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Integration in mining

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Industrial plants are complex constructs of products, systems and solutions. Mines tend to operate with a large number of independent pieces of equipment and systems from different suppliers. In the past, the electrical systems that provide the power for industrial processes have tended to exist in their own world. They were run from their own control rooms, separate from the rest of the mine or factory, and these rooms were staffed by engineers and technicians who were concerned only with what their drives and motors were doing, and whether they were providing enough power to keep the show on the road. Each of these “islands of automation” can have its own data, data format and interfaces, and operators and central control room staff must scrutinize a multitude of conceptually disconnected screens in order to coordinate different parts of the process.


Automation is not new to mining, but the automation employed in mines is generally more basic than in other industries and is often limited to simple control of motors, equipment or certain parts of processes. These days, it’s recognized that things work better if they are integrated. The obvious benefit is that it’s easier to manage a single system. The key to the future of mining, lies in total integration of data and work processes meaning convergence to channel more and more information from real-time systems into software, enhancing efficiency, responsiveness and profitability across the mining value chain.

 

Technology convergence
Efficient plant operation

Technology convergence advances mining efficiency and productivity

Although demand for commodities is growing in the long term, the mining industry currently faces a unique set of challenges. The solution to these, and the future of mining, lies in automation and integration.


Competitive pressure is driving miners to find ways to increase the production rate of their operations, reduce the cost per ton produced and extend the life span of mine sites or establish new ones. People and asset productivity have to rise too as flat underlying commodity prices, rising production costs and high price volatility are currently forcing miners to reduce capital expenditure. Indeed, productivity improvement is now fast becoming a key competitive differentiator and is being built in to financial projection models. 

Added to all this is an aging workforce. In common with other industries, the age profile in mining is slowly creeping up and retiring workers are leaving with valuable know-how and experience. The situation is exacerbated by the remote and inhospitable location of many mines, which makes it difficult to bring in experts and recruit and retain competent staff.

The solution to all these challenges, and the future of mining, lies in automation and integration of information and the use of that knowledge for real-time optimization of the mining processes. 

An integrated view
Automation is not new to mining, but the automation employed in mines is generally more basic than in other industries and is often limited to simple control of motors, equipment or certain parts of processes. 
Further, mines tend to have a large number of independent pieces of equipment and systems from different suppliers. Each of these “islands of automation” can have its own data, data format and interfaces, and operators and control room staff must scrutinize a multitude of conceptually disconnected screens in order to coordinate different parts of the process.

The key to the future of mining, then, lies in total integration of data and work processes meaning convergence to channel more and more information from real-time systems into software, enriching four key areas that will enhance efficiency, responsiveness and profitability across the mining value chain: 

Intelligent production, and higher people and asset productivity 
Data integration can dramatically improve production efficiency and productivity. This can be done through:
- Process optimized according to ore properties
- Production targets optimized according to market conditions
- Wireless communications enabling just-in-time optional process management 

Intelligent response to critical asset condition in real time
Failure of a critical production asset can have a catastrophic impact on production targets. The loss resulting from a main conveyer failure, for example, can run into hundreds of thousands of dollars per hour. A modern asset optimization system can help mines to go from reactive to predictive maintenance strategies, avoiding unnecessary maintenance and reducing operating costs. Extended automation solutions such as System 800xA can integrate modern maintenance systems from suppliers such as IBM or SAP. Real-time data on asset conditions can then be used to streamline maintenance effectiveness and enable condition based monitoring. 

Demand-driven planning improving profitability
The mining supply chain extends from the extraction of raw materials through the transport of products to the end customer. To achieve production and productivity targets, mining companies need to achieve high operational performance and efficiency across supply-chain processes. Better integration and automation across processing plant operations, mine planning and asset maintenance/management will guarantee the right product is available at the right time. It will also make sure that customer orders are accepted only when the supply chain can deliver them, thus improving negotiating power and risk management. In addition, this unified view ensures that equipment maintenance can be scheduled to minimize impact on production schedules while maintaining the required level of availability. 

Reduced energy consumption and waste
Improvements in energy efficiency can be driven not only by improvements in mining processes and technologies, but also by greater visibility and process control across the value chain through information integration and process optimization.

Remote operation centers enabling the vision
Mines of the future will be run from remote operation centers. Data from all parts of the operation will flow together to allow precise management of mining – from rockface to end customer – and resources and production to be optimized across multiple sites.

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Creating one system for more efficient plant operation

Industrial plants are complex constructs of products, systems and solutions. With the trend to optimization and the need for highly efficient operations, a route planner or efficiency architect is the answer for the ideal and integrated plant setup. 


In the past, the electrical systems that provide the power for industrial processes have tended to exist in their own world. They were run from their own control rooms, separate from the rest of the mine or factory, and these rooms were staffed by engineers and technicians who were concerned only with what their drives and motors were doing, and whether they were providing enough power to keep the show on the road.

One system
These days, it’s recognized that things work better if they are integrated. The obvious benefit is that it’s easier to manage a single system. No matter how important the electrical side is, it’s still just another factor in the production process, and optimization algorithms can handle it along with all the other raw materials so as to get the most output from the least input. In this way, asset management and information management can use the same database and present the results on the same screen. 

One obvious advantage is that the power supplied can be “right”. In the case of mining, it’s not unusual for a facility to use as much as 100 MW of electricity, so optimizing this area can make a huge difference to a plant’s operational costs and its carbon footprint. 

The key technology that enables this integration is our 800xA distributed control system, which uses the IEC 61850 standard to communicate with electrical substations. This can align process and power so as to get the most product from every watt consumed. Effectiveness is maximized by using high bandwidth fiber-optic cables rather than the copper wire usually fitted with electrical control systems, and smart design templates can automatically configure intelligent electrical devices, which slashes the time and cost of installation. 

Convergence of IT and OT  
Furthermore, the convergence of IT (information technology such enterprise software systems that manage the entire mining support mechanism including equipment, maintenance, logistics, production and personnel and OT (operational technology such as process logic controllers on machinery) in this area leads to more efficient plant operations. Our enterprise software portfolio helps industrial plants reach new levels of efficiency, reliability, safety and sustainability. We provide unmatched capabilities to integrate information technologies (IT) and operational technologies (OT) to provide the complete solutions to your business challenges. 

From one supplier
Another advantage is that if systems and technology are integrated, a single company can put them all together by acting as the main electrical and main automation contractor. As these two functions are our core business, ABB is able to offer a turnkey service for both: that is, we will bring together our proven technology along with our experience of customizing it for the needs of an individual mine. This involves engineering, integrating and optimizing all the electrification, automation and infrastructure systems of a plant. 

An example of the comprehensiveness and sophistication of this integrated offering was our multi-million dollar contract to create a “mine of the future” for the Brazilian company Vale at an iron ore site in the Amazon. This embraced everything from a low-carbon truckless transportation system to the excavators that dig the ore. 

As well as tackling the whole of a mine’s power and automation requirements, we can do it quickly. This fast-track project execution service was exemplified by the Kaunisvaara iron ore mine in Sweden, where we were able to deliver equipment for both power and automation systems just two months after winning a contract: “truly a remarkable achievement” in the words of the client’s chief executive.  

If ABB is engaged at an early stage in the projects, it can select the best voltage, plan the optimal substation layout, and design the control architecture in such a way that the client has the lowest possible capital cost for the construction phase and the lowest operational and maintenance cost thereafter. This approach has been proven over decades in the copper, gold, aluminum, iron and coal mining sectors, and can be delivered as a turnkey contract with open books, thereby giving the client the confidence that it is going to get the best deal possible. 

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