Estimating size fraction categories of coal particles on conveyor belts using image texture modeling methods
Motivation: Physical properties of coal such as particle size distribution have a large influence on the stability and operational behavior of fluidized bed reactors and metallurgical furnaces. In particular, the presence of large amounts of "fine" particles invariably has a drastic effect on plant performance as a result of impaired gas permeability characteristics of the coal or ore burden. Therefore, monitoring and control of particle size distribution profiles of such aggregate material on reactor feed streams, such as moving conveyor belts, is critical for predictable operation of these processes. Traditionally, the method of sieve analysis using stock or belt cut samples has been widely used in industry. Unfortunately, the reliability and usefulness of belt cut techniques are constrained by frequency of sampling as well as laboratory analysis turnaround times. For real-time monitoring and control purposes, automated sampling and analysis methods are more desirable. Methods: In this study, the problem of estimating the particle size distribution profile of material on a moving conveyor belt is formulated within a texture classification framework, which has its basis in machine vision and incorporates elements from statistical pattern recognition. Using exemplar images of coal particles taken on a process stream, a set of local features that compactly describes the textural properties of each image are expressed in terms of localized nonlinear features called textons. Representation of image information using textons is primarily motivated by insights from neuroscience research on the optimality of linear oriented basis functions as models of perception in early processing of visual information in the cortex regions of the human brain. Using these representations for different textures, nearest neighbor and support vector machine classification models are subsequently used to classify test images. Results: Using a comprehensive evaluation, it is shown that the use of texton representation obtained from decomposing images with linear oriented basis functions can be sufficiently discriminative compared to the use of the widely used second-order statistical features or features from other baseline models. In particular, model performance obtained with appropriately tuned filters suggest the importance of including shape and spatial structure information in an image representation for texture classification of coal particles. Furthermore, using nonlinear support vector machines rather than nearest neighbor classifiers significantly improved classification performance. A texture classification approach to particle size profile estimation has potential applications in the online monitoring of the proportion of "fines" in coal material on moving conveyor belts. © 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.