Conveyors are used to move materials in industries such as mining and steel production. Their parts most vulnerable to damage are the rollers. Virtually anything that can damage the conveyor, such as overloading or an unclean belt, can affect the performance of the rollers, or break them. When this happens, the remaining rollers have to withstand more load and can end up breaking too. At some point, the conveyor belt will no longer be able to function and so will have to be stopped while parts are fixed or repaired, with costs accrued from the maintenance and the lost capacity. Unfortunately, current methods for identifying problems, usually relying on manual inspections, are inaccurate and ineffective as they spot problems only after their occurrence. The EU-funded GAZIMO project is developing rollers with built-in sensors, a communication module and autonomous energy generation. These rollers will be able to provide real-time, technical data on their performance. By signalling their exact location, they enable repair or replacement before causing conveyor failure. “At ULMA Conveyor Components, we have been designing and manufacturing rollers for over 60 years and so know how to build rollers that can last in very harsh environments. We are proud to have developed GAZIMO from scratch. At the time there was nothing in the market for monitoring rollers,” says Egoitz Jiménez, ULMA managing director and project coordinator. He welcomed the EU funding which allowed the team to develop a business plan for commercialisation of the system.
The roller monitoring system
GAZIMO sensors monitor each of the rollers from the inside, collecting precise information about their status individually and collectively. The communication modules in each roller create a wireless sensor network, which sends updates to the maintenance team. The system can alert staff to problems by sending warning alarms, allowing them to decide when to rectify the problem based on location and severity. This information is also analysed by ULMA engineers to improve the rollers and their life expectancy. GAZIMO also has a novel energy harvesting system which captures the energy generated by the turning of the rollers. “As a lot of energy is needed continuously, our engineers had to adjust the communication protocols so they used less power. The next generation will use batteries that can last as long as the average life of a roller,” explains Jiménez. The team have placed GAZIMO monitored roller prototypes at mines in Australia, Norway, Peru and Spain. Testing in these very different electromagnetic environments has led to significant changes in GAZIMO’s communication system, while confirming the validity of the system as a whole.
Increased safety, decreased costs
GAZIMO’s monitored rollers will help increase safety in hazardous environments such as mines. Currently, workers have to walk along conveyors, while they are running, to check for problems. The system will also reduce waste, as the broken rollers can be replaced before they cause further damage, ultimately making them more efficient and so lowering the energy required to run the conveyor. “GAZIMO’s design has the potential to save millions of euro for many industries and in the future could be integrated into automated mines, in places that are not accessible or safe for humans,” adds Jiménez. Currently, the team is designing GAZIMO 2.0 which will have an even more robust monitoring system, with a more reliable communication module. After prototyping, ULMA Conveyor Components will initially target the system at mines where a relationship already exists.
GAZIMO, conveyors, rollers, belt, mines, batteries, energy, hazardous environments, electromagnetic, maintenance