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Miners go soft on starting

15 January 2008

A Russian coal mine is set to become one of the most technologically advanced in the world, as it prepares to install an explosion proof soft start for its massive conveyor system.

Built in Britain, the explosion proof soft start unit is rated at 6000V, 800kW and effectively makes the conveyor fully automatic. It is designed to simultaneously start three separate motors, each rated at 400kW, and run the mine’s main gate conveyor which carries coal from the working face to the mine shaft.

It was designed and built by Sheffield-based Baldwin & Francis, which specialises in electrical systems for extreme environments, from an OEM kit of parts supplied by Soft Start. The kit consisted of thyristor power modules, a fibre optic EPT for firing the thyristors and an electronic control module and user interface.

Baldwin & Francis took these components, and built them onto a chassis which was then enclosed in an Ex D housing. The whole system was custom designed for the particular installation. For instance, it had to be compact as space was limited, and this required that the thyristors be supplied with specially-made right angled couplings rather than conventional in-line ones. The use of fibre optics electrically isolates the high and low voltage parts of the soft start and removes the possibility of flashovers.

Cooling of the soft start was a major design consideration so that the electronic components could be used with confidence in such an aggressive environment. Several options were considered, with forced draught being chosen because it would be the most reliable over the expected long working life of the equipment.

Mark Ramsden of Baldwin & Francis explained: “The worldwide mining industry is still fairly new to electronic solutions to do with starting motors underground, and we are doing a lot of pioneering work in this respect. Electronics tend not to like the heat and gases typically found underground, and the thought that they may cause a spark is an anathema to mining engineers the world over. It is our job to show that electronics are robust enough and start sparking isn’t a problem.”

Until four or five years ago, all mine-based conveyor starting would have been via a fluid coupling, but the there is now a definite trend to more modern ideas. Baldwin & Francis is at the forefront of this, often transferring technologies developed in its other markets such as Oil, Process and Marine.

Similarly, Soft Start is riding a wave of interest in medium voltage soft starts, particularly from the heavy and harsh environment industries such as quarrying, groundwater pumping, offshore, waste management and recycling. The majority of its installations are bespoke and include considerable design input. Often, this leads to specials parts being sourced or made for particular jobs.

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