Meet our customer hero
Consider the raw materials we use to build the modern world. From the cement to build hospitals, to the iron ore for an electric car, to the gravel and steel on our rail-lines. It all has to be extracted, and moved for processing, to be transported across the globe. Thankfully, massive conveyor belts do much of that work. And a specialized set of belt cleaning and monitoring devices keep those conveyors from breaking. It’s a little-known, yet critically important industry. And Flexco have been at the forefront of it since 1907.
But a new political and economic landscape is throwing supply chains into chaos just as everyone is making sustainability a priority. Anticipating these changes a few years ago, Flexco took an industry-leading step into the future and began experimenting with IoT technology to transform heavy industrial equipment into a smart, self-monitoring solution for itself and its customers.
“In 2021, we pivoted to Software AG to co-develop what would become our highly successful Elevate solution,” says Travis Vliem. “This lets our mining customers monitor their conveyor belt cleaning systems in harsh, hard to reach locations, predict when interventions are needed without having to constantly send out expensive field inspection teams, and save money by optimizing production."
It all starts with a toaster-sized, rugged, edge device known as the i3. Inside, a suite of edge computing multiprocessors uses Wifi, Bluetooth, and cellular with end-to-end security to help record, process, and transmit data from an accelerometer, gyroscope, thermometer, hygrometer, and microphone.
From first bolt to walking away—physical installation, commissioning via an intuitive mobile app over Bluetooth, and live data transmission—takes about 5 minutes. Or less.
That’s in large part because the Elevate solution is built around a powerful IoT platform—which includes in-built support for AWS and a data lake and handles some ML functions. The buy and build solution, provides complete device management, user management, assets and ontology management, OTA support, microservices, streaming analytics, and score monitoring, as well as heaps of customizable components. And thanks to webMethods integration, Elevate works with Salesforce and other partners, and includes seamless alarms and email notifications in real time.
Now live all over the world, Flexco Elevate can save customers anywhere from tens of thousands to millions of dollars—the cost of a large belt system—by averting a single catastrophic breakdown. Shawn Akkila, IoT Solutions Architect, Flexco, explains; “In general, an i3 sends a package of about 200 to 300 Kilobytes of data per transmission, which occur once an hour and finish within a minute. But edge processing will wake up the device asynchronously for notable events, like high-G or other alerts that require real-time reactions.”
Here's just a few of Flexco’s customers’ game-changing use cases:
Reduction in labor costs through condition monitoring: A large hard rock mining site leveraged 1 FTE to inspect, monitor and perform basic maintenance tasks on all belt cleaners on site. Two months post implementation of the i3 Devices on site, 1 FTE for inspection work was cut in half to support other valuable activity. Wages alone created $35K in annual available labor in addition to $16K saved in maintenance labor after the inspections.
Boost in production output through predictive monitoring: An aggregate site had inconsistent maintenance. And on average 30-40% of their 60 cleaners were disengaged at any given time. By implementing i3 Devices on 20 of the most problematic cleaners, the maintenance team identified deficiencies through the i3 Dashboard, and were able to proactively service cleaners. Using weigh scale measurements from before and after, they noticed a 0.6% improvement in production output as a result of decreased carryback—this equated to almost $1.12M in production per year.
Reduced downtime through condition monitoring: An above ground mining operation wanted to understand replacement rates for components given their harsh site conditions. 6 i3 Devices were installed on 6 new Flexco cleaners to monitor runtime hours against blade wear rates. The platform was able to send alerts and even detected a torn belt. Had the puncture not been caught, it would have rendered the belt unpatchable. A 4-hr shutdown to apply fasteners was a welcome alternative to replacing the $100K belt and the $144K in lost production time to replace it.
Reduction in service costs with condition monitoring: A site procurement manager wondered why they were buying the same belt cleaners each year when they weren’t adding new conveyors. The site implemented Elevate to monitor the cleaners, create a digital service record using the i3 Mobile App, and hold the maintenance team accountable for service. In the first 6 months no cleaners had to be replaced. The company then projected no new cleaner purchases for the first time in many years saving the site $24K in materials, $33K in reallocated labor, and $64K in lost production while cleaners were replaced.
Flexco’s success is down to its early decision to embrace IoT—and recognize what it needed of a partner. “We did not get it right immediately,” says Vliem. “But the lessons we learned led us to Software AG, the only partner that met our ambitious criteria. Now we have an IoT platform we’re scaling at speed across all of our subsidiaries, and those of our customers—over six continents. Not bad!”