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2020 / 2021 Edition

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Maximizing Plant Productivity with Remote Monitoring

First published in the February 2021 issue of Quarry Management as The Remote Revolution

Robert Whetstone, vice-president of the EMEAI region at Martin Engineering, urges operators not to ignore the remote revolution and outlines how plant productivity can be maximized using remote monitoring to enable predictive, condition-based maintenance

If you are in charge of maintenance, your job is to look after your company’s processing plants, ensuring safe inspection and servicing, making best use of time and resources, and ultimately maximizing uptime.

But there is a revolution happening right now in the mining and mineral processing industry that is already making that job much easier and giving companies competitive advantage – intelligent remote monitoring is driving new predictive, condition-based maintenance regimes.

Unlike many headline-grabbing innovations, remote monitoring is not rocket science, it is not scary and it is not even expensive. Using the same wireless technology we use at home, remote monitoring systems can usually be retrofitted to existing manufacturing plant – that is why the technology is rapidly becoming a ‘must have’ to achieve productivity gains.

The problem is that traditional inspection regimes are time-consuming and inefficient, such as when the equipment to be inspected is located so far away that the inspection time is a tiny fraction of the time it takes to get there, when the inspection involves complex procedures and supervision to ensure safe access, when the whole plant needs to shut down just to inspect one specific component, or when an inspection takes days to complete but no maintenance is actually needed. Does this represent good use of time and resources?

As a result, the inspection of some components can get pushed to the bottom of the ‘to do’ list – maintenance only becomes a priority when there is a problem that needs fixing. That could mean unscheduled downtime. And do you stock the parts for every eventuality or accept that some spares may take weeks to arrive and run inefficiently in the meantime.

Just imagine if you only needed to gain access when you knew maintenance was needed in the near future. Imagine if you could move away from a ‘lagging’ indication of your plant performance – being made aware when something goes wrong – to ‘leading’ indication where you are forewarned about the condition of components and can plan maintenance at a time that suits your schedule.

Remote monitoring allows this kind of real-time, condition-based, predictive maintenance. That means you only need to physically inspect a piece of equipment when the data tells you that a service is needed or the end of life is approaching. This also has the advantage of giving you plenty of time to arrange a full inspection, order the required parts, book contractors to carry out maintenance, and plan the work during scheduled downtime.

In recent years we have seen remote monitoring and condition-based maintenance start to rewrite the rule book on how to maximize production efficiency in manufacturing. And now it is breaking into bulk materials handling. Given that mining and minerals processing represents the biggest flow of materials in the global economy, the scale of the benefit to productivity is vast.

For example, consider how remote monitoring can apply to the humble conveyor belt cleaner, a device that is essential for controlling spillage and preventing build-up around your processing plant:

  • Lower safety risk: Every conveyor belt inspection involves risk, such as stored energy, working at height or accessing confined spaces. Smart remote monitoring reduces exposure to that risk allowing ongoing inspection without the need to visit each belt.
  • Fewer maintenance tasks: The job of regularly inspecting the head pulley on each of your conveyors can be onerous, especially if your technicians are at the other end of the country. Smart monitoring means making far fewer maintenance visits without sacrificing uptime – the conveyor is stopped only when servicing is needed.
  • Better budgeting: Belt cleaners can wear at different rates according to several factors. Smart monitoring allows data gathering over time to predict when replacements are needed so belt cleaning costs for each conveyor, and each plant, can be forecast.
  • Improved inventory: Stocking parts for every contingency is not a good use of cash. But ordering parts at the last minute could mean running belts with sub-optimal cleaning efficiency. Smart monitoring means parts can be automatically ordered in time for servicing.

Of course, conveyor belt cleaners are probably not at the top of anyone’s priority list, but that is the whole point. Remote monitoring means that you do not need to worry about things like belt cleaners. With devices such as Martin Engineering’s pioneering N2 Position Indicator (PI) installed, it is the technology that does the legwork and provides the notification when servicing is needed. In the meantime, you can be confident your spillage is being controlled thanks to a smart-yet-simple upgrade.

The N2 PI – which can be retrofitted to most belt cleaner mainframes or as part of a new installation – feeds data about the performance and condition of your conveyor belt cleaners to a central ‘gateway’. The gateway then uploads the information to a cloud-based server. Those data are analysed then easily accessed via a dedicated app on your mobile device or laptop so you can remotely monitor your belt cleaners, predict and plan maintenance, and benchmark and optimize performance. Alternatively, the team at Martin Engineering can do all that for you – the choice is yours. Already proven in the US, the patented technology is now being trialled in the UK with a roll-out across Europe, Middle East, Africa and India in 2021.

Keeping your processing plant running is the key to getting optimum efficiency from your operational assets. Smart remote monitoring – along with the condition-based and predictive maintenance it facilitates – is the route that more and more companies are now taking to achieve that. Make sure you don’t get left behind.

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