One of the most fundamental problems you have to deal with in these industries is transporting units from the machine that does one step to the machine that handles the next.
To automate this as much as possible, feeders are required to progress the product or parts.
The mining industry is no stranger to this problem. However, the sheer scale of production and the typically large and heavy materials involved makes manually moving ores slow, inefficient, and even dangerous for workers.
Automation thus becomes a necessity.
The winding systems of feeders and conveyors are invaluable to any automated operation, helping to maintain a steady, optimized flow of components through each step of the manufacturing process.
In modern mineral processing systems, large rocks are often taken from the mine, placed in a hopper and straight on to a feeder.
However, there are a large variety of feeders with different form factors and mechanisms, and in this article, we will take a closer look at a few of them.
1. Belt Feeders
One of the most common feeders around is the belt feeder.
These feeders operate much like a typical conveyor belt, with one or more motors driving a belt, typically made out of multiple layers of plastics or rubbers.
A feed hopper at one end accepts an unsorted amount of material, then the belt transports materials down its length with material that fits a fixed amount of volume.
The design of the belt feeder is slightly different from conveyor belts.
They are typically designed with variable motor speeds to control the rate of material flow through the feeder, while belt conveyors typically run at a fixed speed.
Still, the end result is much the same as it is meant to deliver whatever raw material at a steady pace.
Other belt feeders are also equipped with hoppers or blades to help move materials upward or downward with a lower risk of spillage.
Belt feeders tend to be a multi-use tool that is good at conveying most materials but may not be able to handle oddly shaped objects or ones that have certain unique properties like wet materials that might clump or hot materials that might melt the belt.
They are however perfect for handling anything which is numerous but definitely separate like piles of coal or small rocks.
2. Apron Feeders
Apron feeders are a variation on the motorized belt feeder but with certain modifications to make it a lot more robust.
Instead of being made from multiple parts of plastic or rubber, the ‘belt’ of an apron feeder is actually made up of multiple interlocking metal plates attached to a motorized chain drive.
This design makes the apron feeder rather similar to the continuous track used on tanks, bulldozers, and other heavy equipment.
Although the belt feeder’s design is pretty much an industry standard, it is not the best possible design for every job.
For example, the basic principle of mineral processing is to extract the desired minerals and elements from rocks.
Modern mining operations typically start out with large, heavy boulders of mineral ore with many sharp, rough edges that will have no trouble poking holes and ripping through the belt of a belt feeder.
The apron feeder’s construction and design are built to withstand the heavy-duty loads of these rough ores, transporting them to crushers that will bring them down to sizes that are more suited to the capabilities of the often smaller belt feeders.
Just as the belt feeder has its limitations, however, so too does the apron feeder.
Because the ‘belt’ of the apron feeder is actually made up of interlocking plates, finer rocks and dust particles tend to fall through the gaps of the apron feeder, which does not make them the equipment of choice in smaller scales.
Another issue is that the apron feeder is composed of many moving parts that increase the likelihood of further damage to the feeder over time.
This problem is more inherent to the roller-driven design, which means it also applies to the belt feeder.
3. Vibratory Feeders
The vibrating feeder aims to fix the same issues we’ve mentioned.
Its design typically consists of a load-bearing component (usually a slanted trough) mounted on springs or struts to limit the movement of the trough to the desired direction.
A vibrating component then shakes the trough at a very high rate to excite the materials in the trough, breaking their state of inertia and inducing movement.
The slant of the trough then encourages vertical movement thanks to the force of gravity.
This design has many benefits, which is why they are finding use in a wide variety of industries today.
For one, their simple design means that they can be built bigger or smaller to fit different needs in terms of the weight and quantity of the loads it will need to bear, improving the versatility of the design for various applications.
Another benefit of the simple design is the drastically reduced number of moving parts.
Disregarding the springs or struts (which act more as support rather than specifically moving components), the vibrating motor is the only major moving part in a vibrating feeder, which reduces the number of possible points of failure for the feeder and increasing its average lifespan.
Newer designs have improved on this even further by replacing the mechanical motor with electromagnets to induce vibrations in the feeder’s trough, taking the vibrating component out of the list of points of mechanical failure.
Whatever size, shape, or form, the feeder is an essential component of any manufacturing line, taking materials and components from one machine to the next reliably and efficiently.
Knowing the different types of feeders available will help you determine your industry-leading vibrating feeders supplier.
Equipped with this knowledge is to find the one that fits what your operation needs to work at its best.
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Alex McLay is a Marketing Consultant at Oreflow Australia PTY LTD. Oreflow are suppliers and provide support for mining equipment. They’ve been helping the Western Australian mining industry by providing capital equipment and conveyors as well as the service required to keep the equipment in shape. Also arranging for export to other countries, Oreflow maintains and provides for mineral exploitation the world over.