PROCESSING

Vale to deploy robots at 3 copper operations

Brazilian producer Vale has developed robots that will assist employees in maintenance tasks at three major copper operations.

A speleorobot, developed by ITV, getting ready for an inspection (ITV)

A speleorobot, developed by ITV, getting ready for an inspection (ITV)

The company will send so-called "SpeleoRobots" to copper operations in Pará and iron ore operations in Vitória (Espírito Santo) and Itabira (Minas Gerais), where they will be used in inspections of mills, pipelines and other confined environments.

The Vale Institute of Technology (ITV) has been working with the Federal University of Minas Gerais on the SpeleoRobot project since 2015.

The SpeleoRobot, initially designed to help speleologists working for Vale by mapping caves close to operations, features an interchangeable locomotion system allows the robot to move using wheels, tires, treads or legs.

It has already been used for inspections of pipes, galleries and drains, in addition to services in plant equipment, such as mapping of ball mills and inspection of crusher teeth.

The robot's sensing system can also be used for high-resolution inspections, and the generation of 3D maps.

ITV, in partnership with the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, is also developing a Robot for Inspection Services (ROSI) that focuses on conveyor belts. ROSI uses a robotic arm that can reposition sensors and collect samples in places with difficult access.

"These robots were created within Vale by the employees themselves and are a constantly evolving technology," explains researcher Gustavo Pessin, from ITV. "Development is open-source, completely open from hardware to software, and its structure is modular. Everything that is developed can be used in other robots and equipment and adapted to new situations or functionalities using resources within Vale".

Robodogs

ITV has also acquired a "robodog" style machine from Swiss company Anybotics called the Anymal.

. This year, a proof of concept was completed at the Cauê plant, in Itabira (Minas Gerais). The success of the tests convinced Vale that it should purchase a unit of the robot.   

During the proof of concept, the robot maneuvered around the platform and overcame obstacles such as going up and down stairs. It created and displayed a digitized map of the area under inspection, executed route planning and defined the way forward, focused on specific objects and instruments, transmitted images, recorded thermal images with temperature measurements, among other functions.

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"With the robot, we eliminate risks pertaining to inspection activities, such as rotating equipment parts, noise and dust," explains Rayner Teixeira, operational analyst responsible for developing Anymal at Vale. "We also eliminate activities that have ergonomic risk, where the employee would need to perform a task in an uncomfortable position. The robot also gives us access to confined spaces, like the inside of a mill."

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