibration and sound events – both ultrasonic and audible.

“That was definitely within the realms of something the electronics design company could achieve, and so we developed the Smart-Idler.”

The Smart-Idler is installed into the idle roller when it is manufactured. The components sit within the roller – half of the device is mounted on the shaft, and the other half is mounted on the shell. The device is powered by the rotation of the roller.

“It’s been designed to be really universal,” Norris described. “It can accommodate many different shaft sizes, and many different shell sizes. It’s designed to be a quick, easy fit.

“As far as changes for the operator goes, it’s designed to minimally impact them. They would continue purchasing and receiving their rollers on site, and installing them into the conveyor as they currently do.

“The added benefit would be the rollers are now smart, and sense the early warning signs of conveyor roller failure, and wirelessly transmit warnings back to base.”

Once a conveyor is fitted with Smart-Idler-equipped rollers, the devices within each roller ‘talk’ to one another via a wireless mesh network. This allows them to connect to a central collection device, so that when one roller is experiencing warning signs, that message can be passed along the mesh network, and reported to the central device. “That central device plugs into the PLC of the mine, and the information is SCADA-displayed back in their control room,” Norris explained.

Right now, Vayeron is working with two separate roller manufacturers, and aims to produce a pilot run of Smart-Idler-equipped rollers for onsite trials.

“We’re taking quite a cautious approach at the moment,” Norris explained in early February 2015. “We’re wrapping up our testing phase and now we’re going into a trial and algorithmic development phase; we want to run a pilot run of these units in the field between April and July.

“What we’ve done is approached roller manufacturers and we’ve had great feedback from them. They’re definitely interested in the technology, and what it can do for their business.

“If the roller manufacturers integrate this with their rollers they have the ability to offer this to their customers, and distinguish themselves amongst their competitors.”

Norris explained that to add the Smart-Idler to a cheap roller, like the ones available from Chinese manufacturers for instance, would effectively make the purchase of those rollers far more expensive.

But with the higher quality rollers, such as those more commonly produced by Australian businesses, the mark-up to add a Smart-Idler device to a roller isn’t as high.

“If you’re purchasing a cheap Chinese roller, [the device] will significantly increase the price of the roller,” Norris conceded. “But if you purchase a premium roller, a quality roller – and a lot of miners want the quality rollers – we’re looking at only increasing the cost of the roller product by about 20%, and we’ll continue to work with the roller manufacturers to achieve that goal.”

Getting the Smart-Idler’s installation to just a 20% increase in cost is something that wouldn’t have been possible ten years ago, but it’s more possible now thanks to improvements in the small-scale technology within the Smart-Idler device. And Norris explained that all that technology is crucial to creating a product that is consistent and effective.

“There are certain modes of failure that a roller will go through, on its way to a catastrophic failure,” Norris said.

“In its journey through to catastrophic failure, you’ll often start getting an acoustic signature that’ll start off ultrasonic. Then you’ll start getting vibrations, they will also start in a certain spectrum which will correlate with known failure modes of the bearings. From that you can determine how far out failure is, roughly.

“Once you start getting a temperature increase you know that failure is imminent.”


The Smart-Idler features devices to monitor temperature, sound and vibration.
The Smart-Idler features devices to monitor temperature, sound and vibration.

Through the separate monitors for heat, vibrations, and acoustics, as well as its on-board wireless equipment and RFID track-and-tag system, the Smart-Idler can help operators isolate where and when an idler roller is about to fail. The RFID system also allows the operator to understand the history of the roller itself.

“All of the information about each roller is there at the engineer’s fingertips,” Norris said. “So if a work crew notices something along a conveyor belt they can go into the system, and if there’s not already a warning on the system for that roller, they can probe it and find that – for example – that roller was installed two and a half years ago, has done a certain number of revolutions and it’s sitting at a certain temperature.”

Vayeron’s endgame for the Smart-Idler device, in Norris’ mind, is to provide a comprehensive solution to conveyor operators’ idler roller condition monitoring, tracking and management issues.

He said the company is looking to provide “something that is far superior to the very manual process that [operators] currently endure.”

Vayeron recently received $500,000 in syndicated investment from angel investment group Melbourne Angels.

“Vayeron is a great example of the type of investment our group seeks to make – new, fresh companies that are addressing large, globally available markets with innovative, scalable and protectable solutions,” Melbourne Angels nominee director at Vayeron, Bill Grierson said.

“Melbourne Angels brings to the company decades of direct senior experience in relevant areas including mining, international engineering, technology, marketing and finance.”

Norris was pleased to announce the deal, which was made public in late January.

“We welcome Melbourne Angels as a value adding shareholder in Vayeron,” Norris said. “They have been tremendously supportive during the capital raising process, and we are absolutely sure that our young company will benefit substantially from their experience in technology start‐ups and the consequent guidance they can provide.”


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