Monday 24th Jan, 2022

Fenner Dunlop’s vision of Intelligent Conveying

Fenner Dunlop has restructured and created a Conveyor Technology Team. ABHR speaks with the team to learn more about what’s in store for the future and how they will harness Industry 4.0 technology.

British mathematician Clive Humby was quoted in 2006 to have said “data is the new oil”. While that fragment may have caught on, Humby elaborated, saying that data, like oil, is valuable but if unrefined, cannot really be used.

According to software company Domo’s sixth edition of its Data Never Sleeps report, more than 2.5 quintillion bytes of data were created every day in 2018. It also estimated that by 2020, 1.7 megabytes of data will be created every second for every person on earth.

To find new ways of turning this flood of information into something useful for its customers, Fenner Dunlop created a new team focused solely on the development of new conveyor technologies.

Following the mantra of “Intelligent Conveying,” the Conveyor Technology Team attempts to develop new solutions and better ways to intelligently improve the performance of conveyor belt systems for their customers.

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At the helm of this new division is Alan Clout, Fenner Dunlop’s National Technical Manager and Samuel Wiffen, the Conveyor Technology Manager. The company’s national and global network of subject matter experts and manufacturing facilities are a support to Clout and Wiffen, along with local business partnerships to collaborate on niche work.

“It’s hard to develop new products when you’re focused on the day to day running of the business,” Clout says. “Creating a dedicated team is a fantastic change and has given us the infrastructure to develop and deploy new tools for new challenges.

“Samuel joining the team has opened up whole new vistas for myself, giving us new perspectives and further enhancing our team’s knowledge base and capabilities”

The team’s first major project is to upgrade its Online Thickness Tester (OTT). Fenner Dunlop has used the technology to scan conveyor belts since 2013 but is now undergoing a rebuild from the ground up to incorporate the latest technology.

Designed for both fixed and mobile options, this new OTT has been named BeltGauge and measures not only the belt thickness, but also the belt tracking and width. Most wear monitoring today relies on labour intensive manual thickness gauge monitoring, that requires belts to be stopped and hundreds of manual measurements to be done, collated and interpreted. BeltGauge solves all the human intervention of data collection, as data is streamed into the DigitalHub, where insights are provided to our customers in real time.

Wiffen says previous units could measure the profile of the belt and determine wear, but that was only  one part of determining’s a belt’s lifecycle performance.

“Selecting a high-quality belt is just the start of the lifecycle. To ensure you get the most out of your investment, the belt must be monitored to detect performance issues optimising its return,” he says.

“BeltGauge doesn’t just measure belt thickness, it intelligently takes into account a range of other potential factors that could lead to a damaged belt. This includes monitoring for belt misalignment and edge damage events.

“Autonomously monitoring the conveyor belt in real time allows customers to quickly understand the issue and make decisions, optimising their belts life and offers the necessary insights for programmed maintenance and replacement.”

Traditional methods of belt thickness measurement involve tests performed after a period of months – which can mean operators are in the dark if something occurs between tests. BeltGauge scans the belt every revolution and then sends the data to Fenner Dunlop’s DigitalHub cloud using a highly secure network.

When an abnormal event is identified, depending on its severity, an SMS or email notification is sent to site staff, allowing operators to stop a problem from escalating.

Clout says the final product is the result of several years of experimentation with a number of different sensors.

“I’ve always been keen to see the different ways sensors can be used to monitor this kind of outcome. We used some exotic sensors and through a process of elimination managed to find some that ticked more boxes than anything else,” he says.

“When we started work on version one – a trial device made up of a bunch of sensors and data loggers – we pointed it at a belt and saw it work. It was a small eureka moment. Progression saw us increase the sensor counts and working in the logging side of things to develop what we have today.”

Industry feedback was also used in the design of the BeltGauge. The team went to the business and its customers to learn what they were looking for and learned that the way this kind of technology was deployed, was changing.

Wiffen says customers were looking for something safe and easy to install. Developing a design that didn’t require site welding eliminated the need for hot work. No structural modifications are required beyond mounting holes in the existing structure. The devices weight and assembly were also considered resulting in a more lightweight and adjustable design.

The device is set to be launched in the final quarter of 2020, following trials at sites around Australia.

Clout says 2021 will be an exciting time for the Conveyor Technology Team, with multiple projects in development using concepts like data analytics, AI and machine learning.

“It’s clear that technology and data are the future for new products,” he says. “Already we’re taking and analysing real world data from actual belts in the mining industry in fairly torrid environments – and if it will work there, it’ll work anywhere.”

“It’s a real boon for our development team to be able to sink our teeth into that and use it to differentiate ourselves and add value to our products.”

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