The invention of the traditional belt and idler conveyor system is attributed to Thomas Robins in 1892. This basic concept, ubiquitous in most mining operations, has not changed markedly in 125 years and still suffers from five forms of energy losses. Firstly, Wheeler, Roberts and Jones (2004) showed that indentation rolling losses, a consequence of the indentation a roller inflicts on the belt, consume 60 per cent of all energy. Secondly, Wheeler (2006) explained that bulk solid flexure resistance resulting from material interaction and movement absorbs 20 per cent. The remaining energy is lost by idler rotating resistance (5 per cent), belt flexure resistance (5 per cent) and secondary resistances (10 per cent).
Traditional conveyor systems are continuous as opposed to batch systems, implying both positive and negative features. On one hand, continuous systems have high availability (available infers ‘ready to run’), but, on the other, utilisation of availability is often low; for example, when a conveyor is running empty or below capacity. This converts into reduced system OEE (overall effective efficiency). Many attempts have been made to mitigate energy losses and low OEE issues, including development of rail-based systems. The key drawbacks have been higher capital cost, low flexibility, poor availability and lack of market acceptance.
A recent conceptual development known as the ‘autonomous rail conveyor’ (ARC) promises to address issues of energy loss and poor availability and provide increased flexibility by offering solutions for difficult applications. The ARC uses a series of interconnected skeletal bogies covered with a conventional conveyor belt as a load bed running on relocatable light rail. The bogeys have two axles, each driven by integrated variable speed-geared motor and brake systems, and are connected to previous/next bogeys by specialised couplers. Power is provided by a generator (located in a dedicated bogey) and ‘daisy chain’ plug in cables. Centralised redundant control is provided at a preferred point. Although the system is batch in nature, the number of carriages and trains is flexible, meaning that the system is effectively continuous. Loading is achieved by feeding the ARC from a perpendicularly oriented apron feeder, while material off-loading is accomplished by a twist-dump operation in which the belt is twisted through an angle of 50° below the horizontal, causing material to flow from the belt into a receiving conveyor.
The ARC system can run multiple trains over any distance, although benefits are more significant in distances of over two kilometres. Capital and operating costs are predicted to be lower than competitive products, with planned maintenance being simple to perform.
Graham, T, 2017. The autonomous rail conveyor significantly reduces ore haulage costs, in Proceedings Iron Ore 2017, pp 467–472 (The Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy: Melbourne).