In today’s complex mining environments, there are many critical considerations that contribute not only to the efficiency and productivity of an operation, but also to its safety. Safety is of the utmost importance on the job site every day, and especially essential during routine maintenance and repairs on belt conveyor systems. Operations make it their top priority to avoid workplace accidents and implement operation-wide strategies and safety best practices.
Plant personnel are top of mind. From the time a worker walks onto the site, through the moment they end their shift, the goal is to ensure they are properly trained through mandated worker safety programs, have accessible resources to keep them informed, and use the tools at their disposal to run as safe of an operation as possible.
While operations can’t control all the variables that come with working in rugged conditions — inclement weather, abrasive materials, etc. — they can control how to prepare belts for safe repair. The two most common approaches to belt maintenance are reactive and proactive. Reactive maintenance focuses on a beltline issue that needs to be fixed because it has already caused extended downtime or threatens to imminently. The second type, proactive maintenance, involves assessing the situation and taking action before a problem occurs. While reactive maintenance is sometimes an unavoidable reality, proactive maintenance is much preferred and contributes significantly to safety and to the operation’s bottom line.
So, what’s important from a safety standpoint? Regardless of the type of belt conveyor maintenance being conducted, preparation is key. For maintenance and repair teams, this includes:
- Personal protective equipment (PPE)
- Online or other training programs to reinforce best practices
- Prominent safety signage around the operation
- Regular site safety checks
- Using approved lock out/tag out procedures
- Following site rules and regulations
- Using the right products and essential components for successful belt maintenance
As operations evaluate these safety protocols for optimum outcomes, many are now also embracing technology solutions because they can proactively contribute to best safety practices while also increasing operational efficiencies. Flexco Elevate™, a belt cleaner monitoring system that lets operations remotely gather critical data and perform real-time analysis of belt cleaner performance, is an example of this shift taking place. Because of the insights Elevate allows operations to gather without dispatching crews - including proper belt cleaner engagement and tension, locations of installed cleaners across an operation, blade wear, and abnormal event notification - the autonomy and safety of workers significantly increases. In addition, ensuring that belt cleaners run effectively also reduces costly material carryback and the snowballing negative implications that it has on the entire system performance.
Preventing unexpected downtime because of belt cleaner maintenance is a primary concern to run a productive operation, but another equally important outcome of remote monitoring is reducing the need for manual maintenance inspections. That, in turn, improves team safety. Prior to Elevate, manpower was monopolized performing manual inspections, valuable time was spent walking the lines to examine belts, and perhaps most concerning, worker safety was potentially compromised as they squeezed into confined spaces to inspect equipment.
Allowing operations to better evaluate belt conveyor health anytime, anywhere, without dispatching a crew to the physical belt location is a significant advancement in how operations are run. Another benefit in reducing manual inspections, in addition to the increased safety it provides, is less reliance on plant operators to gather data and the freedom to focus teams on other critical needs.
Flexco, as demonstrated with Flexco Elevate, continues to lead the way in providing customer solutions that let them not only transform their operation and maximize their efficiency, but also contribute to the safety of all the teams as they work every day to drive the best outcomes.
Authored by David Foreman, Heavy Duty Service Program Manager
Foreman is a 35-year veteran of the mining industry, with experience leading training sessions and working in mines in 15 countries across the world. In his role with Flexco, he assists distributors and end users in selecting the right belt conveyor products, and facilitates training to ensure their proper use. He also works alongside the engineering team to help with the development of new Flexco products.