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Trends in crushing equipment design and technology

By |  December 5, 2019
Headshot: Greg Helfrich, Elrus Aggregate Systems

Helfrich

The evolution of crushing equipment is picking up steam. Two significant trends are driving change: safety and automation.

Safety

The aggressive stance of regulatory agencies worldwide is driving operators and manufacturers to make equipment in compliance with ever-changing safety rules – a difficult task for two reasons.

1. Differing regulatory requirements. Every country has different rules, and areas within countries, provinces and states have different rules.

2. Different interpretation. If there was one set of rules, compliance would be more straightforward. Unfortunately, we have differing interpretations by different inspectors within the same agency. Guarding that works in one county won’t work in another.

The result is a trend toward designs that comply with as many rules, regulations and inspector preferences as possible. Equipment suppliers are countering these uncertainties with designs, including:

  • Motorized head pulleys versus motors, belts and gearboxes
  • Double guarding – an access door protecting guarded items, for example
  • Vibrating motors versus motors with belts and guards
  • Wireless emergency shutoff systems
  • Camera systems to avoid people having to climb on plants to inspect

Automation

Photo by Pit & Quarry staff.

Photo by Pit & Quarry staff.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is upon us in aggregate processing. Other industries are farther along than us, but the good news is that hopefully we don’t have to struggle as much as others working out the bugs.

That said, the crushing equipment industry is in a bit of a quandary.

At the beginning of the adaptation of technology, there are dozens of choices, and most operations operate several brands of equipment. So how does one brand of crusher build an automation system?

Well, carefully. All automation systems will need to play nicely with other systems. There are three levels of automation:

1. At the base level, there are automation systems for the crusher.These control systems will need to integrate into plant automation.

2. The next level is plant automation. These systems control at the plant or spread level. Every crusher, conveyor and screen will need to integrate into this system.

3. The next level above that is multi-system. More significant operations with multiple locations are going to want to roll up their systems to centralize control and monitoring (and possibly operation).

The value beyond labor savings will be the tie into ERP (enterprise resource planning) and preventative maintenance systems that will facilitate real measurement of life cycle costs and performance of different products in the marketplace.

There are several outstanding questions surrounding automation. One key question: Do we operate the spread from the loader or the loader from the control room?

Measurement systems

With automation comes the ability to link measurement tools like belt scales and optical sensors to monitor particle shape to measurement systems and give operators real-time feedback and facilitate a level of fine-tuning that was not possible in the past.

The capability of measurement systems is improving at warp speed. Imagine belt scales based on amperage instead of load cells and optical sensing technology that gives live belt cuts. Knowing your incoming gradation on a live basis and being able to automatically adjust crusher settings to optimize production while knowing you were still within specification wasn’t possible 10 years ago.

Preemptive repair and parts replacement will become more predictable and practical with the combination of automation and measurement systems. These downtime savings will result in a competitive advantage for those who implement.

Modularity

High-quality offerings on the portable side of the business have been in the modular business for decades. A factory on tires that plugs and plays together with concepts like common level design is now coming to stationary and washing.

Several suppliers are building modular wash plants that can be transported easily and even shipped overseas in containers. Look for a focus on modular designs in the stationary world instead of engineered-to-order equipment.


Greg Helfrich is North American operations manager at Elrus Aggregate Systems.


Featured image: P&Q staff


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