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Conveyor belts: lease, don’t buy?

02 July, 2018

The German conveyor belt manufacturer Continental believes that technology is changing the way that we will buy and maintain conveyor belts in future. At the Hannover Fair earlier this year, it was demonstrating how sensors can now monitor the condition of belts in real time and transmit this information to the manufacturer for analysis, allowing belts to be serviced before they fail and cause downtime. Continental believes that, in future, belts will be leased as a “service”, rather than being bought outright.

Optical and radar sensors can now inspect the belt surfaces, monitor the materials that are being conveyed and report on belts that are operating incorrectly. A magnetic monitoring technology that Continental acquired last year, when it bought the South African company, Advanced Imaging Technologies, can detect early signs of damage to steel cord reinforcements in conveyor belts, as well as checking the integrity of splices.

The magnetic sensing technology allows continuous online condition monitoring of steel cord-reinforced belts. It reduces the risk of belt failure by providing data that can be used to plan maintenance, thus reducing costly downtime. The technology provides easy-to-interpret, high-resolution images of damaged or broken steel cords. It can be used to monitor splice integrity and the extent of the damage over long periods, allowing comparisons to be made with historic data.

By combining the sensor data with its in-house expertise and special algorithms, Continental can assess when a belt needs to be serviced. The company envisages new business models such as “pay per tonne” based on the amount of material a belt carries. Users will be able to outsource their belt maintenance, and avoid the risk of unplanned downtime.

“Belt monitoring systems enable us to check the safety-relevant belt properties,” explains Jens Koster, who is responsible for business development and digitalisation in Continental’s conveyor belt group. “At the same time, this technology provides the conditions for new business models such as pay-per-tonne and predictive maintenance of components or systems.

“Today, customers can already not just buy a belt, but also put together a complete package of conveyor belt and services,” he adds. “The customer benefits are obvious: outsourced system maintenance with simultaneously improved system availability.”

By using an array of sensors to monitor its conveyor belts, Continental can tell its customers when their belts need to be replaced

A key element in the new concept is Continental’s ContiPlus online service portal and an app for tablets and smartphones, which provides belt users with data about their systems. More than 500 users – mainly in the US, Canada, Mexico and Chile – are already using the software to monitor around 1,700 conveyor belts.

For example, they can monitor the thickness of the cover plate using a mobile ultrasound device, and stored this information in a database. The program can then use the data to predict when a belt needs to be replaced because of wear. When the belt is coming to the end of its service life, the user, distributor and sales personnel receive notifications on their mobile devices so that they can plan the belt’s replacement.

According to Koster, interest in Continental taking over the complete servicing of its customers’ conveyor belts is “growing continuously”.

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