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.
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.