Mining and Heavy Industries

Solidifying safer systems for smashing rocks

Equipment manufacturer Transmin has changed up its strategy to develop safer, more productive rockbreaker systems.

Few other industries operate machinery in conditions as harsh as a mine site, which is why mining companies want equipment they can trust.

Equipment is put to the test in dusty, hot environments, often working around the clock to meet high standards of productivity.

If a machine breaks down, that creates expensive headaches for the site. Mines are usually in remote areas, so if something goes wrong, it could affect productivity for hours, if not days. And that downtime comes with a significant price tag.

However, equipment robustness is not the be all and end all. There has been a push for machinery that meets increasing safety requirements and takes advantage of new technology.

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Karl Carter, director of engineering and design at Transmin, said innovation had been a big focal point for the development of the company’s range of rockbreakers.

“The technology is moving forward very quickly,” he told ABHR. “Innovation is massively important, because if you’re not innovating, your competitors are.

“We aim to optimise our equipment as much as we can, but we resist the urge to include new technology for novelty’s sake. 

“We want to add value to our customer’s operation, not gimmicks.”

Transmin’s BoomerHD rockbreakers have undergone years of design evolution and development. The machinery is engineered for large-scale mining and mineral processing plants located in some of the toughest conditions on the planet, including arctic, tropical, and underground environments.

In addition, Transmin has created the RockLogic System, which provides anti collision and automated movements to optimise operator efficiency and minimise potential damage to the rockbreaker units and the surrounding plant structures.

The first step is to create a digital twin of the operating area in 3D, this provides all of the critical elements that need to be identified for collision avoidance. Military spec inertial sensors are mounted to the rockbreaker boom system which provide the exact position of the rockbreaker. The control system using this data to position the rockbreaker in the 3D environment. In the event the system detects the potential for a collision it will override the operator and bring the rockbreaker to a controlled stop before collision occurs.

“The system has proven to be effective for some time now, but it is beginning to show its age,” Carter said.

“That’s why we are making improvements to the system to improve useability and installation. We want to make it even easier for our clients to install, set up and calibrate the rockbreakers.”

Reliability and safety are the two key aspects that Transmin is looking to improve, particularly when it comes to functional safety in control systems.

In addition to the RockLogic system, Transmin has been developing a functional safety framework to ensure safety of people in the vicinity of the rockbreaker operating.

Carter said that while the ability to remotely operate rockbreakers can be helpful, there is still a lot of demand for people to work nearby the machines.

“Any interaction with a person and a rockbreaker has risks,” he said. “On top of that, every site is different, so we go work with the client to identify all the potential risks that operators are exposed to, then go through a process of risk mitigation.” 

Functional safety starts when the risk mitigation strategy employs electrical and electronic programmable systems. This requires a higher requirement for quality management, documentation, verification, and compliance. Transmin’s rockbreakers use a safety gate system to create a perimeter around themselves, similar to how other robotic arms work. 

Carter said the best way of keeping people safe is to remove them from the area and use a safety gate system to create a perimeter similar to how robotic arms are made safe. When that can’t happen, Transmin introduces movement limits to ensure the machinery can’t physically reach the operator. This is by using safety rated sensors to monitor the position of the boom system to prevent the hammer from raising above the ROM bin or primary crusher walls, therefore using the wall as a guard. The system is controlled using a Safety PLC. In the event the hammer is raised above the wall, the system will trigger a safe stop. The entire process needs to be planned, documented, and reviewed at each stage. 

Unfortunately, the technology employed by current collision avoidance systems, including Rocklogic, cannot comply with functional safety standards. Transmin has recognised this and taken steps to ensure they can comply with this important safety requirement. 

“We are looking at developing autonomous rockbreakers to increase safety and productivity significantly,” he said. “We’re currently looking at sensor technologies and potential partnerships to further our research. 

“The easy part is identifying which rocks need to be broken, then deploying the machine to them.

“The challenging part is for the machine to know what has been fully broken and what hasn’t. 

“We’re looking to continue developing the technology and rolling it out across several years, before packaging it into the next generation of machinery.”

The company has been developing rockbreakers for more than 20 years and has developed a strong aftermarket support segment. Its account managers work closely with key customers to troubleshoot any problems they may encounter.

Transmin considers the rockbreaker as a complete system and are continually looking to optimise the mechanical, hydraulic and lubrication systems to ensure its customers have robust and reliable systems that are easy to maintain.  

“Transmin has a robust research and development process. As we progress from product testing to simulation to prototyping and beyond, we make sure everything undergoes rigorous testing,” Carter said.

“We’ve moved into a product vertical process to better understand the areas we need to be targeting across our three core technologies – feeders, plant systems, and rockbreakers and gates.

“Our customers have given us great feedback, they like the technology and the direction its going in.” 

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