Sept/Oct 2007

Innovation Page

Sensors for mining

By G. Winkel and T. Demorest

A double roll crusher in operation

The mining industry has benefited from continued innovations that effectively address operating challenges. The Alberta Research Council (ARC) is one group that is working to deliver creative solutions for mining through the development of associated technologies that are commercially viable.

The latest focus areas for ARC supports surface mining operations with the next generation of technologies to improve the detection of shovel bucket tooth condition and tramp metal in ore streams.

Missing tooth detection

Shovel bucket tooth breakage or unchecked premature wear at a tooth location can result in significant and harmful impacts to a mining operation. In addition to the risk of damage to the bucket itself, a lost tooth entering an ore production system can cause catastrophic damage to sizing, conveying, and processing equipment.

The Alberta Research Council has developed a system to detect the incidence of missing, broken, or partially broken teeth on a shovel bucket. They have worked closely with the mining industry to continuously improve this product through increased reliability in detection. It works by utilizing a remote “machine vision” technology that captures images of the “tooth line” on every upswing of the shovel and then, through the use of specialized computer algorithms, compares it against a base case, fully intact tooth line to check for differences. In this way, when a tooth is partially or completely broken off, the system alerts the shovel operator and steps can be taken to prevent the broken tooth from entering the mining/processing stream.

The latest innovation developed by ARC for this technology greatly enhances the capability to monitor even small changes to a bucket tooth profile. It does this through the use of a new software system that uses new dual-layer processing algorithms that are new to this technology. Couple this with a hardware design that has undergone thousands of hours of in-field testing, and you have the next generation of missing tooth detection technology.

And it doesn’t stop there! Based on this new technology platform, development work is being carried out to differentiate between the suddenness of a broken tooth versus the gradual tooth wear that is incurred during operation. Building in this next layer of sophistication will give the system the ability to also measure, track, and display information regarding shovel tooth wear. Further work is also being done to have the system analyze the mine face as the shovel excavates, to identify oversized rock as a means of testing blasting effectiveness and preventing oversized material from entering the downstream mining systems.

Tramp metal detection

In addition to shovel teeth, any inadvertent introduction of sizable metal material (from components to beams and wear plates) can have equally serious consequences to a mining train. Detection of this so-called “tramp metal” would be a direct benefit to preventing downstream equipment damage.

Good work has been done by many to provide tramp metal detection. However, this type of detection is not easy. As much of the mining equipment is constructed of metal, it can be challenging to differentiate tramp metal from the material handling systems themselves. This, in turn, can restrict where effective tramp metal detection can be accomplished. In addition, systems may fail to detect metal material or, conversely, can be oversensitive and cause unnecessary mining system shutdowns.

In response, ARC is also investigating technologies for enhanced tramp metal detection, with the support of mine operators associated with the Surface Mining Association for Research and Technology (SMART) group. Proposed innovations consist of leveraging technologies that can adapt to changing operating and environmental conditions and essentially “learn” from past operating events, to effectively identify tramp metal and alert/intervene in the process control system.

Once again, innovation in developing new technologies, as evidenced from the previously discussed efforts to leverage sensor development for mining, has the promise of supporting mining industry effectiveness.

Gord Winkel is the technology manager of the Kearl Oilsands Project. Tom Demorest is the senior advisor, minings and tailings, at Syncrude Canada Ltd.

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