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How force sensors aid the push for global clean energy

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Global Mining Review,

A forthcoming surge in demand for clean energy materials is forcing a long-established industry to adapt. The traditional mining sector, with its deep history, needs a rapid shift to meet the growing need for copper, lithium, cobalt, and other vital minerals. To achieve this efficiently and safely, a focus on innovative technology is paramount for both industry players and equipment suppliers.

How force sensors aid the push for global clean energy

These minerals are being heavily consumed in the development of clean energy tech, including electric vehicles, battery storage systems, and low-emission power sources. The opportunities and applications for these minerals are vast, but the challenge lies in accelerating extraction to meet the demands of clean energy. A 2023 IEA report predicts a staggering increase in demand by 2030, with critical mineral needs projected to grow over three and a half times – reaching over 30 million t within the next six years. This urgent scramble to ramp up production unfortunately coincides with an increased risk of safety hazards in mining operations.

However, prioritising speed should not come at the expense of worker safety or equipment malfunctions. Thankfully, a solution exists in the form of advanced sensor technology that measures force and torque. Integrating these sensors into mining equipment allows for real-time monitoring, ultimately improving safety and efficiency. From underground mines to open-pit operations, these sensors play a crucial role in ensuring safe working environments. They are essential for the global effort to extract and process core metals efficiently and safely, underpinning the drive for clean energy sources.

The mining industry relies heavily on a variety of heavy machinery for material handling and supply, including cranes, lifting equipment, and heavy-duty vehicles. To safeguard both the equipment and, more importantly, the miners themselves, this machinery requires rigorous and continuous monitoring of every component. This is achieved through the use of load cells, torque transducers, and multi-axis sensors, providing real-time data with exceptional accuracy.

Utilising this precise data from integrated sensors extends the lifespan of mining machinery, reduces safety incidents, and minimises the risk of catastrophic equipment failures. These improvements translate directly to cost reductions and minimised project overruns. The data gathered from Interface’s equipment empowers operators to optimise their processes, from structural support to digging and lifting. This not only reduces wear and tear on equipment but also prevents overloading, a major cause of costly downtime and maintenance.

The applications of force, torque, and weight measurement sensors in mining are extensive. They are utilised in boring and tunnelling machines, conveyor belts, scales, drilling equipment, material handling machinery, rock crushers, and various mining vehicles (such as shovels, draglines, excavators, and cranes).

Load cells and torque transducers are particularly valuable during the design phase of mining equipment. Their high precision allows for the measurement of forces acting on various equipment components (such as the boom, bucket, and undercarriage). This valuable data is then used to optimise the design of these components for improved efficiency and power.

Miniaturised versions of these sensors are often integrated directly into mining equipment for continuous monitoring. This allows for real-time safety alerts and overload protection. Torque transducers can measure the torque requirements of various equipment components, which is crucial for designing more powerful and efficient machinery.

In conveyor systems, precise force measurement plays a vital role. Load cells are seamlessly integrated to continuously monitor belt tension and load. This same versatility extends to mining equipment like excavators, where they measure the load on buckets and booms.

Beyond just monitoring, these sensors are instrumental in excavator performance testing. They measure critical parameters like digging force, lifting capacity, and swing torque with exceptional accuracy. This information ensures the excavator possesses the necessary power for efficient operation and guarantees the safety of the operator during manoeuvres.

Article by Ted Larson, VP Product & Project Management, Interface

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