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Conveyor belts

The problem
Conveyor belts for industrial plants are manufactured with high-performance rubber materials, such as to guarantee durability in harsh conditions, as commonly found in steel plants, mines, foundries, electric plants, tunnel constructions, waste transport and recycling, sand quarries.
The integration of the various parts of the belt is performed through hot vulcanization, a process invented in 1844 by Goodyear. Vulcanization allows to obtain chemical bonds in the rubber at molecular level when the rubber undergoes a given pressure and temperature profile over time. The limitation of current vulcanization cycles is that the temperature of the rubber is monitored through probes placed on the molds, i.e. externally with respect to the rubber. The actual temperature inside the rubber is therefore still not strictly known, due to the interaction of various factors (thermal inertia, ambient temperature, different rubber blends,…). The actual indirect monitoring systems are therefore not suited for modifying the production cycle according to the variable conditions experienced inside the actual part being produced, such as variable dimensions, different blends, mold inertia, abnormal functioning of the machinery.
Our solution
In collaboration with a conveyor belt manufacturer, Radio6ense developed an innovative industrial solution, stemming from the vision of the Industrial Internet and consisting in the insertion of wireless and batteryless RFID sensors inside the elastomeric blend of the conveyor belt.
Radio6ense started by characterizing the electromagnetic response of elastomeric blends, which helped later in understanding the most suitable typology, the correct materials and the optimal technique for the sensor insertion into the rubber.
Such sensors, when interrogated by an ad-hoc radiosystem, can transmit wirelessly the temperature value as recorded inside the object, hence constantly optimizing the vulcanization process with the help of a user-friendly interface and data analysis tool developed in Dewesoft.
The infrastructure of the sensing network is external to the production machinery, hence perfectly suited to retrofit existing machinery and simplifying the adoption of the new technology. The developed system is therefore capable of monitoring the vulcanization cycle from the very inside of the object under production, enabling to strictly follow the optimal temperature-pressure profile. The products exiting the machinery will provide higher quality and improved product life.
Expected benefits
The production process will be deeply transformed, as it will be possible to produce ad-hoc products following customers’ wishes in a more effective way, without the need for costly trial-and-error tuning process of the vulcanization cycle. The product itself will “communicate” to the machinery which cycle to adopt for optimal results.
A clear benefit is therefore a substantial drop in production problems and in production delays, due to erroneous vulcanization cycle setups or to the non-adequate vulcanization of parts of the belt: the sensor itself will be able to sense if all product parts have correctly undergone vulcanization.
This will moreover allow reducing energy costs with respect to the current situation, where over-vulcanization is often performed to minimize the possibility of having non-vulcanized areas. Finally, once inside the final product, the sensor can be used to implement improved strategies for warehouse management, logistics and planned maintenance of the conveyor belts once in use.