DRA pioneers intelligent conveyor models for mining sector

DRA has succeeded in developing intelligent models to automate the engineering design process for its conveyor systems. This remarkable achievement follows years of research and development and intensive work during last year’s lockdown period to build a unique modelling platform.

"DRA is setting itself apart through its intelligent modelling as most companies and industries have not produced functioning automated models of more than medium-level complexity. Intelligent modelling is considered the most advanced and complex form of modelling and DRA’s intelligent conveyor models represent an industry first."


               Erich Meintjes, Senior Vice President Engineering

Meintjes credits the Bulk Materials Handling team, led by Nealon Burger and supported by bulk materials handling design engineer Brent Lambert, mechanical design engineer Robert Stoltz and mechanical design engineer Michael Joubert, for this innovative development, which will bring a number of significant benefits to DRA’s engineering design process.

DRA’s intelligent conveyor models produce detailed three-dimensional models and detailed part-level Bills of Material (BoM) for these conveyor systems.

“The application receives its information from the mechanical conveyor design and develops the model based on DRA’s design standards developed over 35 years, while catering for client specifications,” says Nealon.

“This allows DRA to complete the design cycle more efficiently and accurately compared to traditional methods of design. The model is capable of handling plant, underground and overland conveyor arrangements and is being implemented in all study phases. It was fully implemented on a recent concentrator feasibility study completed for a major mining group, which included 58 conveyors and feeders. On this project, a full design cycle, from belt profiles to detailed models and BoMs, was completed in four weeks by two engineers.”

Nealon explains that DRA developed the intelligent modelling system after exploring numerous methods, available software packages and current industry workflows. “None of the existing systems could offer the functionality, flexibility and scalability we need, so we decided to build a new system from the ground up,” he says. “The main requirement was that the system is fully modular in order to be scalable. We developed and revised the basic architecture and workflow of the system until it was clear that it would be capable of performing automation at intelligent model levels without limiting the overall complexity of the model.”

The development of automated models is generally considered to be research and development work as there is always a possibility that the investment will not pay off. But Erich points out that in this case there is little risk. “Because we have developed the underlying platform internally, we have a comprehensive understanding of our capabilities and have eliminated any risk.”

Nealon says the system allows for complex models to be built from a series of blocks. “The blocks are simple enough to be handled on their own or can be re-used between models and combined in larger functional blocks. As a result, the platform can reliably be built and expanded on.”

The DRA team’s design of the platform and subsequent development of the intelligent conveyor models have prepared the way for it to develop a catalogue of intelligent models for plant design. Each model that is added to the catalogue will significantly reduce the cost and duration the project design cycle, boosting its efficiency. The team is currently focusing on developing additional platework models.

“The more models we have, the greater the overall impact will be on the efficiency of the design process,” says Nealon.