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Conveyor important

for success of South Bulga

longwall in Australia

outh Bulga is a new longwall operation located

in the Hunter Valley coal-mining region in
Southeastern Australia. The mines objective is
to achieve productivity levels significantly
higher than the current industry average. From
the day longwall production began, South Bulgas output
was below both budget and industry expectations, primarily because of the poor performance of the conveyor
In the past, conveyor systems have been seen as an
adjunct to the mine plan, not as an integral part. At past
production levels, this approach may have been acceptable. In todays mining operations, the conveyor system
must be treated as integral and vital to the mining operation. The conveyor system is analogous to the vascular or
circulatory system of the human body. Of itself, the system does not do anything, but if it is not functioning satisfactorily, the mine cannot operate.

The Bulga Coal complex is located in the Hunter
Valley region of Australia, about 250 km (155 miles)
northwest of Sydney (Fig. 1). The Hunter Valley is one of
two major coal-producing regions in Australia. It supplies coal for electricity generation and export. The export-market coal is transported about 100 km (60 miles)
by rail to the Port of Newcastle.
The Bulga Complex consists of the South Bulga underground mine and an open-cut mine. Both feed a central coal preparation plant (CPP), a coal handling facility
(CHF) and a rail loadout facility. Oakbridge Pty. Ltd.
operates and is 90% owner of the Bulga Coal complex.
The other 10% is owned by Nippon
Between 1989 and 1994, in reEdmond J.
sponse to growing market demand,
ODonovan, member production at the Bulga Coal operaSME, is principal, E.J. tion was increased from 1.5 to 4.5
ODonovan and Associ- Mt/a (1.65 to 4.9 million stpy). This
ates, 88-101 Gipps St., increase came largely from additional open-cut production, but was
Fortitude Valley, assisted by limited underground deQueensland 4006 Austra- velopment.
Planning for a trial underground
lia. Bryan Knott is
mine began during late 1991. Actual
with South Bulga production from this trial mine beColliery, Broke Road via gan during March 1992 using men
Singleton, New South and equipment from the Oakbridge
Wales 2330 Australia.
During mid-1994, Nippon Steel

of Japan entered into a joint venture with Oakbridge to

expand the underground and open cut. The current expansion and development plan will be completed this
year. This will make Bulga the largest mine complex in
New South Wales, with production planned at 10 Mt (11
million st) of run-of-mine coal. These production levels
will be made up of 6 Mt (6.6 million st) from the open cut
and 4 Mt (4.4 million st) from the underground mine.

South Bulga underground mine

Development of an underground mine on the Bulga
lease was considered for several reasons. One is ease of
entry. Access to the Whybrow seam was inexpensive due
to its exposure in a pre-existing highwall.
Existing infrastructure was also
used. The existing open cut infrastructure of the CPP, CHF and rail
loop was used to service the underground mine during development.
This avoided spending large
amounts of money in the early
stages of the project.
This greenfield site also allowed
the advantages of award restructuring to be used. These include one
union operation, reduction in demarcation issues, and establishment of appropriate shift and roster arrangements.
A strong sandstone roof prevails in the proposed
mining area, together with a sandstone/mudstone floor.
Mining conditions are relatively good. They have al-

Edmond J.
ODonovan and
Bryan Knott

FIG. 1

Location of the South Bulga coal complex.



FIG. 2

Layout of the South Bulga coal complex.

A second development unit was

introduced during September 1993.
By that time, more than 16 km (10
miles) of roadway had been driven.
At about that time, the potential
of the mine was under review and
the production budget was revised
upwards, first to 3.5 Mt/a (3.8 million stpy) and then to 4 Mt/a (4.4
million stpy).

Conveyor systems
The initial development drivage
was serviced by a 1,040-mm (40-in.)
temporary conveyor system. The
mine continued to develop using
this system during 1993 and 1994.
As a result of the increased production requirements, it became apparent that the proposed 1,200- and
1,400-mm (48- and 55-in.) conveyors
would not be adequate. A re-evaluation of the conveyor system resulted in orders for the supply of the
following belt systems.
Trunk belt. This is an 1,800-mm
(72-in.) system that can convey 4.5
kt/h (5,000 stph). This belt was powered by three 320-kW (429-hp)
BOSS power modules at the head
with provision to fit another unit.

lowed high development rates, thereby enhancing the

prospects of achieving regular and high longwall outputs.
Development rates of 20 m (65 ft) per development shift
are being achieved. This is sufficient for assumed
longwall extraction rates.
The mine layout settled on is simple (Fig. 2). The
mine was laid out for longwall extraction. It was designed around major known geological anomalies, subsidence restrictions and maximum recovery of the
This mine layout complements the conveyor system
by requiring a minimum number of flights. Reducing the
number of flights increases total system availability. For
the first three panels, only two flights are required to get
the coal to the surface. No more than four flights will be
required for the first twenty panels.
The longwall blocks were laid out to the south of the
main headings. These blocks generally run to the full dip
at an average grade of 1:25% for 3,200 m (10,500 ft). The
length of the maingate belts is about 3,500 m (11,480 ft).

Early development
Initial mine planning showed that the mine would
produce at the rate of 2.5 to 3 Mt/a (2.7 to 3.3 million
stpy). All initial planning and tender inquiries were then
based on the main trunk conveyor being 1,400 mm (55
in.) at 3 kt/h (3,300 stph) and the maingate conveyors
being 1,200 mm (48 in.) at 1.9 kt/h (2,100 stph).


Maingate belt. This is a 1,500mm (60-in.) system that can convey

3 kt/h (3,300 stph). This belt includes a head drive fitted with two 320-kW (429-hp)
power modules and two tripper drives, each fitted with
two 320-kW (429-hp) power modules (Fig. 3).
As a rule of thumb, any conveyor with dual 250-kW
(335-hp) motors will work no matter how badly it is configured and controlled. Many mines have successfully
operated for many years with conveyors in this power
range that are poorly configured or controlled. However, once the power threshold of dual 250-kW (335-hp)
drives is exceeded, the probability dimishes of a poorly
configured or controlled conveyor performing effectively. The conveyors installed at South Bulga exceeded
this threshold.
The conveyor drives at South Bulga were initially
fitted with BOSS couplings. The BOSS drive is a wetclutch type torque control device, located on the highspeed side of the drive between the motor and gearbox.
The clutch is hydraulically actuated with an external
cooling circuit. On the head drives of Maingate 1, the
clutches were only used for starting control, locking once
the conveyor was up to speed. On the tripper drives, the
clutches were operated in a slipping mode. Torque was
controlled by feedback from a tension measurement arrangement (Fig. 4).
This concept is similar to installations in the United
States that use other torque control devices and have
worked well.
These systems were manufactured during 1994 and
installed in September of that year. The trunk belt com-

missioning was being carried out

while the longwall was being installed. The maingate belt commissioning began four days before the
longwall started.

FIG. 3

Maingate No. 1 drive layout.

Longwall production
When the longwall operation
began, the failure of the conveyor
system to perform effectively severely limited production. The system was haunted by inadequate
capacity and, more seriously, poor
availability. Capacity problems limit
production. Availability problems,
though, can almost eliminate it.
The conveyor problems were
characterized by velocity surges at
the trippers of up to 50%, multiple
belt breakages, ghost shutdowns and unintended tripping of the drives by the microprocessor-based electrical
protection equipment.
Once the conveyor had shut down, the tracing of
control faults was difficult. This was due to the availability of the BOSS diagnostics only at the various BOSS
controllers, poor structuring of the software and inadequate documentation.
Accordingly, the first step in troubleshooting any
problem was for a qualified person to go to the actual
drive or drives where problems had occurred. With multiple drives located kilometres apart, getting to them was
a significant task.
Restarting under load was difficult and sometimes
impossible due to an inability of the BOSS units to get
the power to the belt. The ability of the BOSS clutches
to regulate torque effectively at the trippers was questionable from the start. It was suspected that the large
speed fluctuations at the trippers were due to problems
in the BOSS units themselves. Unfortunately, there was
no on-line monitoring capability available to confirm
this. Manual data collection, using chart recorders, was
not very useful because information was needed about
the interaction of the various drives, as well as about
each drive.
About four weeks after commissioning, a powerful
centralized monitoring system was brought on line. This
system enabled trends to be plotted of all variables available on the data highway. This information confirmed
that severe torque fluctuations were taking place. But
because the BOSS units were controlled by a proprietary
card system, their control parameters could still not be
It was unclear whether the BOSS clutches were responding badly to good control signals or if the control
signals were faulty. Different control algorithms were
postulated but changes to the control parameters frequently required hardware modifications to the cards,
which took several days. This made adjustment and experimentation tedious and removed any continuity from
the problem-solving process.

grammed (several times). A check of the data highway

was carried out and several incorrect terminations were
corrected. Since pull-out strength of the belt fasteners
that had been used during development was lower than
had been expected, vulcanized splicing of the belt was
performed to eliminate clips. Checking of the characteristics of several components was requested. This was
done to determine why such severe problems were occurring in a system that was apparently identical to systems that worked well in the United States.
The component checks revealed differences between the equipment used at South Bulga and equipment in use in the United States that had been thought
to be equivalent. Of themselves, these differences were
not fundamental problems. The problem was that the
design of the South Bulga conveyor system had not accounted for them.
Laboratory tests of the idlers took weeks to complete. They indicated that the seal friction was different
from what the manufacturers handbooks had indicated.
This had a major effect on the carrying capacity of the
conveyor, particularly when combined with the drive
control problems that were being experienced.
After a few weeks with little improvement in performance or production, it was decided to upgrade the
BOSS units and change the controllers from the proprietary card system to programmable logic controller
(PLC). Manufacture of the PLC control units took a few
weeks. The new BOSS units took several more weeks.
FIG. 4

Tripper drive load cell arrangement.

Initial remedial action

From almost the beginning of commissioning, some
of the problems began to be addressed. The microprocessor-based electrical protection units were reproMINING ENGINEERING JULY 1996


While waiting for the new equipment, belt splicing continued.

The first PLC BOSS controller was fitted in midDecember 1994. The expectation was that the PLC
would allow constant monitoring of all control parameters and quick adjustment if required. Installed during
a weekend, the new controllers immediately showed that
for constant input signals, the BOSS units were giving
wildly fluctuating output torque in the low-slip range.
With the flexibility of the PLC, several predictive measures were included in the control algorithm but no substantial improvement in control was achieved.

Change of direction
By late December, a major reassessment of the system was required. After eight weeks, no significant improvements in the performance of the conveyor or
productivity of the mine had been achieved. It was apparent that any change in major components would have
a 12- to 24-week lead time and that any decision for
change would need to take this into account. By Christmas, it was decided to fit CST drives on the trippers,
while retaining the BOSS units at the head. The new
equipment was scheduled for changeout from April 1418, 1995.
Efforts continued to improve production before the
drive changeout. The upgraded BOSS units were fitted
during January. This improved torque control and reduced velocity surges from 50% to about 10%. The improved control allowed more power to be applied to the
belt and reduced belt breakages. Despite the improveFIG. 5

Productivity vs. time.



ment in powering the conveyor, overall mine production

was not significantly increased.
During early February, an effort was put into eliminating bugs and ghost shutdowns from the control software. These efforts resulted in a substantial increase in
the availability of the conveyor system and a large improvement in the mines production.
Figure 5 shows actual production as a percentage of
the budget forecasts from the beginning of longwall operation. Changes to the conveyor system are noted to
indicate their effect on production from the mine.
Production improvements during February (weeks
15-18) came entirely from an increase in the availability
of the system and not from an increase in capacity. By
early March (week 21), the mine was getting close to
budget production levels, with a conveyor system that
was capable of only about half of its specified capacity.

Take-up control changes

One unknown parameter of concern before the
changeout was the effectiveness of the take-up in controlling the belt tension and its effect on the system. The
problems that were observed meant that the take-up/
belt interaction could not be discounted as a major
source of the conveyors velocity surges.
To quantify the influence of the take-up on the conveyor, a roller frame was installed to measure belt tension between the drive and belt storage unit. This frame
(Fig. 6) was conceptually similar to the tension measuring arrangement used at the trippers. Thus, measurements provided by this unit showed that the take-up

itself was not involved in the tension fluctuations at the

trippers that were causing the velocity surges. This was a
positive result. The tension-measuring unit also showed
that, although uninvolved with the velocity surges, the
take-up was not maintaining constant tension. For a
nominal tension of 50 kN, the actual tension at the takeup would vary from 35 to 65 kN, depending whether the
conveyor was loading or unloading.
This large tension variation could cause overloading
problems on the trippers, overstressing of the belt and
slippage at the drives. Making use of the tension measuring frame, it was decided to control the take-up winch
directly from belt tension instead of maintaining constant torque at the winch. Once implemented, this gave
tension control in the range of 45 kN to 55 kN, a major

FIG. 6

Take-up tension frame.

Drive refit
Two weeks before the changeout, the longwall had
advanced sufficiently to allow removal of the first tripper. This reduced the scope of the changeout. At Easter,
the revised scope included removing the two BOSS
drives and their controller from the tripper, installing the
two CST drives and controller, replacing the proprietary
card controller on the head drive BOSS units with a PLC
controller, reconfiguring of the PLC hardware, loading a
new PLC program and touchscreen graphical diagnostics. The changeout was carried out around the clock for
three days.
The production period following the drive change
was the first in which the mine exceeded budget tonnages. The conveyor system had ceased to be the bottleneck in production and the limiting factor on mine
production was moved to the longwall.
The new software and graphical diagnostics made
troubleshooting easier. The ability of the CSTs to control torque meant that the available power could be applied to the belt. With all drive parameters now available
on the centralized monitoring system, corrective action
could be directed by qualified personnel on the surface
to anyone underground.

Many new things were tried at South Bulga, something that is always necessary if a quantum improvement
in production is desired. Some of the components, such
as the microprocessor-based electrical protection equipment, initially presented problems. But, once these were
resolved, they performed satisfactorily. Other components, such as the BOSS clutches on the tripper drives,
never worked properly in their specified application.
The age-old problem of a poorly structured and documented PLC program proved even more troublesome
when combined with other serious deficiencies.
It is not constructive to criticize the use of new technology just because it is new, even if it has not been completely successful. If a climate is created in which new
approaches cannot be pursued, the progress of the conveyor industry will be slow. What is essential to learn
from the problems experienced at South Bulga is not the
specific equipment-related issues, since equipment is
changing all the time, but the lessons that have general
application to all new conveyor installations.
Some of the general lessons to be learned from the
South Bulga experience are:

A reliable and efficient conveyor system is fundamental to the viability of any longwall operation.
Designers must have an accurate knowledge of the
characteristics of all the components of the conveyor
system including idlers, belt, take-up, motors and
other drive components. The designers must also
understand the influence of each components characteristics on the system performance.
Any uncertainty about the components must be addressed at the design stage, if necessary by additional
component testing and analysis.
The overall system design should be sufficiently robust to withstand variations in the performance of
the various components. The level of tolerance in
the system design should be commensurate with the
confidence the designer has in the various
components characteristics.
Components, such as winches, drive controllers etc.,
are best under PLC control. This enables their operating parameters to be accessed by a central monitoring system and their performance to be
monitored and adjusted with a minimum of problems. There is no place in a modern longwall operation for equipment that cannot be remotely
monitored and adjusted or that requires hardware
changes to adjust control parameters.
A robust, reliable, structured and documented PLC
program complete with graphical diagnostics, is essential. The graphics must be the primary fault-finding tool. They should be configured so they can be
used by operations as well as maintenance personnel.

The capacities expected of coal mines in the future

dictate that conveyors with several thousand installed
kW will be the norm. Due to the differences in geometry
and performance requirements, each of these conveyor
installations requires different and frequently new approaches.
Locating and controlling the various system components is fundamental to the success of the conveyor and
the entire operation. Industry can benefit from the experience at South Bulga by insisting on a greater understanding of the conveyor systems from the outset.