Saturday 23rd Oct, 2021

The edge of tomorrow

thyssenkrupp Industrial Solutions has developed a new device, called the Edge, that can automate existing bulk handling machinery.

Australians are coming to terms with the Internet Of Things (IoT), with more than 61 per cent of households adopting at least one smart home product, according to the Telsyte Australian IoT@Home Market Study 2020.

Digitalisation of devices is creating smarter machines, whether it’s a smart speaker or smart stacker/reclaimer.

Scott Clenaghan, Regional Sales Manager at thyssenkrupp Industrial Solutions (Australia), says the technology is now at the point where equipment is stepping into the next level of smart machine.

“Automating machinery adds an extra level of safety, throughput and utilisation,” he says. “You no longer have restrictions between the timing of shifts or interchange between machines. Anti-collision devices talk to each other and allow the machinery to operate more efficiently.”

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“Laser and LIDAR sensors can determine the position of a bucket excavator from a wall much better than a human operator ever could from a cabin, allowing it to get much closer safely.”

This is why thyssenkrupp developed the Edge – a specialised computer that helps automate bulk handling machinery. The Edge has been installed on more than 100 sites and can be used to retrofit machinery into a smart network.

It connects to a Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) and acts as a translator between the two systems. From there, it can mimic the full operations of the machine through sensors installed in the machinery.

A data logger examines the information gathered through operation and finds ways to optimise the user’s processes.

Clenaghan says the Edge allows users to automate their machines to the level required, it’s all dependent on how far they want to go.

“The Edge device sits on each machine and can then be programmed to handle loading, unloading, stacking, reclaiming, or anything the machine could do normally,” he says.

“We have installed systems on ship loaders that have been able to handle a full load without a single person on site. Semi-automated functions are also popular, such as anti-collision or finer detail control.”

Depending on what systems are installed, the Edge can perform full machine diagnostics, assist with predictive maintenance, remind customers of upcoming maintenance dates and shutdowns, and even perform predictive wear analysis for parts.

Uwe Zulehner, thyssenkrupp Industrial Solutions, Director of Sales and Service, and Head of QM and Business Excellence, says a lot of minds are currently being changed as the implementation of smart devices increase.

“Customer organisations and demographics are changing,” he says. “A few years ago, it was hard to identify who was best to talk to in a clients’ organisation when it comes to digitalisation.”

“We’ve seen big changed over the past 12 to 18 months as more mining organisations begin to implement specific teams to implement these technological changes. We intend to build a business cases and work as partners alongside our partners, not just install a couple of sensors on site.

“Safety has been main factor behind the need to upgrade. It is unacceptable for anyone on a mine site to be hurt or injured. The second driving force is to increase machine uptimes, productivity and performance, which is especially relevant as commodity prices continue to fluctuate.”

Modularity is built into the system, with customers able to decide just how much they would like to automate. thyssenkrupp aims to work with customers to find exactly what they need, instead of designing solutions around what the technology is capable of. The Edge can also be installed in any machinery that can connect to a PLC, from small crushers to massive stackers.

Safety and security were major factors in the design of the device, which is why no software can be modified while the machine is operational. Data can be stored on the cloud or on local servers to maximise security if required.

Zulehner says nowadays, nobody can afford to be ignorant when it comes improving operations through digitalisation.

“It’s an essential part of doing business, which is why thyssenkrupp aims to be at the forefront of this development,” he says.

“We will continue to support our customers to make the move over to smart machinery and continue to grow as a technology-focused business.”

As part of this focus, all new thyssenkrupp machinery will come equipped with Edge devices. The Australian branch has also hired an electrical automation engineer to support the growing sector locally.

Clenaghan says the next step for this technology is artificial intelligence.

“Once this technology is fully embraced, we are likely to see fully automated systems in mines providing better quality throughput than a human ever could,” he says.

“We’re already beginning to see it happen today. Rio Tinto and BHP have begun to fully automate their trucks, taking humans out of dangerous environments. The possibilities are endless.”