Tag Archives: mine maintenance

Microsoft mixed reality tech keeps BHP’s Pilbara sites on track

BHP, through the deployment of mixed reality Microsoft HoloLens technology, has managed to keep equipment inspected, serviced and maintained at its iron ore operations in the Pilbara of Western Australia in the face of COVID-19.

Workplace restrictions designed to keep people safe from COVID-19 mean that BHP hasn’t been able to fly people to and from its mine sites as freely as it did in the past.

To get around this issue, it has equipped people like Andrew ‘Woody’ Wood, a Mechanical Fitter with 30 years’ experience under his belt, with HoloLens 2 – a head mounted computer with a see-through display. This has allowed employees like Woody to coach his peers at site, anytime, from anywhere using Microsoft Dynamics 365 Remote Assist.

Woody is instantly able to see what mechanical fitters at site can see, send them helpful documentation, videos and schematics on the fly, and even use digital ink and arrows to annotate real things in the physical world in order to help them complete tasks and inspections on remote sites, Microsoft says.

For Alex Bertram, Digital Products Manager at BHP, the rollout of the technology was accelerated by BHP’s ability to innovate during the COVID-19 pandemic, with strong support from its partnership with Microsoft.

Safety, speed and smarts

“Using mixed reality in its day-to-day operations is one of a series of innovations that BHP is undertaking to keep its people safe and its productivity up,” Microsoft says.

Dash Maintainer Tools, developed by BHP’s maintenance and innovation teams, allow front line personnel to securely collect data from machinery remotely, avoiding the potential risks associated with manually checking dials or taking readings from heavy mobile equipment such as trucks, excavators, drills and dozers.

Leveraging IoT sensors and industrial computers connected to Azure the Dash solution gets data into the hands of maintenance technicians on their smartphone or tablet, the company says.

“Productivity and safety go hand in hand and are guiding lights for BHP and its innovation efforts,” Microsoft explains. “This focus enabled the team to have the first version of Dash in the field on a 400 t excavator within 16 weeks of it being an idea on a white board.”

To keep its people, families and communities safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, BHP introduced many rigorous measures and controls to reduce the risk of transmission.

This has included limiting numbers at its mine sites to only those required to enable safe operations; anyone who can work from home has done so.

At first, it meant that Bertram couldn’t get his team to the South Flank iron ore development to keep developing the Dash tool at the same velocity. Nor could many other experts who would typically be flown to a mine to set up new equipment, solve a problem or conduct an inspection.

Even so; “Our people on the front line are empowered to try new things to safely get on with the job”, Bertram says.

“During COVID-19, I expected the pace of innovation to slow, but we’ve seen the opposite. People really rally together and are open to trying new things to safely get the job done.”

He had already witnessed the potential of HoloLens and mixed reality, and was convinced that in combination with Dynamics 365 Remote Assist it would allow expertise to be delivered virtually to the teams still working at BHP’s Pilbara operations to support continued development of the Dash Maintainer Tools, Microsoft says.

“Given many of us were working from home due to COVID-19, the first device was delivered to my house to test and by the following week, we’d undertaken trials in our workshop environment in Perth,” Bertram says.

The team were able to test the system on real machinery at BHP’s Innovation Centre Lab, located at the Perth Repair Centre, which provides a safe and controlled environment to trial new technologies and ways of working on mining equipment.

“The following week, we ran a dry run and test at the mine, and five or six days later we supported the installation of the first prototype of Dash Maintainer Tools on a 300 t haul truck,” Bertram said. “A process like that would normally take a few months at least.”

It took less than four weeks from the HoloLens2 arriving at Bertram’s Perth home to it being used to install the first prototype of Dash tool on a Komatsu dump truck in the heart of the Pilbara, according to Microsoft.

The deployment of mixed reality technology has the potential to be rolled out more widely, and deliver safety and productivity benefits long after COVID-19 abates, Microsoft says. And there is further scope in making the physical delivery of equipment to sites more efficient.

“This technology can help us reduce the time and cost associated with regular travel, increase the speed of maintenance and new equipment deployment without compromising safety, and support greater inclusion and diversity,” Bertram said.

Having proven the HoloLens2 solution’s potential, BHP is now running further trials across its rail workshops and maintenance teams in Perth and the Pilbara, and at several other global locations in Australia, the US and Chile, according to Microsoft.

“We are seeing promising early results,” Bertram said. “If those trials are successful, we will look at how we can scale up. We are not getting ahead of ourselves, but we are well placed because the HoloLens2 solution speaks to our existing systems such as security controls, and device management.”

Kinder Australia keeps conveyors on track with K-Commander

Kinder Australia believes its K-Commander® series can alleviate many of the issues that come with conveyor belt misalignment, keeping operations on track while minimising downtime.

As the company explains, a poorly tracked conveyor belt can lead to a number of productivity and safety issues.

Damage to the conveyor belt itself as well as the conveyor structure is a major problem. As the belt misaligns, the edge of the conveyor belt is at risk of becoming torn. The conveyor structural damage is also highly likely, which is a significant safety risk. Replacement of both is extremely costly and will require interruption in production and added labour, Kinder says.

Another issue that can come as a result of belt misalignment is material spillage. As well as the cost of product wastage, excess material can increase the risk of personnel slipping, tripping, falling over and becoming entangled. Material spillage can also damage idlers and cause conveyor rollers to seize.

The ideal scenario whereby a conveyor belt tracks ‘true’ in the centre, involves idlers and pulleys being aligned, levelled and square to centre line prior to loading the belt, Kinder explains. “It should be pivoting and rotating freely when the belt experiences any mis-tracking behaviour.” Other options include fixed tracking solutions without a rotating structure.

In order to install any one of the K-Commander series, the belt needs to be monitored to identify problem areas that cannot be solved by making adjustments.

A poorly tracked conveyor belt can lead to a number of productivity and safety issues, according to Kinder Australia

The K-Commander Exceed Series is an all-direction belt tracking solution featuring flexible 360° rotational capability, with its separate axial and rotational function allowing for the double axis pivot bush, the company says.

The K-Commander Exceed Series P has been designed with two key stages:

  • The first focuses on the inner shell which contains the shaft and an engineered pivoting bush allowing the axial movement of the tracker. The inner shell is protected by a flexible EPDM rubber boot; and
  • The second stage focuses on the roller bearings, which allows the rotational movement of the tracker. The roller bearings connect the inner shell and the outer shell, and are protected by a labyrinth seal.

“The installation of the K-Commander Control Series is only for the return side, being the most critical surface of the belt in order to maintain belt alignment,” Kinder says. “The unique engineered action of the central ball and socket link is encased in a rubber covered steel tube. This protects the internal mechanics and ensures that the belt runs true.”

The K-Commander Direct Series is a pivoting base style, available in both trough and return applications that automatically provide belt centring. The outboard servo rollers cause the idler frame to pivot as they contact the belt edge and this swivel action causes the belt to realign automatically, the company explains.

To further aid belt tracking, Kinder Australia offer rubber lagged rollers (trough and return) as an option. The results are better tracking performance (especially in heavy-duty applications), increased roller durability against the constant scuffing nature that roller shells in trackers experience and increased belt training response, the company says.

“Made of highly wear-resistant polyurethane, the K-Commander Tracking Discs fit both flat and vee return rollers as well as selected troughing rollers,” Kinder says. “Ideally, they are located in pairs prior to the tail pulley to help align the conveyor belt, so eliminating spillage from mis-tracked belts. They can also be installed after the feed area on troughing sets to help keep the belt aligned. They are easy to install with a split on one side to slip over the roller – no need to remove the roller.”

Finally, the K-Commander Guide Series INV is an all-purpose conveyor belt alignment idler suited to short centred or reversing conveyor applications. The two inverted vee rollers put pressure onto the belt, promoting centralised belt training. The universal frame adjusts to all types of mounting structures and is installed just after the head pulley, or prior to the tail pulley, Kinder explains. They are suitable for reversing belts and are available for all belt widths, according to the company.

Aspen Tech and Wood to offer clients predictive, prescriptive maintenance solutions

Aspen Technology and Wood have announced a new partnership that will offer Wood’s clients Aspen Mtell® asset performance management (APM) technology for predictive and prescriptive maintenance.

The partnership will enable global enterprises to improve the performance of their manufacturing and facility assets through a maintenance solution built upon industrial artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, the companies said.

Aspen Mtell analyses historical and real-time operational and maintenance data to discover the precise failure signatures that precede asset degradation and breakdowns, predict future failures, and prescribe detailed actions to mitigate problems, they explained.

Wood has decades of experience providing solution-independent asset performance consulting, as well as integrating and deploying specialty engineering services and real-time performance monitoring systems, some of which has been mining-related.

“The combination of this deep domain expertise of asset and operator challenges, with AspenTech’s extensive knowledge of the process manufacturing industry and proven AI-driven predictive and prescriptive maintenance solutions, provides a unique customised asset performance management solution for operators’ needs,” the two companies said.

Prabu Parthasarathy, Vice President of Intelligent Operations at Wood, said: “Wood has an extensive understanding of the performance optimisation needs of our clients and realised a unique opportunity to provide a solution to help enhance asset productivity and identify potential issues well ahead of time.”

Darren Martin, CTO at Wood, added: “We are excited to bring AspenTech into our strategic partnership ecosystem to unlock innovative technology solutions to solve our clients’ challenges. Aspen Mtell is part of our connected operations and maintenance programs that will allow our clients to detect patterns in operating data, allowing them to take prescriptive action and avoid unplanned downtime. Together, our vision is to drive value through digital twins across the full asset lifecycle, working to optimise asset performance, monitoring, and control across any environment.”

Greg Mason, Senior Vice President and General Manager of APM, Aspen Technology, said the value of predictive and prescriptive maintenance represents much more than simply predicting failures on large rotating assets.

“Companies that are truly focused on eliminating safety and environmental incidents tied to machine failure, in addition to avoiding production losses, understand the need to have a comprehensive predictive maintenance culture throughout the entire plant,” he said. “This requires an analytics technology that is scalable, resources needed to deploy to scale, and the expertise to lead change management. I’m pleased to say that the partnership of AspenTech and Wood around the Aspen Mtell solution provide these three unique capabilities needed to bring contextualised AI for the process industries to scale.”

Martin Engineering’s Mr. Blade service offering comes to US Mid-Atlantic region

The use of factory-trained, OSHA- and MSHA-certified experts for maintenance of bulk handling systems has taken another step forward as Martin Engineering establishes its newest Mr. Blade™ territory, serving the Mid-Atlantic region of the USA, the company says.

Introduced in 2015, the network is a “unique factory-direct service program”, delivering replacement belt cleaner blades, air cannon valves and other Martin products, specified and custom-fitted on-site and installed free of charge. Further, Martin service technicians will replace the main frame and tensioner of any belt cleaner as needed – also at no charge – as part of the Mr. Blade service relationship.

The new territory is part of a larger initiative to deliver factory-direct service to customers around the world. The Mr. Blade program is currently up and running in the USA, UK and Italy, with additional launches planned for next year. The company estimates that it is currently responsible for about 10,000 conveyor belts worldwide as part of its managed services program.

“Martin assures accurately-sized and professionally installed replacement blades that are matched to the specific application, providing optimum cleaning performance and service life,” the company said. “The company ensures customer satisfaction with its exclusive Forever Guarantee, which specifies that users will experience better cleaning, longer service life and lowest cost of ownership.”

Initial targets for the new territory will be facilities producing or handling sand, aggregate or cement.

Martin Engineering Senior Customer Support Specialist, Marty Smith, explained: “Plants in just about every industry are being asked to do more with limited resources. Maintenance personnel often don’t have the time or training to safely and efficiently perform belt cleaner inspections or air cannon service when needed. Customers really appreciate having a dedicated technician who makes regular visits, so employees can focus on core business activities.”

National Sales Manager for Wear Components, Alan Highton, says shifting the maintenance responsibility to a trusted partner through this kind of service relationship is one way that bulk handlers can continue to streamline their operations, improving the performance and safety of their bulk handling systems at the same time.

“Unlike most suppliers, we have chosen not to use third-party service providers, who typically don’t have the specific expertise to optimise these systems,” Highton said.

“The idea behind the Mr. Blade program is to deliver an unequalled level of service using highly efficient, regionalised systems,” he added. “Our technicians really get to know the conveyors they’re visiting, and with the monitoring systems we now have in place, we’re able to deliver proactive service in advance of a breakdown, replacing worn or failing components before they lead to an event that stops production.”

The company is also taking steps to help customers whose facilities have limited access during the COVID-19 pandemic by partnering with their maintenance staff to remotely train employees to effectively maintain their conveyor systems, offering guidelines on preventive maintenance, inspections and replacement blade ordering. Factory-direct technicians remain in close contact with periodic check-ins and provide key parameters to assure optimum performance, according to the company.

As part of the Mr. Blade service, Martin will install its Position Indicators on every primary cleaner free of charge to deliver remote monitoring for qualifying customers, allowing technicians and operations personnel to access detailed information on conditions and remaining service life via Wi-Fi or cell phone. The monitoring system alerts service personnel when re-tensioning or replacement is required, or when abnormal conditions occur.

Also included are regularly-scheduled inspections, adjustment and blade replacement as required on all Martin belt cleaning systems, as well as the company’s multi-point Walk-the-Belt audits based on worldwide best practices. All services are covered by the price of components, with no contract required, Martin claims.

Highton said the new territory will cover five states: Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland, New Jersey and Delaware. The company has begun serving customers with two technicians in specially-equipped vans, each outfitted with a fresh supply of 8 ft (2.4 m) blade lengths and equipped with a band saw, milling machine and all tools required to achieve a custom fit, accurate installation and precise tensioning.

The vans are designed as mobile business units, with technicians able to electronically enter and update data on each customer system right at the site. With a lifetime record of all belt cleaning equipment, customers will have access to details on the mounting assembly, tensioner and blade wear life, along with total annual cost information for budgeting purposes, the company claims.

Smith said: “Consistent attention to the cleaners helps deliver maximum performance and wear life, minimising component failures and unscheduled shutdowns. And, if there is a breakdown, service is available from MSHA-certified technicians capable of repairing any brand or style of cleaner. We can even supply retrofit blades to fit belt cleaners from any manufacturer.”

Martin Engineering conveys speciality contractor message

Using a specialty contractor for installation and ongoing maintenance of conveyor belts contributes to safer and more efficient production – with less unscheduled downtime – and, in the long run, saves money and reduces injuries, according to Martin Engineering.

“Performance problems with conveyor components and systems can frequently be traced to improper installation or insufficient maintenance,” the bulk material handling innovator says. “It is recommended that the component manufacturer or expert contractor install equipment on both new and retrofit applications.”

Serious performance problems stem from a lack of proper maintenance, which is exacerbated by several factors.

Training and retention

The time and resources required to train employees on equipment and certify them to conduct certain procedures such as confined space entry, electrical work, etc can be a significant ongoing expense, Martin Engineering says.

As workers become more experienced and gain certifications to properly maintain efficient systems, their value in the marketplace rises. This leads to retention becoming an issue.

“In contrast, specialty contractors must be experienced, knowledgeable and certified to conduct the appointed maintenance, and it’s up to the contracted company to retain and train that staff,” the company says.

Maintenance danger zones

Due to a greater emphasis on safety and the expensive consequences of unscheduled downtime, bulk handlers are being more meticulous about conveyor operation and maintenance, according to Martin Engineering.

This increased scrutiny includes regular cleaning of spillage, improved dust control, and additional monitoring and maintenance, which expose employees to a moving system more often. These changes introduce a variety of hazards.

Conveyor danger zones where work injuries are likely to occur include:

  • Loading zone;
  • Discharge zone;
  • Mechanical/electrical equipment;
  • Rotating pinch/shear points;
  • Underneath the conveyor; and
  • Unguarded reach-in points.
Danger zones exist along the entire length of the belt, many at maintenance points

“Most common conveyor-related issues are found across a wide range of industries, and personnel who work around the equipment on a daily basis often become complacent about the conditions, viewing issues as an unavoidable outcome of production rather than abnormalities in need of resolution,” the company says.

“An experienced maintenance contractor recognises these problems and may present solutions that internal resources have overlooked. The improvements are designed to reduce employee exposure, improve workplace safety and maximise productivity.”

Service contract types

Maintenance programs differ by provider and may be customisable to suit individual customers, but they generally fall into three categories: inspection/report, cleaning/servicing and full service.

A scheduled inspection and report contract results in a specialty contractor coming to site to thoroughly examine a system – from belt health to equipment function to the surrounding environment – and identify potential issues. A report is produced that presents findings and offers solutions.

The cleaning and servicing contracts are perhaps the most common, Martin Engineering says.

From spillage and silo cleaning to monitoring and changing belt cleaner blades, services can be very specific and fill gaps where maintenance crews might be overstretched. “The first advantage to this is that a conveyor can be surveyed without requiring the attention of plant personnel, freeing them to go about their usual tasks,” the company says. “A second advantage is that the outside surveyor is an expert in proper conveyor practices and current governmental regulations.”

At the highest level, a full service and maintenance contract sends trained technicians who take accountability for monitoring, maintaining and reporting on every level of system function. They replace wear components when needed and propose required upgrades to maximise efficiency, safety and uptime.

“This provides operators with cost certainty, making it easier to project and manage the cost of operation,” the company says.

Return on investment (ROI)

Increasing speeds and volumes on older conveyor systems designed for lower production levels contribute to workplace injuries and increased downtime. Capital investments in newer semi- or fully-automated systems designed for higher throughput require less labour, but the maintenance staff needs to be highly trained by specialised technicians.

Maintenance service contracts deliver the best ROI, according to Martin Engineering, through a series of factors:

  • Compliance – the contractor points out compliance issues and offers solutions prior to expensive fines and violations;
  • Injuries/liability – contractors rely on a strict set of safety procedures to conduct maintenance, reducing liability;
  • Efficiency – maintenance service contracts focus on improving and sustaining uptime with the least capital investment possible;
  • Consistency – contractors have a clear directive and are not affected by internal factors (labour disputes, morale, etc); and
  • Cost of operation – with a defined scope of work on a set budget, along with clear reporting and recommendations on pending needs, operators can better forecast improvements and control labour costs, further improving ROI over time.

Maintenance service contracts are not just a way of controlling and potentially reducing the cost of operation, they are also a safety mechanism.

For example, one case study showed a 79% reduction in lost time incidents and a 40% improvement in production using specialty services, which demonstrated payback in days from an annual specialty maintenance contract.

“Workloads may preclude staff from maintaining proper compliance or they just might not notice some violations,” the company says. “Outside resources take ownership of the plant’s efficient and productive use of the conveyor system and strive to improve conveyor efficiency, maximise equipment life and safety to add value to the operation.”

At the core of the issue is lower operating costs and improved production. The work should match or improve efficiency regarding downtime and throughput. If the criteria of compliance, cost savings and efficiency are met, then the maintenance service contract has provided a tenable ongoing solution, Martin Engineering concluded.

Metso strengthens equipment, processes, technology and people connections

Now more than ever remote assistance is needed to keep the lights on at many mining operations across the globe.

The onset of COVID-19-related restrictions has focused the industry’s attention on just how far it can and should automate operations and – nearer term – how it can keep downtime to a minimum at its processing plants.

Metso has been investing in the development of new technologies and digital solutions to aid this cause for decades.

Think of how VisioRock™ and VisioFroth™, combined with Advanced Process Control OCS-4D™, have helped operators monitor rock sizes and flotation efficiency, and optimise production overall, from control rooms far away from where the action is happening. More of its products – such as the recently launched VPX™ filter for tailings dewatering and the Foresight™ smart mining crushing and screening stations – can also be connected to various devices to help monitor equipment.

This wide portfolio of technologies to collect, analyse, and act on data from minerals processing plants was recently combined under its Metso Foresight digital portfolio, which consists of cloud-based IoT and on-premise solutions that collect and analyse machine and process data.

The move has consolidated tools such as the Metso Metrics core remote conditioning monitoring solution and the recently acquired capabilities of HighService Service – which has been providing maintenance and remote monitoring for gearless mill drives for over 20 years – into one integrated solution that mining companies can tap into.

Johanna Newcomb, Vice President, Performance Solutions at Metso, says these recent organic and inorganic investments reflect the company “doubling down” on its digital focus.

“In 2018, we launched Metso Metrics and, in 2019, the acquisition of HighService Service added remote maintenance services to our offering,” she told IM as part of a recent IM Insight Interview.

This year, the company launched its Metso Performance Center solution to keep up this rapid digital momentum.

These centres, currently in Santiago, Chile, and Changsha, China, have been established at just the right time, helping mining companies troubleshoot and carry out maintenance tasks remotely when bringing experts to site may not be possible.

Newcomb explained the rationale for their introduction: “Remote monitoring and analytics, combined with on-site assistance as needed, provides a new, proactive way for Metso to support our customers; to reduce variability of their processes, to optimise the processes and to maximise the use of their assets.”

The creation of the centres has been geared towards leveraging the vast expertise and experience within Metso of equipment, minerals processing and carrying out servicing on a global basis, according to Newcomb.

“The Metso Performance Centers are a new way of funnelling that expertise and data-driven analytics for the benefit of our customers globally,” she said.

While improving process stability, asset reliability and process efficiency and sustaining the improvement over the long term are the key aims of these centres, this type of remote service support could see the philosophy of on-site maintenance teams shift tremendously.

Instead of carrying out ‘firefighting’ tasks, they can focus on proactive elements that optimise the processing plant over the long term, according to Newcomb.

Metso has been able to facilitate such a shift using many of its digital solutions that reside at customer sites such as advanced process control systems, Visio and Audio systems, ore tracking platforms, and others.

But, how do these service centres make the most of these digital solutions?

Soledad Barbera, Head of Metso Performance Centres, explained: “The services are available globally and provided by a multi-disciplinary team of experts. There are two centres in operation, one in Santiago, Chile, currently supporting all time zones, and one in Changsha, China, which services the Chinese market area.”

In the ‘first line of defence’ at these centres, specialised engineers monitor connected equipment and processes. This sees them scrutinising analytics, interpreting data, and delivering insights and recommendations for actions. Customers – and potentially an on-site team of Metso technicians – receive this information.

Barbera says Metso is in the process of expanding the first line of monitoring in different market areas, increasing the network of monitoring engineers and adding market area satellite locations. “This will provide an interface to get closer to our customers and speak to them in their own language as much as possible,” she told IM in the IM Insight Interview.

In the centre’s ‘second line of defence’ – incorporating more complex problems – expert advisors with broader operational experience and knowledge of the customer’s applications will be drafted in to solve issues.

The ‘third line of defence’ will see the company’s global network of experts mobilise to help support long-term solutions development. This includes reliability engineers and product experts.

Proactive performance

These remote services help Metso ensure desired performance is reached in deliveries and that this performance is sustained or improved further through a long-term service offering, according to Newcomb.

“By closely connecting the remote services with our existing offering, we are able to mobilise required assistance, changes, parts, etc faster, and elevate the level of proactiveness in our deliveries and services overall,” she said.

This has had a tangible impact on operations at the processing plants connected to these centres, according to Barbera.

“With remote diagnostics now offered through the Metso Performance Center, we have helped customers reduce unplanned downtime by 30%,” she said, referencing an example from the company’s gearless mill drive monitoring division (acquired with HighService Service). “We have also helped cut in half the on-site time needed to resolve failures through this remote monitoring service.”

Metso ensures all customer data is protected throughout the exchange, according to Newcomb.

“We have secure, modular connectivity options and fully respect the privacy of our customers’ data,” she said.

This broad offering has already attracted many customers to the centres, with Barbera saying around 100 pieces of equipment and solutions are currently being serviced through the remote facilities. “They are critical assets for our customers,” Barbera explained.

Expect this number to increase in the very near term, with Metso looking to further broaden the centre’s offering.

“We are expanding the analytics and digital solutions for different types of equipment and services,” Barbera said.

This expansion is very timely.

“The world has changed, and we are living a new way of doing business,” Barbera said. “Many customers want us to support them remotely and continue to be able to give them advice and recommendations.

“With the help of remote services and the latest technologies, Metso is still able to offer expert support to our customers, without a delay.”

This interview is an extract of an IM Insight Interview that will be published later this month

Metso Minerals orders hold up in face of COVID-19 impacts

Metso’s orders and sales held up in the March quarter in the face of the onset of COVID-19, with the company saying activity in its mining equipment business continued in line with expectations.

The company posted a 5% year-on-year increase in orders received to €1.07 billion ($1.15 billion), while its sales were unchanged at €832 million. Its operating profit dropped to €73 million, from €100 million a year earlier, but it was still able to generate free cash flow of €78 million during the three-month period.

Metso said the measures taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19 started to have a material impact on its businesses and financial performance only towards the end of the March quarter. It was around this time that the company outlined its COVID-19 strategy.

“In February, the businesses and operations in China were affected but this impact was offset later, thanks to a fast ramp-up in March,” it said. “Quarterly orders from China were higher year-on-year, while the drop in sales will take longer to catch up.”

Lockdowns were introduced in mid-March in other countries, with the restrictions in India having had the biggest impact on Metso, it noted. There was some positive news, with, as of mid-April, operations in India and South Africa being permitted to ramp up.

In terms of customer demand, Metso said, from mid-March, the biggest COVID-19-related impact came from its aggregates equipment business, where customers and distributors significantly reduced their investments.

The mining equipment business, however, continued in line with expectations.

“The importance of the mining operations for many countries has been visible in the continued healthy demand for spare and wear parts,” Metso said, while noting that restrictions relating to travel and workforce mobility have had an impact on mining services by limiting service work carried out at customers’ mines.

Its Minerals business saw a 6% year-on-year jump in orders received in the March quarter, while services orders rose 5%. Growth of 8% in equipment orders was supported by the acquisition of McCloskey, it said, noting that mining equipment orders increased slightly against a high comparison period, “highlighting the healthy market activity.”

Metso reaffirmed that its partial demerger and the transaction to create Metso Outotec and Neles continue to progress according to plan, with closing currently expected to take place on June 30, 2020, subject to regulatory approvals.

Autonomous conveyor belt condition monitoring in times of a crisis

As the digitalisation of processes in mines progresses, machines linked into the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) gain in importance, according to Bernd Küsel of CBG Conveyor Belt Gateway.

An important part of predictive maintenance and accident prevention is the continuous examination and diagnosis of steel cord conveyor belts, which are mainly used in the long-distance conveying of ores, coal and other raw materials. These conveyor belts are essential to many mining and loading facilities.

Many operators still rely on inspection personnel from service companies equipped with portable devices to inspect conveyors, but their appointment can be problematic. And, with today’s travel restrictions, this is close to impossible.

The problem comes as such inspections provide an insufficient picture of the condition of a conveyor belt that is reliant on interpretation by trained persons, with portable devices that only cover parts of a conveyor belt, according to Küsel. Moreover, inspections only offer a snapshot in time without the possibility to intervene in the case of threatening belt defects that could lead to a total failure of the conveyor system.

In times of crisis, such as the current COVID-19 pandemic, it is even more important to use a self-sufficient, automatic diagnostic system, according to Küsel.

“The virtually maintenance-free CBGuard scanner provides complete knowledge of the condition of the conveyor belt in real time,” he says. “It is operated from the user’s control centre or via the Internet.”

Damage can be repaired at the best possible time for the customer, reducing unnecessary downtime and the associated costs and loss of production that come with this.

The CBGuard scanner can be an indispensable part of a predictive maintenance program, Küsel says.

“With it, conveyor belts can be integrated into the IIoT, ie into seamless communication with other electronically monitored systems. CBGuard provides a complete, detailed knowledge of the condition of the conveyor belt – non-stop and online,” Küsel said. “Virtually every cubic millimetre of the conveyor belt is checked during operation. The CBGuard scanner compares the detected values with the target values in real time. Every critical change triggers a reaction. The operating personnel are immediately informed of serious errors via SMS. In addition, the exact thickness of the entire conveyor belt can be measured and outputted as a contour map.”

The CBGuard Life Extender, meanwhile, detects internal damage such as steel cord breakage, corrosion, misplacements and other defects of the tension member. The exact condition of each steel cord can be viewed on a monitor in real time. The same applies to certain belt breakers and conductor loops.

Damage such as holes, foreign bodies, protruding ropes, edge breakage, bubbles, rubber cover abrasion and even insufficient belt cleaning are detected. Each defect automatically generates a predetermined, individual reaction. Information about the findings is additionally available at any time as a photo, video or inspection report, which tells personnel exactly what kind of damage it is, how severe it is and the location of said damage.

The CBGuard scanner also prevents fatal consequences caused by splice defects, Küsel said. As the weakest links in a conveyor belt, splices pose a greater risk to the operation – with potentially devastating consequences.

The CBGuard Life Extender scans all splices. Every single splice is individually assigned in the database and compared with its target state. Any critical deviation generates an alarm or a stop of the system in case of threatening defects.

“No other method available on the market can provide such exact and comprehensive results,” Küsel said.

The way CBGuard works is similar to that of X-ray machines in the healthcare sector or in airports.
The device consists of an X-ray generator with a tube, a receiver module and a control unit. The generator produces artificial X-rays from electricity, with the ionising rays penetrating the moving conveyor belt and then hitting the receiver module – an amorphous silicon imaging field.

It is a process like that of photo diodes in a digital camera. Countless, seamless images are continuously generated and defined by CBGuard’s smart software – based on advanced face and palmprint recognition algorithms – checking the condition of the belt, while accounting for the individual structure, size, colour and position of deviations and reporting them as a specific event (eg damage).

“Using a CBGuard is safe,” Küsel said. “The device complies with all international regulations on radiation emission. It does not contain radioactive material!”

The compact design and low weight of the CBGuard makes for a quick and easy installation on almost any belt conveyor. The scanner is also almost wear-free, according to Küsel, as it has no moving parts or contact with the conveyor belt.

All functions of the CBGuard Life Extender can be remotely controlled via TCP/IP, with maintenance or programming work possible from anywhere in the world. The analysis software runs under Windows 7 and 10, and the program is intuitive and easy to use, he said.

CBGuard has proven its performance in over 300 applications, according to Küsel, noting that large copper mines in Peru and Chile rely on CBGuard. There are many other applications in Australia and Asia in the limestone and coal sectors, he added.

The CBGuard scanner ensures fully automatic, complete monitoring of steel cord conveyor belts making inspections by personnel or devices that only cover a part of the conveyor belt spectrum unnecessary, Küsel says.

The gain in safety, the independence from personnel availability and the reduction of capital expenditure and operating expenditure are convincing arguments for the use of a CBGuard, he explained.

On the operation expenditure side, for example, there is no longer a need to employ internal maintenance personnel or outsource external services to inspect the belt. Such inspections, typically carried out weekly, are conducted in belt ‘creep mode’ and involve a full shut down, according to Küsel.

“With the CBGuard, you do not have any production downtime because it is carrying out the inspections all the time at the normally operating conveyor, at its normal speed,” he said.

Belt repairs also only occur when necessary, with details of failures coming from the CBGuard. “You will see serious damage immediately, so you can repair them before they get worse and cost much more money to fix,” he said.

This also provides capital expenditure benefits, with the CBGuard telling operators when and which part of the belt is worn out. In many cases, only part lengths will have to be changed, not the entire belt length.

This comes with inventory benefits too, with companies no longer having to carry extensive stock belting as the CBGuard is able to predict in good time when the belt will need to be replaced.

Metso invests in Arizona repair facility after stellar 2019 results

Metso has made further investments in its Mesa repair facility in Arizona, USA, in order to, it says, optimise safety and broaden service capabilities.

The facility offers repairs and field services while supporting Metso’s Life Cycle Services contracts. It has seen steady growth since the opening in 2015, with 2019 setting a record for safety performance, revenue and profitability, according to the company.

One of the many upgrades to the facility includes the installation of “a state-of-the-art stress relief oven”. This investment was made to offer a more complete service to customers on large rebuilds, Metso said. “This will improve quality control as well as accelerate the turnaround times for our clients,” the company explained.

In addition to the stress relief oven, Mesa has also invested in other equipment to support the repair of mining screens, Wet Low Intensity Magnetic Separator (LIMS) drums, and babbitted bearings for mills.

A screen test stand has been manufactured and will be operational by the end of March, the company said. This will allow each screen rebuilt at Mesa to be test-run before being sent back out into the field, which will reduce the potential for issues during installation and start-up, according to the company.

Equipment needed to repair LIMS drums was also put in place last year and has seen a steady inflow of repairs coming from mines in the Iron Range of Minnesota, the company said.

Metso said: “In the future, the facility aims to further grow its portfolio of value-added services, to improve productivity and reduce operational costs for its clients in both the mining and aggregates sectors.”

Enerpac and Cooper Fluid Systems aid dragline maintenance at coal mine

Enerpac and Copper Fluid Systems (CFS) have come to the rescue of a Queensland coal miner looking for a way to safely and efficiently carry out maintenance on its dragline.

The hydraulics leader, in tandem with Queensland distributor CFS, devised a solution that incorporated its RACH306 lightweight aluminium cylinders. This allowed operators to get out on the boom to provide essential maintenance.

Such a system requires special tools offering a combination of high power, light weight, compact size and reliability, Enerpac said. This is where the RACH306 cylinders provided a lightweight solution for tensioning the intermediate boom suspension on the dragline, ensuring it continued to operate without causing excess wear on the main frame.

With a total weight of around 11 kg each, the aluminium cylinders are roughly half the weight of their steel counterparts and provide the same power, with a capacity of 30 t, the company said.

CFS Queensland Regional Manager, Mark Lorber, said: “The lighter weight makes a significant difference to the safety and comfort of maintenance personnel, as the only way to get the tools up on the dragline is to individually transport them out on the boom and spend time precisely positioning them there.

“The Enerpac gear is used to tension the intermediate boom suspension ropes by sliding over threaded rods with 30 mm studs at each of the adjustment points. Hollow cylinders are used because they can slide over the top of the stud. The Enerpac RACH cylinders provide a 6 in (150 mm) stroke with smooth, reliable performance.”

Tensioning these suspension ropes on draglines is an essential maintenance task for mining operations, according to Lorber. A slack or loose rope can cause additional stress, or even cracking on the main frame – especially when digging, he said.

Lorber added: “With draglines typically costing in excess of A$100 million ($64 million), regular preventative maintenance is a vital part of minimising downtime and avoiding unexpected costs. The major advantages of using Enerpac tools in this application are the quality of a market-leading brand, coupled with service support on-site.”

CFS custom designs dragline tensioning system boxes, with each box containing four Enerpac P80 hand pumps, four Enerpac RACH306 aluminium hollow plunger cylinders and MDG41-compliant hydraulic pressure hoses. Four boxes are used in total for each dragline machine, where they are mounted on each boom.

The tensioning system boxes are designed to be weatherproof and protect the hydraulics against dust, which is highly prevalent on open-pit coal mining operations. Additionally, the boxes have a separate shelf for the pump so that it is further protected from dirt, grease and other contaminants, the company said.

Enerpac’s RACH-Series cylinders, with strokes from 50-250 mm, weigh from just 5.2-9 kg for the 20 t models through to a maximum of 48.9-77.2 kg for the range-topping 150 t models. The cylinders are comprised of composite bearings on all moving surfaces to prevent metal-to-metal contact, resist side loads and extend cylinder life.

Complementing the RACH-Series cylinders are Enerpac’s lightweight hand pumps, models P-392 or P-802, which are constructed of composite materials including aluminium to comprise the optimum lightweight pump and cylinder set, according to the company. The cylinders can also be powered by fast-acting Enerpac electric, air and petrol pumps.

Features of the full RAC range include:

  • Hollow plunger design allows for both pull and push forces;
  • Composite bearings increase cylinder life and sideload resistance;
  • Hard-Coat finish on all surfaces resists damage and extends cylinder life;
  • Floating centre tube increases seal and product life;
  • Handles standard on all models;
  • Steel base plate and saddle for protection against load-induced damage;
  • Integral stop ring prevents plunger over-travel and is capable of withstanding the full cylinder capacity;
  • High strength return spring for rapid cylinder retraction;
  • CR-400 coupler and dustcap included on all models; and
  • All cylinders meet ASME B-30.1 and ISO 10100 standards.