ThyssenKrupp and Siemens continue conveyance partnership

Increasing challenges to meet new productivity goals in the post-boom market have led ThyssenKrupp and Siemens to continue their mining industry partnership for another five years.

With ThyssenKrupp’s speciality in materials conveyance and Siemens focus on belt drive systems, the partnership will continue to supply the mining sector with innovative transport solutions.

ThyssenKrupp’s Industrial Solutions chairman Jens Michael Wegmann said conveying technology had to keep up with the complex requirements of the modern mining industry.

“We want to continue offering our customers reliable and highly efficient conveyor systems.

“It is only possible to optimize modern mechatronic belt drive systems like this by working in close cooperation with a partner because the mechanics and the motor form a self-contained unit.

“That’s why we are carrying on the tried and tested cooperation with Siemens.”

Siemens Process Industries and Drives CEO Jürgen Brandes said his company would be able to offer ThyssenKrupp their 3-10 MW motor series with the associated converter systems, in order to meet the mining industry’s demand for ever-increasing performance.

“We are happy to be able to keep on supporting thyssenkrupp with our time-proven direct drive systems featuring Sinamics cycloconverters and rugged synchronous motors which have undergone continuous further development in recent years,” he said.

Maintaining conveyor power processes

Power stations are 24/7 operations.

So ensuring they continue to run, no matter what, is a difficult enough proposition, but when these power stations are faced with the prospect of having to increase their output then making sure they are kept supplied creates a whole new raft of challenges.

As part of a push in the industry to become more sustainable whilst still delivering the same levels or higher of power, AGL’s Loy Yang power station underwent a conveyor system upgrade to extend the machinery and minimise production stoppages, breakdowns, and unscheduled downtimes.

The Loy Yang mine itself is a massive operation that uses mainly automated processes to transport coal from the bottom of the pit to the nearby power station.

It employs massive bucket wheel excavators that exhume up to 4000 tonnes of coal per hour, after which it deposits the material on to dredgers conveyors that feed on to main transfer conveyors that run on each level of the mine.

These main transfer conveyor systems comprise multiple separate conveyors, each with a belt-width of two metres and a travel speed of 5.2 meters per second (approximately 19 kilometres per hour), and have a combined length of 25 kilometres.

The conveyors then move the coal to a raw coal bunker, which has an 80,000 tonne capacity.

Additional conveyors then move the coal from this bunker to two separate power stations located at the top of the mine, AGL’s Loy Yang 2210MW and GDF Suez’s Loy Yang B 1000MW power stations.

However, as the coal bunker only has enough capacity to fuel 20 hours of power generation, it is crucial that the conveying system consistently performs.

Working with Rockwell Automation, Loy Yang installed an upgrade in its four-level open cut coal mine, which included the redesign and progressive changeover of the ex-isting coal transfer conveyor system.

Keeping current

The original legacy transfer conveyor drive systems at the Loy Yang mine were based on water-cooled eddy-current coupling (ECC) technology.

While the ECCs were an ideal drive solution when first installed, as they provided high torque over a wide speed range – which is ideal for moving large amounts of coal from the bottom of a pit to the surface, it had become clear that these drives systems were now struggling to move the coal as effectively as possible.

On top of this, the existing eddy-current coupling drive systems were becoming more difficult to maintain while the control systems became unreliable.

“The ECCs are an older method of conveyor control and as the mine continued to grow we needed additional power so it was clear that we needed to move towards a more modern system,” AGL Loy Yang mine electrical superintendent, Robert Collins, said.

“The need to keep up with increased power demand provided AGL Loy Yang with the opportunity to implement a drive solution incorporating the latest technology that would work effectively in the mine’s rugged environment,” he said.

To overcome this issue affecting the large numbers of conveyors on site, AGL Loy Yang focused on implementing new drive architecture technology in a gradual manner to allow for integration with existing drive systems and control architecture without heavily impacting production.

Working with Rockwell Automation, AGL Loy Yang developed a new drive solution built around an Allen-Bradley PowerFlex 7000 medium voltage AC drive.

Known as ‘direct-to-drive’ technology, it helps to eliminate the need for isolation transformer applications.

The mine’s engineering team decided to equip each conveyor with a fully self-contained, cooled, and removable drive package that could be easily installed or uninstalled on all the site’s conveyors.

The simplified nature of the drives eased the develop­ment of the portable drive packag-es.

“The transformerless configuration of the PowerFlex 7000 meant we were able to help minimise the footprint of the drive package,” Rockwell engineering team leader, John Dunn, said.

“The main electrical feature is the load sharing between different drives on each conveyor; we developed a portioned stainless steel IP65-rated enclosure, equipped with an air-conditioned cooling system, to house each of the 6.6kV PowerFlex drives,” he said.

“The ‘minimal component count’ was also a feature of the drive solution, with fewer parts eliminating the number of things that could go wrong.”

Integration on site

Nine drive packages have been supplied to the coal mine to date.

Engineers overcame the integration issues caused by the existing drive technology and control architecture by interfacing the first drive packages with PLC5 systems packages in a neighbouring switchroom.

It then uses ControlLogix, which is linked to the mine’s supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system, via the mine’s existing communications network.

Each drive package is then equipped with an Allen-Bradley electronic operator interface located on the front panel of the drive enclosure.

“The drives can be interrogated via these EOIs or through the mine’s SCADA system,” Dunn explained.

“The locally mounted EOIs make it easier for site personnel to access drive diagnostics without opening the dust-proof enclosures and exposing the drives to the elements.”

The two teams also worked together to devise a strategy to seamlessly synchronise the new drive packages with the existing ECC drives.

“Integrating the new drives at the mine has been a relatively straightforward project to complete,” he said.

“We have a lot of experience using the drives now, making it a fairly easy, run of the mill upgrade that doesn’t take too long.”

The end game

Since the installation of the drives Loy Yang has seen a reduction in production stoppages, breakdowns, and unscheduled downtimes.

Engineers now have advanced diagnostics and troubleshooting capabilities, allowing for a reduction in maintenance, and allows them to eliminate isolation transformers whilst providing load sharing between conveyors, which can now regenerate energy if required.

However the job is not yet done, with additional upgrades slated.

Following this project the AGL Loy Yang team is now planning to progressively replace other ECC drives across the mine, and is designing a new downhill conveyor based on the drive that will be used for backfilling the mine.

ABB wins massive truckless mine automation contract

ABB has won a contract to make the world’s largest iron truckless.

The $103 million contract will see it install electrical and automation systems at Vale’s S11D iron ore mine in Brazil.

This latest contract follows on from an earlier $140 million contract to complete the first phase of the mine’s automation project which saw it begin to install shiftable conveyor belts instead of off-highway dump trucks to move the ore from the mine to the processing plant.

“This is the first time a ‘truckless’ solution will be used on a large scale at an iron ore mine,” according to the company.

It stated that using “a truckless system significantly reduces operating costs and produces lower carbon emissions.

“If the S11D mine were to be operated using trucks it would need around 100 trucks and consume 77% more diesel per year.”

This new contract will see ABB supply a 230 kilovolt in-feed substation to connect the mine to the grid, as well as 42 secondary substations.

These secondary substations will be self-contained in ABB’s e-houses, prefabricated, walk-in, modular, outdoor enclosures.

ABB will also supply the motors driving the mine’s conveyor belts.

According to ABB’s head of process automation division, Velo-Matti Reinikkala “this project will also allow Vale to increase production by approximately 90 million tonnes, while reducing emissions and improving operational efficiency and process safety”.

Turning product handling problems into profits

Product handling is a real challenge for companies. However a good conveyor system can turn the tide on poor profits.

Things move quickly in today's world. Whether companies are shipping directly to consumers, who want next day delivery of their purchases, or to business customers, who demand small regular deliveries on shorter lead times; delivering faster while keeping your handling costs down is becoming a real challenge for industry.

The key is choosing the right equipment to help you handle goods more cost effectively. 

Regardless of the type of business, companies will be moving products throughout the facility – between processes, from one end to the other, and ready to supply your customers. This transportation adds cost to the company's products, whether they are being moved at a moderate volume over a short distance or moving many units per hour across the entire length of the warehouse.

With tight OH&S requirements and increasing labour costs, manually handling of products can be very expensive. 
Motorised trolleys and automated guided vehicles (AGVs) can carry heavier loads much further than people, which can increase efficiency over traditional manual handling. 

For larger goods, forklift trucks and pallet movers are excellent universal handling machines that can also load and unload vehicles, and lift pallets up high for storage.

However the biggest savings and efficiency gains are made using conveyors. Conveyors are great for straight-forward transportation over short, medium or long distances. And unlike people, they don't run out of energy after carrying just a few cartons.

Transportation conveyors can flow throughout the facility, eliminating rehandling before and after each process, and can even be loaded and unloaded automatically; reducing the amount of manual handling needed and the cost of handling each carton.

According to Colby Conveyors, more flow, more manoeuvrability and more management control are what companies should be looking for when it comes to choosing a conveyor solution.

Getting the right flexibility in conveyors

Being able to change production processes to deliver products faster, and at a cheaper and consistently high standard, not only for local customers, but also for growing export markets is the ultimate aim for manufacturers and companies operating within Australia's food and beverage industries.

The key to achieving this flexibility is production equipment, in particular well-designed conveyor systems which allow smooth processing and prevent bottlenecking. Customised or 'turn-key' solutions are becoming increasingly popular, and are often integrated into a plant's automation or robotics system to allow for greater control. 

Flexibility in demand 

Anthony Gustafson, Australis Engineering engineering manager, says flexibility of design, and development time and cost are factors companies should consider when choosing a conveyor system.

"Australia's small market means most production lines run multiple products so machinery has to cater for multiple sizes, shapes, speeds and be able to handle these differences with the shortest changeover time possible," Gustafson said. 

The Sydney-based Australis Engineering provides a range of conveyor systems for fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) production, including slat chain, modular belt, roller and pallet conveyors, and also bucket elevators. 

One manufacturer that utilises a number of flexible conveyor systems in its production line of canned fruits, fruit juices and cordials is Golden Circle. 

The company's Northgate, Queensland cannery produces over 180,000 tonnes per year of product to cater for consumer demands. 

Craig Kent, Golden Circle Northgate project engineer, agrees that conveyor flexibility is the key to delivery. "Modular conveyor systems must have short lead times, and spare parts must be easily sourced and readily available," he said.

Kent's facility relies on a combination of slat chain conveyors with Rexnord-branded stainless steel chains, modular belt conveyors with Intralox-branded chains, belt conveyors with rubber belting, and low back pressure carton roller conveyors. "These were all manufactured by site contractors to site specification for cleaning and the surrounding environment," he said. 

Conveyors for food and beverage

Though conveyor systems for manufacturing facilities come in all shapes and sizes, those engineered for the food and beverage sector must be made of hygienic materials allow for easy cleaning, and prevent cross-contamination between products and operators. 

Robert Marguccio, Heat and Control business manager, packaging and inspection systems Australia, says it is essential in the food business that processing equipment is hygienic. 

"High levels of hygiene, easy-to-clean with a quick cleaning turn-around, and reduction in product breakage are important to food manufacturers," he said.

Marguccio recommends looking at sanitation, operator safety, cross-contamination, sustainability and product quality control when purchasing a new conveyor or upgrading an existing system. System layout, feed modulation and methods to divert product are also important.

Golden Circle's Kent agrees. "Conveyors must be cleanable to maintain a hygienic standard in the factory," he said. 

"Where possible inner surfaces should be visible and cleanable. Some products even require the use of food grade cleaning agents that run continuously on the conveyor during production.

"Safety is always important. Conveyor systems must be easily accessible and maintained. Construction methods must not leave sharp edges or produce nip points with moving parts."

Meeting Standards

There are a number of Australian standards food manufacturers must adhere to in order to sell their products both locally and overseas, including standards relating to production equipment.

Equipment that can be cleaned easily and quickly, and offers safety features for the operator can help companies avoid potentially-severe health hazards; not only for the purpose of passing export quality control checks, but also to meet local food safety standards, like those governed by FSANZ, and machine safety standards like those from the Safety Institute of Australia (SIA). 

"Easy cleaning is always on the top of the agenda when we speak with our food production clients. It is very important especially where AQIS requirements are involved," said Gustafson. 

"Equipment is normally in Stainless Steel and particular attention is paid during the design phase to ensure cleaning can be easily performed."

Smart motors keep cold-chain conveyors moving

With Swire Cold Storage's Cannon Hill operation handling over 30,000 boxes of chilled product every day, it is not surprising that the site's vast conveyor system plays a key role in the company's temperature controlled warehousing and distribution operations.

However, as production levels have continued to rise over the years at the Brisbane site, so has the need to improve reliability of the equipment due to an ageing conveyor system and an ever-increasing volume of product.


Colin Carter, Swire Cold Storage engineering manager for Queensland, explained that the problems mostly occurred on the main carton conveyor line, which carries a variety of chilled boxed products, where it splits into five separate distribution lines.

"Because of the high volume of boxes coming down the main conveyor line, the chain drive pushers just couldn't cope at peak times, with the boxes getting caught up and forcing us to stop the whole conveyor line. Any downtime has a major impact on our customers, something we work hard to keep to a minimum," Carter said.

Swire Cold Storage is Australia's largest cold- chain logistics service provider with a network of 17 facilities nationwide.

"The issue had been with us for quite a long time, but only at peak load times did it become critical. However, it became more of a point of focus as our volumes increased. We had tried a number of things to try to fix the problem, but with no success," Carter explained.

Low cost project
In the end, the company managed to fix the problem for far less money than they initially thought. "In fact it was a very low cost project for such a big improvement to our production efficiency," remarked Carter.
Shahry Zand, applications engineer with SEW-Eurodrive, explained that the problem was with the pushers, "they just couldn't keep pace with the main conveyor line".

"The main conveyor line travels around one metre per second with the gap between boxes set at just one metre at peak load times," Zand said.

"This means the pusher must finish its pushing operation and be ready in its home position for the next push in less than 0.7 seconds.The boxes are mainly 0.5 metre x 0.5 metre with varying heights, so basically they have the same footprint."

The chain drive pushers were driven by an older SEW-Eurodrive Movimot geared motor controlled by a PLC via a MFD DeviceNet module.

"The positioning was being done in the PLC based on a home Proximity switch," Zand said.
"However, due to the DeviceNet/PLC delays, the 0.7s total pushing time wasn't quite achievable and the motor wasn't able to stop at the home Prox all the time.

"As a result the next box was crashing into the pusher and the whole main conveyor had to be stopped to clear and home the pusher."

Swire had tried to modify the PLC program by changing the motor speed, ramp times and delay times, but with no success.

Replace cabling
In a perfect world, the high dynamic nature of the application really called for a servo drive with a high-resolution encoder.

"However that option would work out to be quite expensive, with each pusher costing around $10,000," Zand said.

"Plus as the cabling would need to be replaced by shielded cabling and the inverters installed in a control cabinet, the total cost would have been over $100,000.

"Overall, the servo drive option involved a lot of changes and considerable disruption to the building which the customer didn't want to do.

"Instead we were able to fix the problem on the high-volume Queensland line, the most problematic, for less than $2200."

As well, SEW-Eurodrive was able to commission the conveyor in just one day, on the weekend, with no disruption to production at all.

"In order to eliminate the DeviceNet/PLC delays, we proposed that the positioning be done by an intelligent SEW-Eurodrive MQD DeviceNet module coupled close to the Movimot," Zand said. 

"Based on the required positioning accuracy a simple 24 pulse/rev built-in motor encoder was selected."

The six-year-old SEW-Eurodrive motor, which was still in a good working condition, was replaced with a SEW-Eurodrive DRE high efficiency motor.

"We also replaced the original MFD DeviceNet module, which is basically a gateway just for communicating with the PLC, with a MQD DeviceNet module with internal positioning and sequence control (IPOS) capabilities.

"We needed IPOS to directly process the encoder signal and to program it to do the positioning independent of the main PLC. The main PLC would just provide a go command and the rest of the positioning and control of the pusher would be handled by the MQD and Movimot," Zand said.

To achieve the total pushing cycle of less than 0.5s, a speed profile was programmed in IPOS based on the pusher position.

The challenge was to prevent damaging the boxes by hitting them at high speed and also be able to stop the pusher at the home prox within the required accuracy.

"As the required ramp up/down time of 0.15s was really pushing the limits of an induction motor, we decided to add another feature in the IPOS program to make it even more reliable," said Zand.

"If for any reason the pusher stops after the Home Prox, it is programmed to come back quickly to the Home Prox before the next box crashes into it.

"Thanks to the new built-in encoder, the pusher hasn't missed the Home Prox even once and it's pushing the boxes quicker and smoother than ever before.

"At this stage we have only replaced the problem line, the busiest line, mainly to prove that our engineering works," Zand said.

Standardise motors
Carter was impressed with the improvements to the conveyor lines.

"Since putting in the new drive our downtime has decreased considerably," he said.

Carter explained that the one remaining pusher operates on a very slow moving line, "so we don't need to upgrade that at this point in time.

"However eventually we probably will, just to standardise the motors on that conveyor line," he said.

"We only put one in at the beginning to see how it worked, but within the first week we could clearly see the problem had been fixed.

"Our customer sends the boxed product to us, where we basically sort it in our temperature controlled ware-housing and distribution centre, which is set at two degrees Centigrade."

The company is presently running two shifts each working day, starting at six in the morning.

"However, the flow of product is not always constant, with the peak in the morning," Carter noted.
"We probably have close to 1800 metres of conveyor lines here.

"The tunnel from the meatworks is over 250 metres long alone, with three conveyors, plus a return pallet conveyor in the tunnel, plus there are all the conveyors around the site. It's quite an impressive operation.

"We have over 150 of their drives on site and over 200 SEW-Eurodrive motors and gearboxes," Carter said.

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