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Digital twin of material handling chain

Why it is more than just an evolution of digital models, and what it means for bulk material handling terminals, coal-fired power plant stockyards, steel plants and mines

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The evolution of digital twin definition

How do you operate, maintain, or repair systems when you aren’t within physical proximity to them?

This was the challenge since the early days of space exploration. Researchers were looking for a bridge to systems that would travel beyond the ability to see or monitor physically. It resulted in the first pairing technology - the predecessor of today's digital twin - using the concept of mirroring.  NASA successfully applied this concept to determine how to rescue a space mission. So the approach has been around for a while. But it is thanks to the Internet of Things that it has become cost-effective to implement a new kind of bridge between the physical and digital world.

Physical systems, processes or services can use smart components to gather data about their real-time status, working condition, or position and combine it with all the digital aspects of how the physical items are built.  Data stored in different places can be referred to from one common digital twin directory - to perform real-time optimization, prevent downtime and plan for the future by using simulations. While use of simulations is nothing new, they have historically relied on relatively small data sets or assumptions when making predictions. Digital twins, however, have access to unfathomably large data sets thanks to the IIoT. They have become a business imperative in all industries, including mining and metals.
Digital twin is an evolving digital profile of the historical and current behavior of a physical object or process that helps optimize business performance. The digital twin is based on massive, cumulative, real-time, real-world data measurements across an array of dimensions.

Full automation of material handling from mine to port or plant - an obvious step on the Industry 4.0 path

Stockyards connect consecutive steps in material transportation chains. There are stockyards at mines, terminals, ports and plants to provide a buffer of material  between steps in the transportation chain. Stockyards are also used for mixing and blending different charges to achieve a certain quality of outgoing material.

In order to achieve a fully automated operation of stockyards from a central control room, the operator must know at every time how much material with a certain quality is at what place, whether it is in a surge bin, on a belt or on the stockpile.

How to digitalize the material transportation, storage and mixing at stockyards and beyond

The ABB Ability™ Stockyard Management System provides material tracking and quality management for a dedicated bulk material quality management system. This digital application includes several functions that can minimize handling efforts and increase the efficiency of bulk material handling terminals, coal-fired power plant stockyards, steel plants or mines.

It is a configurable system that can be used to digitalize the complete material handling chain. The material flow can be modelled across all belt conveyors and transportation equipment.

The digital twin of material handling chain provides operator with an inventory overview at any time, enables efficient space utilization in a stockyard, better planning and scheduling, or more accurate mixing and blending processes

Model material flow across all belt conveyors and transportation equipment

Material tracking is realized by evaluating all available process data from the controllers or central control system. Based on the speed of a running conveyor, the material will be tracked by tonnage or volume in material segments.

All available material properties and quality information can then be associated with the material via automated data interfaces. A calculated stacking model is built up according to the tracked belt segments; this acts as a digital twin of the stockyard in the database.

This digital twin provides the operator with an inventory overview at any time, without needing to do an extra survey. Data can also be used for operational optimization such as efficient space utilization in a yard, better planning and scheduling, or more accurate mixing and blending processes.

Automate data exchange for inventory and quality management, material forecast and tracking of multiple lines

To accomplish these aims, the Stockyard Management System provides a stockyard overview and an intuitive multifunction 3D client.

For instance, the "slice view" feature allows a look at the inside of a pile to check the material mix and quality. In the case of changing material properties due to long storage the material qualities can be reviewed and updated with more accurate Laboratory results or warnings can be displayed.

Just-in-time and just-in-sequence is long-established in the automotive industry; now these techniques are available for bulk material handling logistics too.

Plan your handling in advance and mix and blend the material on the belts! Evaluate whether everything is working as expected and place alternative plans in a queue

With the stockyard management system we are offering you the chance to optimize your operations. As we can track the material, we can also predict its onward path - so you can forecast your material streams. This way, you can plan your handling in advance and mix and blend the material on the belts!

Automated reports enable simplified and fully customer-specific shift and performance evaluations. The system is designed with a distributed service architecture that enables partly standardized interfaces, fully configurable functionality features and user customization. Also the user management can be integrated with an already existing plant infrastructure, which enables a seamless synchronization of all users and their rights.

A standardized plan-handling tool lets you receive plans, check their details and place alternative plans in a queue in case something doesn't go as expected and you have to switch to an alternative operation.

Integrate a fully configurable system with the existing infrastructure

With the connection to the process control system all the required equipment will be set up and ready to start according to the plan so that the operator can release the operation to production.

In our digital application we see a planned material quality that can come from a geological model, a ship or train scheduler, a dedicated production information management or an ERP system.

So we can evaluate if everything is working as planned or if there are any unacceptable deviations. With the integration of all this available information you can automate real-time adaption and optimization based on dedicated tracking.

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