Towards Industry 4.0
Drones are popular across many different industries but they also offer great potential for minig - as can be seen bei Continental's sensor-based drone inspection service.
Drones are popular across industries. Photography enthusiasts appreciate their spectacular aerial views, meteorological stations rely on their weather forecasts. They are used for parcel delivery and the support of goods to hard-to-reach areas. Even drone races are a thing by now. But what you probably did not know is that drones also offer great potential for the mining industry – a valuable insight Continental took advantage of with one of its recent technologies: a sensor-based drone inspection service for conveyor belt systems that makes predictive maintenance easier than ever before.
In the past, maintenance managers of mining sites struggled in their daily work. Usually, they are responsible for the condition of all the equipment and machinery of a conveyor belt. These belts easily take up to 40 kilometers and count with more than 250.000 rotating idlers – a massive number of components that must be monitored all the time. Common idlers have millions of rotations throughout their lifetime. At some point, they naturally wear out or tend to fail their lot. And this is where the problem starts: given the standard equipment, the location of a failing idler cannot be identified precisely. Instead, entire maintenance crews and technicians have to walk along the conveyor belt all day long, trying to spot those failing idlers, report that in a paper-based report, and either plan their maintenance activities based on that report or exchange the failing idler right on the spot.
This time-consuming process subsequently led Continental’s experts to the development of a smart solution that improves efficiency and helps operators of conveyor belt systems.
Continental’s inspection service is a hybrid solution that addresses different applications and sections. The drone that flies along the conveyor belt is equipped with a dual-camera system consisting of a thermal and an RGB camera that captures idlers on both sides of the conveyor belt.
The thermal camera can identify hotspots. These hotspots are usually failing idlers that got heated up due to friction. The daylight camera, on the other hand, takes pictures of the different idler sections of the conveyor belt and provides the system with relevant GPS data to facilitate the maintenance process for the technicians later. After its inspection flight, the drone usually returns to its drone shelter where the collected data is uploaded to an IoT (Internet of Things) module while the drone is recharging its batteries. The data is processed through an AI-based algorithm that analyzes the data for anomalies. If any hotspot is observed the data is uploaded to the individual customer interface. The dashboard provides the customer with an overview of the condition of the idlers at the inspected conveyor belt. If anomalies are detected the customer can access further information on the failing idler down to individual frames. The map functionality also provides the customer with the exact GPS coordinates that lead the technicians to the precise location of the failing idler.
"Conventional and often manual inspection methods can be very time-consuming, imprecise or even dangerous for service technicians."
This technology stands for a major improvement in the area of predictive maintenance at mining sites and makes a crucial contribution to Continental’s approach towards industry 4.0 as Clemens Panzer, Project Lead for Autonomous Drone Inspection of Conveyor Systems, points out: “Conventional and often manual inspection methods can be very time-consuming, imprecise or even dangerous for service technicians. But thanks to this smart solution the collected data will automatically be made available in a digital form and can be viewed at any time that permits the demand-driven planning of relevant service periods. Also, changes in the conveyor condition over an extended period can be analyzed significantly better using the stored historical data, and the anticipated service life of the components can also be better estimated”.
It is Continental’s goal to offer an operational service to the market in the near future. Nonetheless, Continental is still looking for additional pilot projects with customers across industries to identify further potentials for optimization and test the technology at a large scale.