Richards Bay Minerals required a solution that accurately measured mass flow of product on a conveyor belt with high precision and repeatability. It also had to be less maintenance intensive than conventional conveyor belt scales. The KwaZulu-Natal-based mining house selected the Bulkscan volume flowmeter from SICK, which was installed without removing the existing belt scales so the customer could compare measurement accuracy and ease of use.
Initially installed for a proof-of-concept (POC) trial at RBM’s Mining Pond Echo Plant in Q2 2020, belt cut samples proved the sensor’s increased measurement accuracy by approximately 50% compared to belt scales. This was determined by an independent laboratory using a belt cut sample from the plant’s dry mining unit, where Bulkscan is installed. The increased measurement accuracy for its targeted minerals of titanium, iron ore and ilmenite, prompted RBM to not only purchase the test unit in 2021, but order an additional four.
“Using non-contact time-of-flight technology, the sensor generates a reliable volume flow signal based on the laser’s time of flight and belt speed,” explains Stephen Eltze, Marketing Product Manager, SICK South Africa. “Product volume is measured using multi-echo technology while speed is measured with a wheel encoder or SPEETEC from SICK and, ultimately, mass flow is determined by using a fixed density of the conveyed product. Bulkscan also provides a rather fast ROI, which is proven by the extent of the increased measurement accuracy.”
“Non-contact volume and mass flow measurement for solid and bulk products on conveyors will benefit all industries,” points out Ajanth Sewpersad, Process Automation Sales Engineer, SICK South Africa. “Bulkscan is unique in that it can be used across industries, from food production to, for example, measuring clinker in the cement industry and all mined minerals. Its versatility makes it capable of accurately measuring product volume flow of any bulk product transported on a conveying belt system.”
SICK provided the Bulkscan hardware, all mounting accessories and cables, while RBM’s systems integrator conducted installation. RBM technicians commissioned the scanner themselves, with SICK paying a courtesy follow-up visit to ensure all functions operated to spec. “Plant personnel had already experimented with the device and become familiar with its operability several months prior to installation,” says Eltze. “Their proficiency with the scanner enabled them to easily oversee installation and integration, and commission the device themselves.”
There were a limited number of teething issues, such as setting up the scanner using SICK’s SOPAS Software and teaching the scanner to accurately determine the correct belt profile. “This was easily overcome with a simple telephone conversation between our services engineer and plant personnel,” Eltze enthuses. “This demonstrates exactly what we mean when we say, ‘ease of use’,” Sewpersad adds. “That, and the fact that the scanner has no moving parts, the only maintenance required is to keep the device screen clean, which is achieved just by wiping it.”
RBM is part of the Rio Tinto Group, and the Bulkscan solution, subsequent to its proven effectiveness at RBM, is now used in one of the mining house’s Madagascan plants. “The deal was facilitated via the systems integrator used in the latter part of the RBM deal,” Sewpersad concludes. “This further proves that our Bulkscan volume flowmeter deserves its reputation of accurate measurement of bulk goods on moving conveyors, ease of installation, ease of use and fast ROI.” Device simplicity, ease of installation, ease of use, high levels of accuracy and repeatability, means Bulkscan can help improve the bottom-line of any conveying plant. It seems the time-of-flight and multi-echo combination technology is set to replace conventional belt scales in the foreseeable future.