Major moves are under way within Australian industry towards improving industrial drive system design and efficiency.
These changes are manifesting themselves both through improvements in existing technologies (evolutionary changes) and radically new technologies (revolutionary changes, such as Mechatronics).
They are also driven by the Australian Greenhouse Office and the Equipment Energy Efficiency Program in ways such as legislating the Minimum Energy Performance Standards (MEPS) of products such as electric motors and other equipment sold in Australia and New Zealand.
The evolutionary changes are seeing improved mechanical gearbox design, notably the use of helical bevel boxes with typical efficiency of 95%, as opposed to older worm designs that can be as low as 35% in applications for which they are not suited.
There have also been design changes to improve the efficiency of the older and widely accepted worm reducers to offer better suitability to the modern market.
In terms of evolutionary change, there has also been a huge increase among users of industrial drives in the use of planetary reducers and gear motors for heavy duty and arduous applications, such as mineral processing and heavy manufacturing and processing roles.
Planetaries are good examples of technologically advanced sleepers that can be around for years before specifiers come to appreciate their outstanding and unique performance characteristics.
Engineers have known for a long time that these radically different gearboxes produce outstanding power transmission efficiencies with typical losses of only 3% per stage, all in a remarkably compact configuration referred to as Torque Density.
This kind of efficiency in gearbox design, ensures a high proportion of energy generated by motors to drive machinery is not gobbled up by mechanical losses within the gearbox that is multiplying and transmitting the torque produced in highly dense construction designs that will save costs and material for the actual support and mounting of the machine thanks to reduced weight.
In fact, planetaries are often a brilliant choice for applications requiring high torque in intermittent operation.
Compared with a parallel shaft arrangement, a planetary gearbox in such applications can often achieve the same ratio with one fewer reduction stage, with cost and dimension savings
Compact and powerful planetary planetary drives are now being produced by our own company, for example, with peak torque outputs of more than a million Newton metres and continuous outputs of more than 500,000 Nm.
These multi-stage Trasmital planetary gearboxes can be specified and assembled in Australia following our investment of more than $16m in new design and production facilities and stock levels.
Specifiers can now achieve five and six stage planetary drives tailored to individual applications (with design enhanced by Mosaico online technology and our new Drives Service Centre (DSC).
This is not to say that planetaries are the ideal gearbox in every situation. As a producer of a full range of technologically advanced gearboxes from the small worm boxes up to the big planetaries and traditional helicals, we at Bonfiglioli appreciate that there are horses for courses.
And in fact gearbox combinations can also be engineered using planetary and other major drive configurations, such as parallel shaft and bevel helical (including our new HDP and HDO Bevel Helical units in sizes up to 72,000 Nm).
These drives which complement the Trasmital series are the result of more than three years development to produce outstanding reliability and torque densities to record values.
But specifiers are also increasingly becoming aware of the importance of new and developing technologies in achieving ongoing economical lifecycle operating costs, over and above capital installation costs.
This long sighted view has been encouraged by the advent of radically better, but immensely practical, drive solutions, such as Variable Voltage, Variable Frequency (VVVF) and Field Orientated (Vector) Variable Speed Drives.
These have brought the mechatronics age to our doorstep. Macaronis (the synergistic combination of mechanical engineering, electronic engineering, electrical engineering and software engineering) has seen instances where one drive can do the work or two or several drives, or multi-task itself in processing applications.
Because of this flexibility, there has been a huge momentum to use VVVF or Vector drives in place of old designs, such as slip ring motors, fluid couplings, DC motors or eddy current couplings for variable speed applications.
For example, using the Bonfiglioli ACT series, we have four data sets or memories that are independently adjustable and remotely switchable.
This allows users to have up to four totally different operating characteristics from a single drive. When you combine the multiple data set functionality to the features offered in a single data set (4 logic modules, 2 comparators, 2 timers, multiple fixed or infinitely variable speed motor speed, multiple starting and stopping methods, etc) you have the basis for huge variations in machine control from a single inverter.
And by using drives, we can see a power factor correction and improved system efficiency will reduces the energy draw and the environmental impact.
This has become a bottom line issue under the MEPS process that is designed to reduce power Greenhouse Gas Emissions under State and Territory law.
Variable Speed Control for AC Induction Motors is also a technology which has radical implications in key market segments such as packaging, pumps, chillers, air handling units, return air fans, cranes and elevators for gains in total system efficiency as opposed to component efficiency, a clear trend for the future.
Clear cut trends are developing as well towards integrated control systems using field bus technology, which is becoming accepted practice.
We are seeing plant lines using field bus integration technology in order to have the individual process line talk and communicate it operations to the entire plant using simple two wire cables under communication protocols such as RS232, RS485, DeviceNET, CAN and ProfiBUS via drive and communication interfaces on the SPL, ACT and VCB series of Bonfiglioli inverters.
This makes entire plant line networks powerful but easy to install and maintain.
The concept behind field bus integration has made the installation, maintenance, operation and production of end-users efficient, so by investing in a technology, an efficiency dividend is realized offering commercial benefit to both the manufacturer and the consumer.
The key message is to keep up with advances in technology and make informed choice when selecting equipment.
There are better and efficient methods of power and control solutions coming onto the market as large multinational companies (such as our own) invest high amounts back into our R&D and new product segments.
Reliability, ease of use/maintenance, and careful selection to optimize the life cycle of equipment are the big issues that face the operator.
At the end of the day, many mining and industrial sites have an estimated yield or productive capacity and a known or predictable lifetime.
It is critical, when looking at their viability, to ensure that the equipment selected to do the work undertaken there can do the job quickly and efficiently over the years and with the minimum amount of downtime.
If this is done, then the operator/owner is profitable and has capital available for future investment that benefits all of Australia. Reduced operating and installation cost can both be achieved if the technology is selected carefully
Sean Richardson is Bonfiglioli’ s National Manager, Electronic Automated Division (EAD).