A mechanical engineer with drive Tuesday, 10 October 2017

An engineer in Western Australia has come up with a new drive system for conveyors that are typically used in bulk materials handling operations. The first prototype has been installed on an existing conveyor system for a mining company and offers “sustainable value” according to its inventor.

The system is another step in the evolution of the device since it was first invented in the 1700s. Back then, conveyor systems used leather belts and hand cranked wooden pulleys, but engineers have consistently refined the device over the last 200+ years to maximise operation and efficiency.

Conventional conveyor systems have a single drive unit and input power at one point which results in high belt tension counteracted by a thick, heavier belt. But this requires larger pulleys, requiring solid structures and components, making conveyor systems large, unwieldy structures that are expensive to maintain and operate.

Now mechanical engineer, Ahmad Fleyfel, has engineered a new drive system that can have power added to the belt at any location along its length. It does this by using individual drive units which allow for a much more efficient and economical system. The innovation assists the belt in tracking more tightly around bends also enables conveyors to be upgraded instead of replaced.

“The distributed drive system is made up of a series of anywhere from individual, to dozens or hundreds of drive units, depending on power requirements. Typical drive units are in the area of 5-30kW. Installations can be hundreds or thousands of kW,” Fleyfel explained.

“The individual drive units are simple pulleys with minimal angle of wrap that fit between and replace existing conveyor rollers. These are run by a standard induction motor and are equipped with a traction control system enabled by variable speed drives. They are controlled by a higher level power distribution controller, which distributes torque in order to reach target conveyor speeds and other requirements.”

Fleyfel was named one of Australia’s Most Innovative Engineers for 2017 in the Mining, Oil and Gas category. His vision is to “break the inertia that has been generated in the industry” through decades of using the same methods.

Conveying fun facts:

The first steam powered conveyor belt was used by the British Navy in 1804 to make biscuits for sailors. The most notable conveyor system ever invented was Henry Ford’s in the production of Model T cars from 1913 that enabled a car to be made every 24. And the longest belt conveyor system in the world, at 98 km long, is in the Western Sahara, transporting phosphate from mines in Bu Craa to the coast south of El-Aaiun.



Image: The individual drive units are simple pulleys that fit between and replace existing conveyor rollers. Source: BHP.