It’s boom time in the mining industry and with a flurry of activity in plant expansion and new project development there are opportunities with the right solutions to increase productivity.
Olympic Dam is good example of that opportunity, according to Citect managing director Oceania Scott Wooldridge.
“The mine got nearly a 25% increased production output by better analysing processes and making simple modifications, so there are short term wins with big impacts that don’t necessarily have the large investment tied to a capital works project,” Wooldridge told Australian Mining.
“It’s definitely worth viewing what’s available within the IT space to help better improve the productivity of a mining operation.”
The largest PC-based SCADA system in the world was built at Western Mining Corporation’s Olympic Dam expansion project, according to Wooldridge.
“The project, completed in the late ‘90s, has been running for quite a while. The driver there was consolidation of control to a centralised control room that ran not only the mine operations, but also the process plant and ancillary equipment. This delivered better diagnostics and better centralised control,” he said.
The second driver was to set site wide standards.
“Many control systems are developed fairly ad hoc,” Wooldridge said.
“Different operators configure the system to their own standards, which makes it difficult to maintain that type of system. The second driver there was to have a common standard across the entire plant, so the maintenance and upgradeability of that system was simplified.”
Mining automation software has had a significant impact in the last 10 years on the monitoring and reporting of mining and minerals processing activities, according to Wooldridge.
“About 10 years ago there was a definite drive to start automating mine sites, removing from relay logic base technology to PLCs and SCADA-type technology,” he said.
“There were a few different drivers for that. Predominantly it was to move to either centralised control rooms, or unmanned control rooms, so it was about reducing manning requirements at a mine.
“It was also about providing better analytics, and better alarm analysis to keep the mine site running. With an alarm on a belt or a drive, should it breakdown it can immediately be rectified thus reducing downtime.”
Most mine sites and mining companies, says Wooldridge, now have a core-established base to automation functionality.
“They’ve moved beyond and are now looking at how they use that technology with infrastructure to drive continuous improvement.
“Mine operators are looking more at higher-end analytic tools – what we call the Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) layer, so they can look at all this wealth of data to better analyse their productivity.”
One of the main trends and developments in mining automation software, says Wooldridge, is the take-up of Enterprise Mining Solutions (EMS).
“Many of the major mining companies like Rio Tinto and BHP are doing multi-site rollouts looking at areas like delay or downtime accounting which looks at how well equipment is utilised,” he said.
“We’ve done a few recent jobs with Olympic Dam, for example, looking at the movement of ore from their underground mine site to the process plant on their rail system.
“By simply analysing how they used their train system they managed to pick up an extra $250,000 a day in production output,” Wooldridge said.
“These savings were a direct result of simply looking at the stopping and the starting of the train process, shift changeovers, how they were loaded and unloaded. The MES enabled a gain of about an extra hour-and-a-half of productive use of that train system a day.”
More than reporting
Mine operators are not just demanding solutions for the monitoring and reporting of mining and minerals processing activities, according to Wooldridge.
“There’s a definite drive to those analytics tools that enables a mine operator to slice and dice the data – to look at it from different perspectives depending on your role in the company.
IT tools that are quick to implement and quick in delivering returns, says Wooldridge, are highly sought.
“Everyone is after more production now so while there are some IT projects that are going for 12 months to two years there’s also a strong look at what software can do in the next 30 to 90 days to improve production output,” he said.
“That means the tools must be easy to implement. They need to follow common standards or data connectivity for implementation, and they need to be more off the shelf than the traditional tools.
“Many companies have developed custom solutions to do this type of work, but they have the 18 months to two-year type project implementation cycles. People want things in and running within three to six months, so there is definitely tighter integration, and more off-the-shelf solutions complying with IT standards.”