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A Great Idea for Your Ball Mills: IIoT

Run-to-fail totally works… as long as your definition of works is “having the characteristics of a bad idea while relying on fortune or odds to be in the black.” We all want to be people that have good ideas, right? So let’s stop playing roulette with our ball mills. With a little help from IIoT, let’s start with preventive maintenance.

I’m exaggerating, a little, but the truth is we all want to know exactly what we can expect from our equipment. Ball mills, being key pieces of equipment, are no exception. In many locales, the visibility into these systems hardly extends past the dusty output from the screen and the power switch. IIoT technology continues to evolve and permeate the industry, and companies are running out of excuses. They shouldn’t roll the dice on their equipment anymore. So where do we start? Let’s start with what we know.

Control, Process Data & Preventive Maintenance

DCS or SCADA systems control many SAG, rod, and ball mills. These systems are diverse and individualized depending on the equipment and the scope of the system installed. Sometimes you’ll see simple metrics, like run status, and other times you’ll see more specific metrics like flowrate or RPMs. Additionally, if you have a variable frequency drive (VFD) running the mill’s motor, there could be valuable energy data coming from it. Overall, it’s important to know all the data that’s already available to you. This is your starting point to begin improving your system visibility, expansion into analytics, insights and preventive maintenance.


The power hogs of the system, the motors are essential to the entire milling operation. Understanding their health should be a baseline metric. VFDs are an excellent source of this data, and I would recommend you investigate the other data points not currently pulled into the control system. Maybe you’re getting single-phase amperage data and calculating current horsepower, but make sure you get all 3 phases. Also, verify the motor ramp-up program is appropriate for the size and duty of the motor. A couple of other sensors to consider adding are vibration and temperature to the motor and gearbox. With these simple additions, you’ll be able to better calculate efficiency and catch major faults before they cause major damage.

Pinions and Bearings

The primary points of friction are in the pinion, main, or trunnion bearings. Again, data from these components is essential to know if you want to understand the health of your ball mill. Drilling and threading an NPT hole and adding a vibration sensor could very well save you hundreds of thousands of dollars. Imagine being able to plan downtime for your ball mill, rather than doing an emergency shut down procedure and digging out your mill. You probably feel the weight off your shoulders just imagining the convenience! Being a friction point, temperature would be helpful as well, in addition to monitoring the automatic greasing systems. Knowing your system greased the bearings when it was supposed to can help avoid a needless problem.

Conveyors and Augers

Conveyors and augers are vital to ensuring your ball mill is getting fed. They are also indicators of the output you’re getting and whether you’re achieving the cascading effect you need inside the mill. Run status and RPMs are common and necessary, but you can go deeper into these systems. Some conveyors include load cells which allow you to understand the exact size-reduced discharge at any given time. This allows for real-time optimization through variable inlet speeds and mill RPM control. And if you have stages of milling, this can help the next-stage mill adjust at the moment it receives the material.

Data Analytics and Visualization

Now comes the most important part. I’ve mentioned the sensors to add, systems to integrate, and the benefits you could get. But how do you actually get those benefits? The short answer: data analytics.

Analytics is going to be the driving force that helps you understand the dynamic nature of your ball mills and eases preventive maintenance. At what level is vibration an issue and how soon can you catch it before it seizes the bearing? At what output level do we need to slow the inlet speed and what are the factors that lead to that scenario? If the greasing system begins to malfunction, how much longer can you run the mill before components become compromised? Analytics help you identify the answers and drive relevant dynamic alarms. They also inform your other systems and team members to make adjustments to avoid failures or unplanned downtime.

But analytics is only part of the story: how the insights are presented is just as important as the insights themselves. Data visualization, when done with intent, makes the result intuitive and immediately helpful. This is where common, traditional SCADA systems fall flat. Time and time again, you go into a facility, and the data and control systems look antiquated, jumbled, and largely unhelpful. A whole screen of graphs without context to each other lets the user down.

Flowrox Can Help!

A modern IIoT platform could be exactly what you need to pull all these systems and new sensors together. Plus, a cloud-based solution leverages powerful processors, provides data backup, and allows for in-depth analytics. Not to mention modern visualizations, with user experience and intuitive navigation prioritized. Flowrox Digital Services provides all these benefits, along with reporting, user permissions, maps, and more.

If you have a ball mill that needs IIoT technology and optimization, now is the time to look into solutions. No two ball mills are exactly alike. Being able to tailor your service, maintenance, process, and control to your equipment will save time, resources, man-hours, money, and frustration. And that’s not just a good idea. That’s a great idea!