Industrial IoT Applications For Conveyor Belt
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Experts believe that we are living through the fourth industrial revolution or Industry 4.0. Industry 4.0 is bringing a sea change into the manufacturing, logistics, and automation. An important aspect of this revolution, apart from cloud computing, is the Industrial Internet of Things. Industrial IoT or IIoT is making it possible for businesses across a wide variety of domains to understand business operations like never before. In fact, B2B investments in IoT solutions, apps, and technologies is estimated to reach $267B by 2020. 50 percent of this spending is likely to be driven by manufacturing, transportation and logistics, and utilities.
One of the biggest beneficiaries of IIoT technology is the conveyor belt system. Conveyor belts are used in several industries spanning logistics, manufacturing, automotive, and more. The modern conveyor belt has, in fact, arrived at its present stage after going through several stages of evolution since it was used for the first time in 1892 for carrying coal. Conveyor belt assembly lines were first introduced by Henry Ford in 1913. Since then, conveyor belts have gone through several milestone changes. Currently, the industry is at the threshold of another strategic change, which is the integration of IIoT into conveyor belt systems.
Industries that use conveyor belts each face certain unique problems. Here, we have tried to identify the problems faced by the industries that are the most commonly used conveyor belt systems. These industries stand to gain the most from the Internet of Things industrial applications.
Problems Faced by Industries Using Conveyor Systems
The Mining industry uses long-distance, large scale conveyor belts to ply heavy machinery and equipment for long overland transportation.
Monitoring Idler Rolls
- A conveyor system consists of several parts, such as the belt drive system, head pulley, tail pulley, brakes, etc. However, one differentiating factor between these components is that while some components are clustered together and can be inspected easily. Other components tend to be spread along the entire length of these large-scale conveyor belts.
- As such, inspection and monitoring of these components are spread along the entire length of the conveyor belt and are very difficult. For instance, components, such as a head pulley and tail pully, are located at the head and tail of the system respectively and are easy to monitor. On the other hand, idler rolls are spread over the length of the conveyor and are very difficult to monitor.
- In current systems, an inspector physically has to walk/drive along the system to inspect/monitor the performance of the idler rolls. The question is whether we can ease the monitoring of the idler rolls, keeping in mind that there may be as many as 10,000 to 100,000 rolls in one conveyor. Apart from chances of error seeping into manual checks, it is a huge cost in terms of time and effort of manpower involved to monitor idler rolls manually.
In the manufacturing industry, time is of the essence. Though this holds true for all industries, for manufacturing, this is especially true as delay in production is directly proportional to revenue generated. Conveyor belts form an integral part of the assembly line, and downtime of the belt will lead to revenue loss.
- To meet capacity utilization targets, conveyor belts must operate continuously. As a result, due to heavy usage and wear and tear, gear motor of the conveyor belt tend to suffer a breakdown.
- Now, there are several gear motors in a heavy-duty, manufacturing conveyor belt, and identifying a failed gear motor can be an exceedingly difficult task. Additionally, even after identifying the failed gear motor, it can take several hours to find the make and model of the failed component and place a reorder.
- This can contribute to a downtime of up to 36-72 hrs, which can hold up the production process partially or completely.
Warehouses deal with numerous transit shipments daily. Visibility into shipments and inventory is very important. Efficiently performing warehouses need accurate and timely information on shipments. One needs to be able to clearly identify what’s in transit, where it is, when it will arrive, and how much it will cost.
Inventory Visibility and Downtime
- Similar to the manufacturing industry, downtime of conveyor system can lead to loss of revenue.
- In addition, most warehouses do not have clear visibility into stock. Without the visibility of what is arriving, how much is arriving, and what shipment needs to go where, the conveyor system cannot perform efficiently.
- Once a shipment and stock arrive at the warehouse, a lot of manual effort goes into segregating the stock into various units according to purpose and usage.
IoT Solutions for the Conveyor Belt
Keeping all these problems in mind, we understand that automation is a key feature for any modern-day industry. It is the one factor that sets apart modern day industries from traditional ones. IIoT solutions gather data from individual devices and components to enable large-scale industrial automation IoT. When we integrate an IIoT platform with conveyor belts, we can solve several core industrial challenges across several industries. Let’s have a look at how it can be done:
Components, such as Idler Rolls, can be monitored accurately in real-time from a remote location. This can save valuable man-hours. Assessing the ‘technical health’ of the roller bearings can be done by measuring their temperature. Normal operating temperatures range between 20 ˚ C and 50 ˚ C, depending on the ambient temperature. If the temperature of a bearing increases to higher temperatures, ranging from 80 ˚ C to 120 ˚ C, then it is a clear sign of potential bearing failure. By using temperature sensors in mining IoT solutions, businesses get alerts that provide a significant amount of time to react to any potential damage. This can help save several man-hours, which were earlier spent in manually monitoring idler rolls. Powered by machine learning and AI solutions is more accurate, too.
Identification of Failed Parts
An IIoT manufacturing solution can be used to integrate the asset management system with sensors that directly select data from the hardware and then relay it on to the user interface for quick, spare part identification and reorder request. The support team can immediately move into action whenever such a request occurs. This can cut down the whole process to just a few minutes, saving a lot of valuable work hours and effectively reducing downtime by up to 90 percent.
With the advent of smart factories, maintenance occurs not just after a failure has taken place, but much before a potential damage can occur. Machine learning and Artificial Intelligence help set parameters of normal functions. Emerging deviations help set out alert notifications to prevent actual failure. With sensors picking data as specific as vibrations per second, IIoT platforms can provide extremely accurate data about which specific part needs urgent maintenance. In addition to temperature sensors in idler rolls, several sensors are mounted on the electric motors and gearbox shafts to measure vibration. This information is collected to predict possible defects, better manage maintenance, and reduce overall downtimes. Our IoT solution will analyze these vibration patterns and define deviations (such as a failure in the electric motor) so an alarm can be triggered before the failure occurs.
Bar Code Tracking
To gain visibility into inventory arrival, especially in warehouses, the conveyor belt can be fitted with a barcode tracking system. Pallets, crates, shelves, racks, cylinders, forklifts, etc. can all be tracked with identification tags, like Barcodes, QR codes, and RFID tags. Receiving function in warehouses can be completely automated by the use of vision devices on conveyor belts. By doing so, inbound items received from vendors or other warehouses when put on a conveyor belt can automatically be updated to the ERP system for easy visibility. These devices can scan barcodes and QR codes at a much faster pace than a warehouse executive. In case the items are tagged with RFID tags, RFID receivers can be placed on such conveyors, which can capture the receiving details of an item.
The generic IIoT Solution for conveyor systems comprises of three main parts. This can be further customized to a company's specific needs.
Sensor nodes comprise of all the sensors that pick data from various hardware components to provide insights on the actual functioning of the conveyor line.
These sensors help to identify how long the belt has run.
The temperature sensor provides real-time information on the temperature of the belt and allows to predict if it is time for the system to rest to avoid malfunction due to overheating.
The data from these sensors help provide insights on whether Gearmotor components are getting damaged due to overuse or ill-use.
All the data collected by the sensors, once received by the network coordinator, is transferred to the gateway. From there, GPRS signals it and it is brought to the RIMS.
Real-Time Information System or RIMS
This comprises the server and the User Interface section:
The router, knowledge base, and data warehouse are all part of the server section. This is where the data gets processed and sorted.
The User Interface section is finally where all stakeholders can access the relevant data over mobile and web apps.
As IIoT is being widely adopted by industries, it is becoming an accepted trend of disruptive technology. Industrial IIoT has delivered proven results in modernizing businesses by improving profitability, safety, and efficiency of businesses. In the case of conveyor belts, IIoT holds the potential of improving profits and efficiency by up to 50 percent. Additionally, IIoT solutions can be successfully implemented in mining pumps.
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