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Digital tracking system improves ore management for mine

By introducing an ABB Ability™ digital system for tracing the cargo in the ore cars, mining company Boliden AB has increased the safety, efficiency and profitability of its enrichment plant in northern Västerbotten. RFID (radio frequency identification) tags in the ore cars and at the different destinations along the way provide better control of each load.

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Situation

Profitability losses and unplanned stops due to wrong processing in the enrichment plant and mix of ore types:

  • 30,000 trucks annually deliver ore from several different mines to one enrichment plant
  • No traceability or identification of the cargo

ABB solution

Digital tracking solution integrated with ABB Ability™ System 800xA, weighbridge system, traffic lights, unloading sensors:

  •  All trucks equipped with passive RFID
  • All mines and concentrator site equipped with active reader
  • Database, order management and report solution

Benefits

Increased safety, product quality, revenue and profitability of the enrichment plant:

  • Reducing bad ore management
  • Correctly regulated processes thanks to known input material
  • Financial and quality reporting for each ore type
Frida Ågren, Truck driver at Boliden
“None of us truck drivers want to tip wrong! But before the control system was introduced, it could still happen as one had driven the same route 16-18 times"
Anders Sinclair, Operator at Boliden
“The system ensures that the load ends up right. If something is wrong, we immediately know it. Previously, it was noticed only if rough, unbroken ore had blocked a passage.”
Frida Ågren, Truck driver at Boliden
"With the new cargo tracking system where everything interacts, and every critical event is automatically registered, there are no question marks anywhere, and the risk of tipping errors becomes considerably less.”

One enrichment plant for four mines

Almost a hundred years ago, gold was found outside Skellefteå, Sweden in northern Västerbotten. This was the start of the mining giant Boliden's operations. In the small community of the same name, the enrichment plant is a landmark and the first step in the complicated process of extracting copper, zinc, lead, silver and gold from the ore. Every year, about 30,000 ore cars arrive in Västerbotten to be sorted or enriched for further processing.

However, the enrichment process in Boliden is more complicated than  it is in many other mines.

 “Most others take their ore from one place, while we get cargo from four different nearby mines,” says Daniel Holmgren, who is a technician at Boliden AB and has been involved in the project with digital cargo tracking from the beginning.

There is a big difference between the different ore types, and some may not be mixed at all. The two lines of the enrichment plant only process one ore type at a time. Therefore, it is of utmost importance to keep track of which specific cargo is being tipped.

Daniel Holmgren, Technician at Boliden AB

The tipping compartment: waiting for the green light

Outside of the plant’s office building, the gates lead into the work area. Truck driver Frida Ågren guides her 72 ton vehicle through them. When she passed the Kristinebergs mine nine miles away, just about an hour ago, a sensor registered her truck and an order for load tracking was created directly in Boliden's control system. All mines in the Boliden area have been equipped with RFID readers and all trucks transporting ore from the mine to the concentrator have been provided with unique RFID tags.

Frida Ågren's first stop on the concentrator is one of the car scales. Here, her arrival is documented. Then, with the help of ABB Ability™ System 800xA, she receives an automatic instruction where the load should be tipped off. The location is determined depending on how the enrichment process is run at the time.

When Frida Ågren arrives at the tipping compartment, it is necessary that she wait for confirmation green light before she tips - If she were to tip red, the system will stop.  

“None of us truck drivers want to tip wrong!” Frida Ågren says. “But before the control system was introduced, and one had driven the same route 16-18 times, it could still happen, despite the message on the radio that the tip pocket was changed. With the new cargo tracking system where everything interacts, and every critical event is automatically registered, there are no question marks anywhere, and the risk of tipping errors becomes considerably less.”

With the help of ABB Ability™ System 800xA, truck drivers receive automatic instructions where the load should be tipped off. The location is determined depending on how the enrichment process is run at the time.

The control room: easier work via monitors

In the control room, operator Anders Sinclair monitors the entire process. He plans the work, and his work has also been made easier since the system was introduced.

“Here, I see all the cars that are on their way to the concentrator,” says Anders Sinclair, appearing on the screen. “It is possible to track and analyze every single truck and all the tours it has done. The system ensures that the load ends up right, and if it still happens to be wrong, we immediately know it, and everything stops. Previously, it was noticed only if rough, unbroken ore had blocked a passage.”

Anders Sinclair, Operator at Boliden
"I see all the cars that are on their way to the concentrator, appearing on the screen. It is possible to track and analyze every single truck and all the tours it has done."

Safety of people, equipment and processes

Anders Sinclair shows how he can shut down the entire system and then restore and start it again. He remembers once when several factors resulted in tons of stone scrubbing while entering the system, which was not stopped until the load was transported a full 200 meters on the belt.

“Four people had to be out for seven to eight hours before we had arranged it again! Today it would not happen,” he said.

Safety of people, equipment and processes is of the utmost importance. Since the new system was implemented, employees rarely need to pull out extensive repairs, making the work today less risky.

Anders Sinclair, Operator at Boliden
"Once in the past, tons of stone scrubbed while entering the system, which was not stopped until the load was transported a full 200 meters on the belt. Four people had to be out for seven to eight hours before we had arranged it again! Today it would not happen”

Coordination of existing and new technologies

The system is specifically adapted for Boliden's operations by coordinating both existing and new technology. Johan Granström is a Business Developer at ABB, he comments on the  benefit of using new technology to better integrate the value chain.

“The strength of integrating a larger part of the value chain with existing systems is to get a clearer overview and thus be able to regulate their process to get as high an exchange as possible. Access to more data creates the conditions for new insights and better decisions,” he said.

Torbjörn Viklund, process manager at Boliden AB, further emphasizes that control of misfeeds provides the opportunity to generate reports depending on the ore type. “The system gives us access to reports that enable financial and quality reporting for each ore type, individually. We carry out these reports every month and year. And if we want to further develop the system, everything is prepared for it.”

Torbjörn Viklund, Process manager at Boliden AB
"The system gives us access to reports that enable financial and quality reporting for each ore type, individually."

How does it work in the Boliden area's mines:

  1. The ore wheel is loaded at the mine. When leaving, the car is registered using an RFID reader and a new order is created in the system.
  2. The ore car arrives at the concentrator and stands on the car wave. New RFID reader registers the car and attaches the weight to an existing order and ore type, as well as which mine the cargo comes from. The driver then receives an automatic indication of where the load should be tipped off. The location is determined depending on how the enrichment process is run at the time.
  3. When the driver arrives at his tip site, green traffic lights will be shown if it is the right tipping point, red if it is run to the wrong place.
  4. The system registers, even if the car has tilted.
  5. Reports can then be generated from the system to identify where and how much material is available, and how much that possibly happened to tip wrong.

Key facts

Customer:  Boliden AB
Employees (2019)
5'600 employees in several countries
Business
Mining operations and processing plant
Is
The leading player in Europe in the production of copper and nickel and globally one of the largest players for recycling of electronics and lead from batteries

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