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01 August 2004

Digging up savings: Go with the flow

By Mark A. Morton and Sheldon V. Shepherd

Detecting bulk solids flow with acoustic monitoring

It's important to find out if material flows are present or not throughout a bulk-processing
facility; material cost savings and increased plant efficiency can offset an investment in
monitoring. Most bulk solids processors can do this using low-cost acoustic emission-
monitoring technology.

Noncontacting acoustic technology originally appeared on the industrial scene to detect

wear on large turbines. Today the technology monitors solids flow in processing plants. It
nonintrusively uses sensors to monitor high-frequency sounds or structure-born acoustics.
Friction and the impact of powders, granules, and solids in motion generate the acoustics.

Also, because the sensor never contacts material, you reduce wear and tear. This
noninvasive design also provides the benefit of a sensor you can install without shutting
down or upsetting the process. The acoustic emission-monitoring sensor is an excellent
example of how you can adapt a technology developed for one type of equipment
monitoring for use in bulk solids processing.

You don't need to interrupt material flow or shut down the process to install or maintain
the sensor. The unique piezocrystal only responds to signals in the 100-kilohertz range, so
it ignores the low-frequency sounds that vibrations or machinery generate. The sensor can
operate in a stand-alone system or interface with a facility's process control system. Typical
applications include flow/no-flow or high-flow/low-flow monitoring and plugged chute
detection. You can also use it as a broken filter bag alarm in a dust collection system.

Material handling applications

You can apply noninvasive detection of solids flow in several ways in the material handling
industry. When the flow of solids blocks or plugs chutes, it can cause lost production time
and require unnecessary maintenance. In the area of dust collection, a faulty dust
collection system's release of particulate matter into the environment is not desirable for
the facility and the local community.

In the past, invasive techniques were the only available ways for industry to monitor the
presence or absence of material. Typical intrusive devices employed mechanical
paddlewheels, tilt switches, and optoelectric, proximity, vibrating, capacitive, and inductive
technologies. Unfortunately, by its very nature, any material that requires plugged-chute
detection typically displays enough adhesive qualities to foul any invasive sensor, rendering
it useless.

The plant engineer's ideal flow-monitoring technology doesn't contact the material you are 13/01/2012
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monitoring. This eliminates the cost and hassle of cleaning the sensor on a regular basis.
You also minimize wear on the sensor because it isn't subject to the abrasive properties of
bulk solids flow.

Steel and cement

A challenge in the steel, cement, and other heavy processing industries is maintaining the
proper fuel feed rate to the furnaceessential for ensuring the right processing
temperatures. In one example, the furnace burns pulverized coal delivered through
injectors. The kiln operates at 1,200C (2,192F). Head loss in the injectors can result in
temperature loss and poor production. A sudden increase in pulverized coal load in the
injectors can lead to a potentially dangerous increase in melting point temperature levels.

In this example, to ensure smooth operation and an effective way to monitor the flow of
coal into the furnace, each injector has an acoustic sensor mounted on the pulverized coal
in-feed conduits. The sensor monitors acoustic emissions from the movement of the coal.
The sensor immediately detects any injector inflow blockage or sudden increase in
pulverized coal flow. Each sensor in the process provides a 010 volts direct current signal,
which a programmable logic controller monitors. In the event of a blockage or uneven flow,
the signal generates an alarm. Operators can then take quick action to fix the problem
before it upsets the process. Installed upstream from the injector, the sensor mounts
outside the process for noninvasive process monitoring. You can install the unit in minutes
via a clearance hole and bolt welded on a metal component of the process. The sensor has
a stainless-steel housing sealed against dust and moisture. With no moving parts, it
requires little or no maintenance.

Acoustic sensors continuously monitor the coal feed to the heavy-duty furnace. Operators
are immediately alerted if a flow change occurs. This facilitates smooth regulation of the
furnace operation to ensure maximum productivity. 13/01/2012
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For an effective way to monitor the flow of coal into the

furnace, each injector has an acoustic sensor mounted
on the pulverized coal in-feed conduits.

Operation principles
Acoustic energy waves occur naturally when matter vibrates at a frequency usually
between 0 hertz and 600 kilohertz. Sound is acoustic energy in the range of 20 hertz to 20
kilohertz. Lower frequency acoustic energy has a long wavelength and takes longer to
attenuate. The low-frequency sound of a foghorn can travel for miles through densely
attenuating fog. Higher frequency acoustic energy has a short wavelength and dissipates
rapidly. Consider a low note struck on a piano, which carries for a longer time than a high
note, which lasts an instant. (See the figure below.)

Originally adapted from a device used to monitor wear on large turbines, bulk solids
acoustic monitoring technology uses a piezocrystala type of crystal that generates
electrical current when it is subjected to mechanical stress. Bulk solids acoustic monitoring
uses a special type of piezocrystal that only responds to a designated high-frequency
bandwidth. Acoustic energy the sensor receives within a particular frequency range excites
molecules in the piezocrystal, producing a continuous, measurable electrical signal it can
interpret. The electrical output from the piezocrystal is in direct proportion to the level of
acoustic energy the device receives. Additional amplification and processing by the sensor
and associated electronics convert the piezocrystal output into an electrical signal; you can
use it to indicate solids flow, 010 volts direct current, or 420 mA.

Most plant vibration is in the low-frequency range, well below 100 hertz. The sensor
monitors a relatively narrow bandwidth, detecting acoustic energy between 75 kilohertz
and 175 kilohertz, nearly a thousand times the frequency of normal plant noise. Typical
sources in an industrial environment for high-frequency acoustic emission are friction or the 13/01/2012
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impact of particulate matter against metal.

Another important property to consider is propagation, the transfer of acoustic energy at a

molecular level. Acoustic energy easily propagates through dense materials such as metal,
whereas it propagates poorly through less dense materials, such as air. This enables the
technology to be immune to high-frequency extraneous noise anywhere other than the
designated monitoring area. The sensor detects the high-frequency energy waves
generated by the impact of solids against a metal surface, such as a chute, pipe, or
pneumatic line.

The signal from the crystal is converted to a typical

sensor output.

Dust reclamation
In a dust reclamation system, cement dust forces itself through a line into a cyclone, which
separates the air from the dust. Operators then add reclaimed cement dust to finished
cement. If the dust in the chute to the rotary valve bridges and becomes an obstruction,
you should immediately detect it to maintain the process.

In the event of a dust bridge, there is no way of knowing whether or not the rotary valve is
starved until the system shuts down. The process is difficult to inspect during operation,
and it isn't possible to have an inspection port at the discharge of the system for safety
reasons. Shutting down for manual inspection means time, effort, and material loss.

The acoustic sensor detects changes in high-frequency acoustic emissions from machinery
or bulk materials in motion. It reacts to flow changeswarning of a blockage, product
absence, or equipment failure. Installation of an extended-temperature sensor is easy. It
mounts outside the process, and can be bolted or bonded in place in minutes without
process shutdown. A control unit measures the output. 13/01/2012
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The acoustic sensor has proven to be a cost-effective investment in productivity. Operators

can now maintain the system efficiently, because the acoustic sensor provides constant
flow-monitoring data. Operators are immediately aware of a plugged chute, blower
shutdown, or rotary airlock feeder failure, and can take quick action to correct the problem.
This frees staff from frequent manual inspections of the blower, the rotary feeder, and the

In dust reclamation, the sensor monitors flow through

the conveying line and indicates that the system is
operating properly. The optimum installation point is at
the bend in the pneumatic line approximately 1 meter
from the cyclone.

Behind the byline

Mark A. Morton is a product marketing manager at Siemens Energy & Automation in
Spring House, Pa. Sheldon V. Shepherd is an account manager at Siemens Energy &
Automation in Grand Prairie, Texas.

South African mine goes for platinum idea

By Ellen Fussell

Impala Platinum is a group metal producer as well as a miner, refiner, and

marketer of precious group metals. Based in South Africa, the company
produces about 1.7 million ounces of platinum each year. That's the equivalent
of 25% of global production. It is investing in initiatives to enhance capacity in 13/01/2012
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concentrating smelting and refining. Near base metal refineries in

Johannesburg, the company concentrated on improving performance in the
plant. It wanted to improve scope and delivery of plantwide information to key

The first step was to identify and develop applications for key improvement
areas in increased uptime, throughput, overall equipment and extraction
efficiencies, and reduced waste and cost. Over the course of a year, Impala
engineers worked with Citect engineers on a suite of industrial information
management modules, including metrics, production quality, downtime, and
cost maintenance and tracking.

The answer was a suite of modules connecting to multiple plant and business
systems, which transformed data and presented it as real-time information for
productivity analysis, data mining, querying, and reporting. The revamp gave
decision makers the ability to identify production bottlenecks, so managers can
take action sooner.

"We wanted to tap into the disparate plant system we currently have
production, financial systems, managementas well as maintenance systems,"
said Tim Spandiel, manager of Impala's base metal refinery. "We wanted to
make all information available in the same data depository and accessible by
Internet clients and personnel within the refinery. And we wanted information to
be available in real time. Our first priorities were to implement production and
quality modules and do process analyses on dataand to focus on our
extraction efficiencies."

The modules gave the team the ability to authenticate security and streamline
information into a common format, reducing miscommunication. Cross-analysis
capabilities gave the team the ability to compare production in multiple plants.
Other features included a single run-time platform, interoperability of modules,
drill-down capabilities, and customizable favorites, reports, and views. Stressing
that the real focus was on downtime, Spandiel said, "It's important to make sure
we run at full capacity."

"We also recognized we had islands of data we were trying to bring together, so
we didn't have that disparate source of data," said Martyn Fox, manager of
technical Impala refineries. "And we wanted to spend more time analyzing the
data rather than collecting it."

Some advantages Fox saw were the integration of various modules that
"allowed us to take elements from a particular module, use it in conjunction
with elements from another module, and do things like mass balancing and
metallurgical accounting easier," he said. "Furthermore, because the system is
stable and there is this integration between modules, it allows us to roll out
further modules easily. We can now minimize the amount of further training,"
he said. "Personally, the fact is the Web-based system allows you to customize
views to those elements you want to see. I can get a good analytical picture off-
site of what's happening at the refinery. One of the areas we've made our
objective is with the downtime modules. That's allowed us to put more 13/01/2012
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production through the plant."

Fox said one benefit was in multiple input. "In the past we've had a number of
peopleup to four or fiveenter data from similar type systems into
spreadsheets, and those spreadsheets gravitated up the system until they
eventually got to the manager a week down the line," he said. "Now it's all
electronic, and we don't have that paper trail." Fox said the overall recovery of
metals was another huge benefit. "Because we're able to speedily get results
from systems that tell us what's in our waste streams, we're able to take action
much quicker, and that enables us to minimize our losses to our waste
streams." 13/01/2012