Europe's largest brown coal open-cast mining region
In the Europe's largest brown coal open-cast mining region at the RWE Hambach mining location, in excess of 300 million cubic metres of earth is quarried every year to be able to source the valuable brown coal. The world's biggest crawler excavators are used, and with their enormous dimensions of 240 metres in length and 96 metres in height the rotating crawlers dig into the earth at a depth of 400 metres.
In the face of the elements – tough environmental conditions
In order to access this depth, excavators, people, conveyors and vehicles force their way down towards the mining surface.
Everything is exposed to the elements. Downpours of rain, storms, baking heat and temperatures well below freezing point daily challenge the interplay of work and technology in open-cast mining.
Earth and coal collect everywhere and blow 'sand in the works'. Knocks and constant shaking mean a constant endurance test for equipment.
Communication is of elementary importance
Large-sized equipment swings out wide, and excavators operate where employees are working. Information has to flow clearly and quickly so that people and machines don't hamper each other. This is ensured by the use of optical signals.
A difficult search for signal devices fit for mining
Only very few signal devices are tough enough for the challenging environmental conditions prevalent in open-cast mining. "We need products that are really durable," emphasises an RWE electrical technician, and such devices are usually not available on the market. The safety specialists from RWE are therefore on a constant lookout for manufacturers that want to and have the capability to develop especially robust solutions. This demands both know-how and effort. "We're pleased when the companies help us," sums up the RWE expert, because only in this way the complete conveyor system can be operated without defects.
Each failure means loss of money
Recently it was a case of new beacons. Spreaders that shake earth residues out onto slag heaps are exposed to strong vibration. Halogen beacons on these spreader machines often failed. "Hard conditions exist there. We had to work on them every few months," testifies the technician. Each signal device failure meant idle machine times that cost the company valuable time and money.
WERMA develops solutions together with RWE
With WERMA Signaltechnik, the technicians found a manufacturer that was prepared to develop a more durable solution with RWE.
As one of the market leaders for audible and optical signal devices, WERMA are experts for high quality products, and with their rapid, dynamic solutions the company was the optimal partner.
WERMA offered the LED permanent beacon 829 as a replacement for the incandescent bulb beacons used by RWE.
LED technology solves two problems at the same time: LEDs with 50,000 hours light ten times longer than conventional incandescent bulbs, and at the same time even major vibrations can do light emitting diodes next to no harm. With its robust, lightweight housing of polycarbonate and PC/ABS blend the device is both temperature-resistant, highly UV-resistant and colour-fast from minus 30 to plus 50 degrees. Extra casting compound in the housing base and stabilised PC boards further protect the device from strong vibrations in open-cast mining.
Tough tests in practice
The RWE technicians initially had very little faith in the robustness of the device. WERMA representative Peter Schulz who supervised the project on-site remembers: "At first the RWE people laughed about our ‘plastic thing’."
The RWE technicians grabbed the beacon and simply threw it out of the window. A few tense moments later it was obvious. The device remained intact. "First of all the beacon had to survive being thrown out of the window without damage before the RWE technicians seriously considered the LED technology," Mr Schulz remembers with a smile.
The next test was even tougher. The beacon was subjected to constant shaking and vibration in permanent deployment on the largest crawler excavator in the world. Following various improvements, the LED permanent beacon 829 reliably operated for more than one year on the over thirteen thousand ton-heavy and 240 metre-long excavator. Since that time it is used as standard equipment on the emergency stop switches and traffic lights throughout the Hambach open-cast mining location. The LED permanent beacons signal reliably on spreaders, trippers, conveyor belts and the crawler excavator. And up to 100 of these are distributed over the equipment.
LED traffic light 890 reliably defies dirt and water
A similar case was found with the traffic lights in Hambach. These signal at strategic locations, for example at the belt collection point. Here conveying belts transport coal and earth, and below these belts are traffic paths for people and vehicles. To prevent material falling down onto these, the traffic light switches to red when the transport belts are in operation and to green when the paths can be crossed without danger.
Halogen traffic lights were previously used that often failed.
The energy provider changed over to LED technology with the 890 traffic lights from WERMA Signaltechnik. For open-cast mining applications the signal technology manufacturer additionally strengthened the housing and stabilised the PC boards. And here as well the vibration-resistant, long-life and bright LED technology really convinces, because shaking of the machines and conveyors has no effect on the robust LEDs. „Since using WERMA LED traffic lights we don't have any failures anymore," the supervising RWE electrical technician is pleased to say.
LED rotating beacon 280 warns against swinging out excavator arm
WERMA has developed a further beacon version for RWE suitable for open-cast mining. Levelers on caterpillars working around crawler excavators must always know whether the crawler is moving to or away from them. This is signalled by the red and green colours of the rotating beacons 280.
Once again RWE replaced its signal devices featuring conventional light sources with LED beacons in order to benefit from freedom of maintenance. WERMA fixed the new beacons with a supplementary PC board ring, thus ensuring that the inner electronics can reliably withstand shaking.
WERMA signal devices make RWE open-cast mining efficient
The LED signal devices from WERMA suitable for open-cast mining make the Hambach coal location more economic and safer.