A new approach to field testing and analyzing equipment – whether the machinery is deep inside a mine or clearing a remote mountain pass – provides engineers with access to a far more complete picture of the actual conditions, stresses and events that lead to structural failures. Finally, high volume, high quality, high resolution customer usage data can now be readily collected, analyzed, and used to ensure the development of more durable components and equipment.
On the surface gaining access to equipment operating data seems simple enough. Prepare the mining truck with strain gages, accelerometers, and other sensitive data collection instrumentation, record the forces as the truck is filled with dirt, rocks, gravel or coal and run the analysis to determine the results. While this might seem like a straightforward approach, the fact is that such short-term or controlled tests often bear little resemblance to what actually goes on when the camera isn’t rolling. For example, knowing that he is being observed, the load operator might take extra care when filling the truck. While other times he might be less cautious crashing the bucket into the side of the truck bed, exceeding recommended load capacity, or dropping the load with greater force from a higher release point. At the same time equipment usage and its reaction to the environment can vary greatly depending on the operator, environmental conditions, location, and any number of other factors.
While one can assume the normal operating conditions of virtually any piece of machinery, there are certainly occasions when equipment experiences an event outside of the range for which it was designed. For example, the drivetrain assembly of a fast-moving mining truck collides with a protruding boulder, an engine mount unexpectedly fails leading to excessive vibration, a front-end loader attempts a maneuver for which it was never intended, and so on. Observing performance over extended time periods in the system’s natural operating environment helps to ensure the likelihood of capturing the full range of conditions to which equipment is subjected – including rare but significant events. Armed with this information manufacturers can better quantify and predict future performance and develop products that satisfy the complete range of actual customer usage.
So what’s the problem?
For all of its advancements, the challenge that the testing community has long faced has been with observing the normal, daily operation of a piece of equipment in its natural environment over an extended period of time – a process that would include the collection of massive amounts of data. After all, physically manning test equipment all day every day simply isn’t practical.
Long-term unattended data collection was not limited by hardware. A number of rugged, portable and compact data recording systems have been available for some time now. Rather the issue lies with recording software. Limited storage meant that long-term testing required constant data downloads. This could mean continually interrupting operation and/or frequent and costly on-site visits by engineers or technicians download the data and check to ensure that quality data is being captured.
Up Next: We’ll explore in more detail how unattended data acquisition and analysis works.
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