Dust, vibration and the harsh Australian sun can reduce the reliability of sensor readings, which is why indurad has designed a solution specifically for the mining industry.
To survive in the mining industry, equipment needs to be made tough. Heavy machinery moves millions of tonnes of abrasive, and often hefty, materials from the mines.
Usually, these mines are in remote areas that face some of the harshest conditions Australia has to offer – with regions such as the Pilbara in Western Australia recording temperatures of up to 45°C in the summer.
To complicate matters further, dust and debris can cause havoc to sensors, and could interrupt the collection of data for Industry 4.0 systems.
This problem is what German equipment manufacturer indurad set out to solve. Fabian Riedel, VP of Sales and Projects at indurad, says the company was challenged with creating a system that was proven to work in the rough conditions of the mining industry.
What the company created is the iBelt system, a volume flow measurement sensor that can be used for almost any kind of bulk materials conveying system.
iBelt measures belt load, speed and misalignment with high accuracy in real time with radar technology. The system can be installed over the conveyor belt, where it can determine the 2D load profile measurement. This can be automatically combines with a measured or fixed conveyor belt speed value to determine the load volume.
To find the load speed, an indurad Doppler velocity radar is installed with a clear view above the material stream. This captures both the low and high speeds and can distinguish between the load and speed of the belt, which can be especially important on steep conveyors.
An indurad Linear Dynamic Radar sensor can also be installed as part of the iBelt solution, to measure the distance between the belt edges to detect misalignments in seconds.
“The need arose for close range industrial imaging radar. At the time, the only methods that were easily available were optical sensors, which can’t provide real time control information when covered in mud and water,” Riedel says.
“There are also a lot of airborne particles in mining environments, which can interfere with optical systems.
“These kinds of radar systems already existed in the defence industry, so we set out to develop the technology to be cost effective in the mining industry.”
Because the iBelt sensors use radar technology, they will work in almost any situation – rain, snow, heatwaves, or dust storms. When it comes to dust, the sensors can still get accurate readings while being covered in debris.
Florian Schwarz, Head of Product Management at indurad, says that having constant, direct feedback is vital for not only the operators, but the entire downstream process.
“Stockyard machines running autonomously will have the information they need to implement the right levels of process control. Without that constant data, you wouldn’t be able to run machines autonomously at all,” Schwarz says.
“For plant automation, reliability is often more important than pinpoint accuracy. Autonomous machinery requires a confident understanding of exactly how much material needs to be moved.”
The iBelt sensors use robust housings, with all the electronic components selected for reliability in these environments. The sensors are also tested in indurad’s climate chambers, as part of its research and development process.
Other testing ensures the devices can handle the heavy vibration of massive mining machinery without needing to be recalibrated. The iBelt sensors are also designed to have as little failable components as possible to keep everything simple.
The technology has been installed in systems around the world, with some operating for more than 10 years in the field. There are numerous applications the system can be used for, such as bucket wheel volume measurement, detecting the flow direction on reversing conveyors, or ensuing material flow on a shiploader is properly monitored and controlled.
Schwarz says the technology has been consistently developed over time and is plays a vital role in combination with most Industry 4.0 technologies.
“It can interface with all common programmable logic controller (PLC) environments, where it offers some of the most important values for the system to calculate,” he says.
“Automated machinery can make use of its real time data, the history of which is stored to provide insights about the bulk materials handling system as a whole.”
Riedel says the iBelt comes with its own webserver, which lets the owner check the data remotely.
“Once it is hooked up to the remote diagnostics server, data can be stored on the cloud and the status of the system monitored constantly. It also allows indurad to go into the system and provide troubleshooting if required,” he says.
indurad has offices across the globe, including in Australia, where the technology has been rolled out across the Pilbara. The company plans to extend its presence in the region and bring the technology proven in the mining industry to other sectors as well.