BUCKET TOOTH LOSS – Money-saving Canadian-made solution

Losing a tooth when you're a kid meant enduring some pain, but at least you found a quarter under your pillow the n...


Losing a tooth when you're a kid meant enduring some pain, but at least you found a quarter under your pillow the next day.

Losing a tooth on a mining shovel dipper (bucket), however, could cost a mining operation thousands of dollars should the tooth become lodged in a crusher or other downstream processing equipment causing equipment damage, downtime and lost production.

Research scientists in the ALBERTA RESEARCH COUNCIL's (ARC) Sensors Engineering business unit, have partnered with a private company to develop and commercialize ToothMetrics, a preventative vision system technology that detects missing teeth on shovels used in large open pit mines.

The technology, developed jointly with MOTION METRICS INTERNATIONAL of Vancouver works by alerting shovel operators to partial or complete tooth breakage as soon as the shovel comes into viewing range of the camera.

"The system is very robust and is designed to operate in the rugged outdoor environment found in mining operations," says Paul Johnston, senior project manager at ARC. "The technology has been tested in mines worldwide and we feel it's a value-added product that can greatly benefit mining operations. Conveyor belts, crushers, belts, screens and pumps are all expensive pieces of equipment to repair. This technology can help prevent some costly maintenance and improve the overall efficiency in a mining operation."

The technology applies specialized image processing algorithms to the live video of the shovel bucket acquired by a rugged machine vision camera installed on the shovel arm. The "tooth line" is carefully analyzed on each upswing of the shovel arm during the dumping cycle, and compared against a base case scenario for a fully intact tooth line. When the system detects a tooth is partially or completely broken off, it automatically alerts the shovel operator both visually (via an industrial-grade touch screen LCD) and audibly (via a buzzer alarm).

"ToothMetrics is our flagship product. It acts as a pain killer rather than a vitamin and there is excellent market demand for it," says Dr. Shahram Tafazoli, president of Motion Metrics International. "We started looking into various solutions to the detection of tooth breakage problem back in August 1998 after meeting with engineers from a leading oil sands mine in northern Alberta. Once a three-month feasibility study was complete, we knew that machine vision would be an effective solution. Our partnership with the ARC has been quite valuable and after five years, this is a commercial product, both for hydraulic and electric cable shovels.

"ToothMetrics also improves the safety of their operations. By working with mines, we have learned that workers have been injured or even lost their lives in attempts to remove the shovel teeth lodged in crushers. Mines are very harsh environments with all types of extreme conditions, such as very cold and/or hot temperatures, bright sun to absolute darkness, dust, rain, snow, you name it."

Tafazoli says ToothMetrics prototypes are currently installed in a diamond mine in Africa and a large copper mine in the United States. These systems have already saved the mines significant money and improved their safety, and we are now proudly receiving follow-on orders.

Features of the technology include:
specialized real-time image processing software
language-free, user-friendly Graphical User Interface (GUI)
remote logon (networking) feature
industrial grade components, no moving parts, rugged construction
lightweight camera, combined with a light housing enclosure for protection
custom-made, fully molded connectors for rugged application
PC104+ form factor for the embedded computer
Windows XP embedded operating system
Compact and rugged touch screen LCD for operator interaction

Both partners hope this novel technology will bring a smile to the face of mine operators looking to improve their mining operations and solve the mystery of missing teeth.

Paul Johnston can be reached at 780-450-5402 or visit www.Arc.ab.ca and click on Sensors Engineering at the ARC Businesses link.


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