"Energy Saving Belt Conveyor Idlers

Allan G. Tapp, P.Eng.

Even before the dark days of the 1973 energy crisis, some mining and mineral processors realized that energy costs were a very significant portion of the total cost to produce the end product [1]. Since that crisis, this energy intensive industry has embarked on numerous energy reduction programs with the prime purpose of reducing their costs. Reference [2] is but one example. In more recent years some of the major energy reduction programs have stemmed from countries working toward their 1997 Kyoto Protocol international climate change commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. These commitments are essential to the well being of our and future generations, and are just a small step along a long road. The efforts to date of the mining and mineral processing industry in this area are to be commended. Within the mining and mineral processing industry, belt conveyors are heavily utilized to transport bulk materials. Fuel and labor cost increases in recent years have made belt conveyors an increasingly attractive option to do this. However, even belt conveyors use electric power thereby adding to the cost of the end product. Nordell [3] has pointed out that the operating costs over the 10-30 year life of a conveyor can reach many times the capital cost. Energy costs to operate the conveyor are a significant portion of these operating costs. S t e p h e n s -Adamson has a technology that can significantly reduce the energy costs to operate belt conveyors and as an added benefit, contribute in a small indirect way to the reduction of green house gas emissions. It is known as the ESIdler™, the Energy Saving I d l e r. First patented in Brazil, this technology has been improving the energy efficiency of belt conveyors for over a decade. Although the energy savings at a single troughing idler are relatively small, the large number of troughing idlers along all the conveyors on a site adds up to significant cumulative energy savings.

STEPHENS-ADAMSON’S ESId l e r™ TECHNOLOGY A conventional belt conveyor troughing idler has three rolls as shown in Fig. 1. This conventional troughing idler design has remained essentially unchanged for over a century. It has served the industry well in the past but in these times of increased energy awareness, it is time to move forward with a much more progressive technology. S t e p h e n s -Adamson’s ESIdler™, as shown in Fig. 2, is advanced troughing idler technology that utilizes two centre rolls, in a fore and aft orientation, in place of the single centre roll found in conventional troughing idlers. The frame holding the two centre rolls is known as the pivot frame and is allowed to rotate vertically in both directions a small amount. This rotation compensates for any vertical misalignment between adjacent idlers, assuring that the load on both centre rolls is shared equally for maximum energy savings. By limiting the rotation, there is absolutely no possibility of the end of the pivot frame contacting the bottom of the belt should a roll drop out. This unique four roll troughing orientation reduces the overall rolling resistance of the belt and material over the idler. The reduced rolling resistance results in energy savings from the reduced electrical power to operate the conveyor. Energy savings that translate directly into p r o f i t !


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Fig. 1: Conventional Troughing Idler

Fig. 2: The ESIdler™ ™

As an added benefit, the innovative ESIdler™ technology produces a more efficient troughing idler design with respect to the use of the roll’s load rating. The centre roll in a conventional troughing idler typically supports 70% of the load while the troughing rolls at the side only about 15% each as illustrated in Fig. 3. Therefore, if the centre roll is loaded to it’s rating, then the side rolls are only being used to ≈25% of their rating. This takes into account that the lower bearing of a side troughing roll is more heavily loaded than the upper bearing. All rolls are normally identical for replacement purposes, so the conventional design is very inefficient in this respect. The more advanced ESIdler™ design places 35% on each centre roll. Therefore, if both ESIdler™ centre rolls are loaded to their rating, then the side troughing rolls are being used to ≈50% of their rating, again taking the extra loading on the lower bearing into account. This is double that of the conventional troughing idler. This more balanced design leads to more economical replacement roll costs and in heavy duty applications, lower capital costs for the ESIdler™.
Fig. 3: Typical Load Distribution


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ENERGY SAVING THEORY To place the ESIdler™ technology in perspective we need to look at the total power requirement for belt conveyors. Fig. 4 is a simplified illustration of the sources of resistances around a conveyor. The resistances are usually categorized into the primary, lift, secondary and special resistances. The primary resistances are those that vary continuously with the length of the conveyor. The primary resistances include: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. idler roll turning resistance due to bearings, grease, and seals idler roll turning resistance due to skew type misalignment belt indentation resistance belt flexure resistance material flexure resistance

The lift resistances (not illustrated) can either occur locally or can vary along the length of the conveyor. The two lift resistances are: 6. due to material being elevated (positive) 7. due to material being lowered (negative) The secondary resistances are those that do not vary with the conveyor length but occur locally along the conveyor. The secondary resistances include: 8. loading skirt friction 9. material acceleration forces 10. belt bending resistance at the pulleys 11. pulley bearing, grease and seal resistance 12. belt cleaner friction The special resistances (not illustrated) are those that do not occur in all belt conveyor designs. The special resistances include: 13. belt turnover resistance 14. forward idler tilt resistance 15. intermediate loading point resistances 16. material discharge plow resistance 17. convex/concave curve resistance 18. horizontal curve resistance

9 8 1 2 3 4 5 TYP. AT EACH IDLER 10 11

11 10 12 1 2 3 4 TYP. AT EACH IDLER 12

Fig. 4: Conveyor Resistances


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"Energy Saving Belt Conveyor Idlers"

The ESIdler™ technology saves energy by reducing the belt indentation resistance and, the belt and material flexure resistance over an idler. These three resistances represent the largest portion of the power required to drive overland conveyors that have a relatively horizontal profile. For inclined conveyors, the material lift is typically the largest component. However, the other components are still present and contributing to the conveyor’s power requirements. The ESIdler™ technology reduces the indentation resistance by halving the contact pressure on the centre of the troughing idler. As noted previously, the centre roll normally carries 70% of the load in a conventional idler. This load per centre roll is halved to 35% with the ESIdler™. Industry research over the last forty years, has shown that the indentation resistance is non-linear with load. In simple terms when the load on a roll is halved, the indentation resistance is more than halved. It is actually reduced to about 40% of that at 100% load. Most researchers agree that the indentation resistance is approximately proportional to the load to the exponent of 4/3 for steel cord and thick fabric belts. The indentation resistance savings can then be easily calculated from that relationship as shown below.
I n d e n t a t i o n R e s i s t a n c e ∝ ( L o a d ) 4/3 Therefore:

I n d e n t a t i o n R e s i s t a n c e S a v i n g s = [ 1 - 2 × ( 0 . 5 4/3 ) ] × 1 0 0 % = 2 1 %

However, the ESIdler™ technology only reduces the indentation resistance at the centre. The indentation resistance on the two side troughing rolls remains uneffected. So in reality the 21% savings at the centre translates into approximately 18% savings on the total indentation resistance occurring at the idler. The fore and aft orientation of the two centre rolls of the ESIdler™ reduces belt sag between adjacent idlers. Reducing belt sag is well known by conveyor designers as a method to reduce belt and material flexure resistance. Researchers have found that the belt and material flexure resistance is roughly proportional to the load on the idler times the relative belt sag. The savings from using the ESIdler™ technology therefore depend on the combination of idler spacing and the ESIdler™ centre roll span. Estimates place the savings at 20% to 40% with normal combinations of idler spacing and centre roll span. Fig. 5 illustrates how the typical proportions of indentation resistance and, belt and material flexure resistance vary along a conveyor. The indentation resistance is constant down any conveyor with a fixed troughing idler spacing. Obviously for graduated idler spacing, the indentation resistance would increase in step with the idler spacing. On the other hand, the belt and material flexure resistance is nonlinear along a conveyor. For typical conveyors, the flexure resistance is large at the tail end where the belt tension is low and the relative belt sag is high, and it is small at the head end of the conveyor where the belt tension is high and the relative belt sag is low. At the tail end of a conveyor the savings will be higher, due to the increased belt and material flexure resistance savings, than at the head end of the conveyor where flexure resistance is low. However, as Fig. 5 quite aptly illustrates, significant energy savings can be obtained anywhere along a conveyor by employing the ESIdler™ technology.


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Fig. 5: Conveyor Rolling Resistance

Additional indentation resistance savings can be obtained by using the fact that indentation resistance is reduced by increasing the idler roll diameter. The following formulas approximate the indentation resistance, and the savings researchers have found from increasing the roll diameter from D 1 to D 2 .

I n d e n t a t i o n R e s i s t a n c e ∝ ( D 1 ) - 2/3
∅ ∅ ex. 6”∅ to 8”∅


I n d e n t a t i o n R e s i s t a n c e S a v i n g s = [ 1 - ( D 2 / D 1 ) - 2/3 ) ] × 100% ⇒ Savings ≈ 34.5%

Ba sed on the above and that most (≈85%) of the indentation resistance occurs at the centre, it makes economic sense to increase the diameter of the rolls only in the centre where the savings will quickly pay for the increased costs. Stephens-Adamson has done just this with it’s S u p e r ESIdler™ [patent pending]. This technology will provide ≈25% more savings than the regular ESIdler™ can provide.


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Fig. 6: The S u p e r ESIdler™ ™ FIELD TESTS Long term field tests of the ESIdler™ have been carried out on a number of conveyors. Over a decade of use shows an excellent service history with the design. In addition, tests to determine the actual energy savings over conventional idlers have been carried out on three conveyors. Tests were first conducted in 1988 on a yard conveyor at CVRD, Tubarão, Brazil [4]. This 72" wide conveyor with 2,965 foot centres has a capacity of 16,000 mtph of iron ore. The test idler, shown in Fig. 6, essentially consisted of an idler frame on wheels. The wheels rested on four load cells that measured the vertical load on the idler. Being on wheels, the idler was free to move forward in the direction of belt travel. It was restrained from doing so by two load cells that measured the horizontal forces i.e. the rolling resistance. The tests were first conducted with the test idler in the conventional three roll orientation and then in the four roll ESIdler™ orientation. The tests demonstrated savings of 30%40% using the ESIdler™ technology in place of the conventional troughing idler. Field tests were also conducted on the overland conveyor at Thunder Bay Terminals Ltd, Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada. This 48" wide conveyor has 6,540 foot centres and handles 1,500 mtph of lignite coal. The tests, using a similar test rig as described above, showed savings of 45%-50% using the ESIdler™ advanced troughing idler technology in place of the conventional 3 roll troughing idler technology.
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The ESIdler™ technology was compared with that of a conventional troughing idler on a 36" wide conveyor test rig. The test results showed 8% savings for the high belt tension, low belt sag case, and 20% savings for the low belt tension, high belt sag case. Although field test results provide a very good validation of the savings when the ESIdler™ technology is employed, they only provide results for a single point along a single conveyor design. It is the theory behind the ESIdler™ that really illustrates the potential energy savings, since theory covers the entire conveyor design domain. Reference [6] presents in detail the theory behind the ESIdler™ technology.

Fig. 6: CVRD Tubarão Field Test

APPLICATIONS N E W O V E R L A N D C O N V E Y OR S : Utilizing the ESIdler™ technology will produce significant savings over the life of new systems that have a relatively horizontal profile. The reduced rolling resistance lowers belt tensions and drive power requirements. Therefore a lower strength belt, smaller drives and terminals, and less massive head, tail and take-up structures are required. This reduces the up front capital costs. As noted previously, the operating costs can be many times the capital costs over the life of the conveyor. These costs are significantly lowered by the reduced energy costs to operate the conveyor, the reduced replacement costs for the lighter duty troughing rolls and other lighter duty components such as belting, drives and terminal components. The simplified example below illustrates how employing the ESIdler™ technology in this type of application produces the ‘lowest total lifetime cost’ of the conveyor.
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"Energy Saving Belt Conveyor Idlers"

EXAMPLE: 20,000 ft. long with a horizontal profile 10 ft. lift to accomplish transfer • 48" wide belt at 1000 fpm • capacity: 4,500 tph of ore • yearly operation: 5,000 hours • energy cost: $0.10/kwh CONVENTIONAL TECHNOLOGY • CEMA D6 idlers at 5’ spacing • estimated ISO coefficient f = 0.015 • 3x800 HP driveline, cost: $480,000 • St2000 belting, cost: $1,831,000 • yearly energy costs: $750,000
• •

ESIdler™ TECHNOLOGY • ESIdler™ with CEMA C6 rolls, at 5' spacing • estimated ISO coefficient f = 0.012 • 3x700 HP driveline, cost: $417,000 • St1600 belting cost: $1,747,000 • yearly energy costs: $640,000 SAVINGS with ESIdler™ TECHNOLOGY • driveline savings: $63,000 [13.1%] • belt savings: $84,000 [4.6%] • ESIdler™ cost premium: $122,400 • yearly energy cost savings: $110,000 [14.7%] • capital savings: $24,600 • yearly profit earned = yearly energy cost savings = $110,000 • other capital cost and operational savings not mentioned in this simplified analysis above are also very significant RETROFITTED OVERLAND CONVEYORS: Retrofitting existing overland conveyors that have a relatively horizontal profile, with the ESIdler™ technology, will produce significant operating cost savings. These savings will be first and foremost energy cost savings. The reduced rolling resistance lowers belt tensions and drive power requirements. Therefore when replacement time comes, a lower strength belt, smaller drives and terminals, etc. can be installed also lowering operating costs. There are also potential replacement roll cost savings if the retrofit is accomplished with lighter duty rolls. I N - P L A N T C O N V E Y O R S : These conveyors usually have low belt tensions that combined with heavy material loads produce high belt sag which sometimes exceeds CEMA recommendations. These conveyors are therefore terribly inefficient and Larry Nordell of CDI [5] has coined the term ‘Power Hogs’ for them. The ESIdler™ technology can be employed to great economic advantage on new conveyors or in the retrofitting of existing units. Energy cost savings to operate the conveyors will be significant as illustrated in the following example.


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"Energy Saving Belt Conveyor Idlers"

EXAMPLE: existing conveyor retrofitted with the ESIdler™ • 100’ horizontal transfer • 72" wide belt at 800 fpm • capacity: 10,000 tph of iron ore pellets • yearly operation: 5,000 hours • electrical power cost: $0.10/kwh CONVENTIONAL TECHNOLOGY • CEMA E6 idlers at 3' spacing • CEMA rolling resistance factor Ky: 0.0333⇒0.0429 • yearly energy costs: $54,000 ESIdler™ TECHNOLOGY • ESIdler™ retrofit with CEMA C6 centre rolls • CEMA rolling resistance factor Ky: 0.0238⇒0.0291 • yearly energy costs: $50,000 SAVINGS with ESIdler™ TECHNOLOGY • ESIdler™ cost premium: $125 per idler • ESIdler™ installation cost: $50 per idler • value of retained E6 centre roll: $75 • yearly energy cost savings: $150 per idler retrofitted • 7 month pay back on retrofit investment • yearly profit earned after payback: $4,000

R E G E N E R A T I V E ( D O W N - H I L L ) C O N V E Y O R S : Utilizing the ESIdler™ technology will result in additional power being generated. The additional power generated is profit earned as it would be used to offset powe r that would normally have to be purchased to operate ancillary equipment at the site. In some applications, such as mines and processing facilities in very isolated areas, electrical power is only available at a very high premium. In such cases, the value of the additional power generated is greatly enhanced. In the rare situation where the power is excess to the site needs, it can usually be sold back to the local utilities.

G R A D U A T E D I D L E R S P A C I N G : Idler spacing along a conveyor is one of simple economics. The fewer number of idlers used, the lower the capital cost of the conveyor. However, belt sag must be limited to a maximum 2%, and the load on the idler must not exceed it’s rating. Based on these three requirements the idler spacing towards the head end of a conveyor is often increased to take advantage of the higher belt tension and low belt sag. The ESIdler™ technology can be used to great advantage on conveyors with graduated idler spacing. The low belt tension zones near the tail end can use closely spaced conventional 3 roll troughing idlers. As the idler spacing increases towards the head end, the ESIdler™ technology can be employed so that the idler’s roll rating is not exceeded. There is no need to increase the roll rating to use graduated idler spacing in the conveyor design or conversely, the idler spacing can be increased beyond that which normally could be used with that roll rating. A significant amount of the potential energy savings are lost with this approach which focuses instead on up front capital costs.
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T H I N C O N V E Y O R B E L T S : When conveyor belts are thin and extremely flexible, the roll gap between the ends of the centre roll and the lower ends of the side troughing rolls can sometimes present a problem in the way of premature failure of the belt. Halving the forces trying to push the thin flexible belt into the roll gap is often all that is required to alleviate the problem. The ESIdler™ technology can be used on new conveyors to allow for the use of a thin flexible belt or it can be retrofitted so that a thin flexible belt can continue to be used in lieu of a thicker more expensive belt. This is exactly what the Brazilian company Cimento Rio Branco Paraná did in 1993. They chose to retrofit with the ESIdler™ technology. The result has been excellent. The thin flexible belt that they were frequently replacing has now provided excellent service for the last 7 years effectively quadrupling the belt life. In addition they have obtained energy savings to add to the lowest overall cost approach that was taken.

more balanced design of the ESIdler™ with respect to the utilization of the roll’s rating, allows lower rated, and therefore more economical, rolls to be used. When replacement time comes, the associated costs will be much lower. An example is one of the shiploader feed conveyors at CVRD São Luís, Maranhão, Brazil shown in Fig. 7. This 84” belt width conveyor with 4,600 foot centres handles 20,000 mtph of iron ore. The conveyor, which had very expensive heavy duty rolls with 50 mm diameter bearings and shafts was retrofitted with the ESIdler technology. A centre

Fig. 7: CVRD São Luís
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pivot frame was added and more economical lighter duty rolls with 25 mm diameter bearings and 30 mm diameter shafts were used in all four roll locations. Salvaged rolls from the retrofit were saved as spares for the other conveyors. An attempt was made to estimate the energy savings through motor power measurements. However, as with all conveyors the actual load varies so much and so randomly that measurements were not very meaningful. Tangible evidence of the energy savings was the increased conveyor coasting time. This caused some problems with the feed to the shorter down stream conveyor during a loaded stop. However, this was easily remedied with flywheels to increase the down stream conveyor’s coasting time.
+ + I D L E R C O S T S A V I N G S : In the very heavy duty idler classes (i.e. CEMA E + + ), a 2025% capital cost savings can be realized with the ESIdler™. The roll rating required for a conventional troughing idler would be twice that required for the ESIdler. The cost of manufacturing the four lighter duty rolls plus the ESIdler™ pivot frame is less than the three very heavy duty rolls of an equivalent conventional idler.

CONCLUSIONS Theory and the results of field tests clearly demonstrate the energy savings that are possible with S t e p h e n s -Adamson’s advanced ESIdler™ technology. There are also numerous applications where the added benefits of the ESIdler™ technology will prove extremely useful. However, the ESIdler™ is not for all applications. All applications should go through a thorough overall cost-benefit analysis, of both capital and long term operating costs, before a decision should be made. The analysis requires that difficult assumptions be made as to how electrical energy costs will increase in the future due to depleting energy resources and the ever increasing pressures to limit, directly or indirectly, green house gas emissions. However, when such an analysis is complete and shows the ESIdler™ technology to produce the ‘l o w e s t o v e r a l l c o s t s ’, then the decision to use it in lieu of conventional troughing idlers will be an easy one to make. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS On behalf of Stephens-Adamson I would like to extend out thanks to CVRD, Brazil and Thunder Bay Terminals, Canada for their assistance in making the ESIdler™ field tests possible. I would also like to thank István Kovesdy, Svedala Sorocaba for his assistance in putting this paper together. References
[1] [2] [3] [4] Zaburunov, S.A.: ‘Cost Reduction at Cleveland-Cliffs’, Engineering and Mining Journal, September 1990, pp. 29-35. CADDET: ‘Energy management in a mining company,’ Result 311, published by the Centre for the Analysis and Dissemination of Demonstrated Energy Technologies, Sittard, The Netherlands, March 1998. Nordell, L.K.: ‘A New Era in Overland Conveyor Belt Design’, Engineering and Mining Journal, April 1999, pp. 40-42. Staniak , K. and Neto, J.F.: ‘Energy Saving in Long Distance Conveyors: Novel Idler Technology’; Mine Planning and Equipment Selection 1996, Proceedings of the Fifth International Symposium on Mine Planning and Equipment Selection, Sao Paulo, Brazil, Oct. 1996; pp.479-486. Nordell, L.K.: ‘The Power of Rubber - Part I’; bulk solids handling, Volume 16, No.3, July/September 1996; pp. 333-340. Tapp, A.G.: ‘Energy Saving Troughing Idler Technology’; bulk solids handling, Volume 20, No.4, October/December 2000; pp. 437-449.
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[5] [6]