Four benefits of LoRa in mining – and how Rio Tinto connected its conveyors
The mining industry is expected to produce $686 billion in revenue by the end of 2019, a steady eight per cent increase on 2018, according to PwC. The global conveyer belt industry is expected to be valued at $6.4 billion by 2022, says Research and Markets. Smart belt technologies will lead this growth, and help also drive up 2019 revenues for the industry.
The mining industry relies on conveyor belts to transport materials taken from the the mine for processing. Conveyer belts can run up to 10 miles across a mine, and to different locations throughout it. It is critical they work well; preventing incidents of damage and fires can help mines to reduce operating costs and increase profits.
Transco Industries, which makes conveyor belt components and manages conveyor belt maintenance and repair, has sought to increase efficiencies with safer and more streamlined monitoring of conveyor belts. It has turned to Semtech’s LoRa devices and LoRaWAN protocol for its Federal Brand Conveyor Belting.
Jason Brown, vice president and co-owner of Transco Industries, explains: “This technology allows miners to remotely monitor the belts to ultimately reduce maintenance costs and help prevent failure…. LoRa sensors have the ability to electronically observe critical components of the conveyer belt to effectively monitor a mine.”
For the mining industry, LoRa offers certain benefits, reckons Transco. It is arguable some of these are common to low-power wide-area technologies, in general, and that some are brought to a head in LoRa devices running on LoRaWAN networks. Transco highlights, in its own words, four benefits, as below.
Long range | The deployment of a single base station using LoRa devices across challenging environments enables a deep penetration capability, while also providing the ability to connect to sensors throughout a mine which can span across a 10 mile area.
Low power | An unprecedented battery lifetime of up to 2-3 years results in higher productivity for miners as their focus can remain on other aspects of mining operations.
Geo-location | Miners can easily and immediately locate problem areas across a mine without needing GPS capabilities or additional power consumption.
Open standard | The LoRaWAN open protocol ensures interoperability across the mine, IoT solution providers and telecom operators to speed adoption and deployment.
Transco started testing LoRa sensors on a conveyor belt at Rio Tinto Kennecott, a mining operation located outside of Salt Lake City, in Utah, in February. Semtech, which makes and licenses the LoRa technology, has helped to monitor different factors of the mine, including bearing temperatures, while eliminating the risk of human error.
Transco has the whole story, and tells it best. Here is Brown, again, the company’s vice president and co-owner, with the detail.
“These sensors connect to private networks based on the LoRaWAN protocol, relaying real-time data in a mine’s evolving conditions. These belts are equipped with an end-to-end solution consisting of several sensors embedded in the belt itself to measure stress and prevent potential ripping. In the event of a belt rip, LoRa-enabled sensors transmit a signal to the belt control, shutting the belt down immediately to halt the hazardous and expensive rip from worsening.
“Every mine has an extensive number of bearings that can be monitored using IoT technology to ensure everything is running smoothly and any incident is tended to immediately. To put this into perspective, in a typical mine, each top side troughing idler will have six bearings that are monitored. Every eight feet there is a return idler on bottom side that will have two to four bearings that are monitored.
“Each end of the conveyor will also have a head pulley at the load end and a tail pulley at discharge end, each with two bearings that will be monitored. For every 10 feet of conveyor there are 14 bearings that will be monitored.
“The deployment of these sensors aren’t eliminating the jobs of miners, but rather assisting them. Because of the large landscape of a mine, these sensors can regularly monitor areas of the conveyer belt where miners are unable to reach, and can shut off the belt in real time, should an area need immediate addressing.
“Previously, mine operations had to contract specialists to monitor factors like belt idler temperature which could cost hundreds of dollars per hour. LoRa saves mining operations millions of dollars, and keeps miners safe.
“Smart belt technologies are leading the growth of the conveyer belt and mining industries. With continued adoption, more miners will have LoRa to support and supplement their work, resulting in higher productivity and more efficient mining operations.”