Go gearless with ABB’s mill and conveyor drives for more sustainable operations

ABB’s gearless mill and conveyor drives help operators save energy and achieve greater throughput with significantly lower costs when matched with advanced digital services

The mining industry is at a critical point. It holds the key to more sustainable operations through the deployment of digital solutions powered by big data and automation systems that will optimize productivity and reduce carbon emissions. In my 25 years of providing services and products to the mining industry, I have witnessed ABB play a key role in transforming mine operations worldwide. Now, alongside mining companies emboldened by technological possibilities, we are bringing a vision to reality.

ABB’s state-of-the-art gearless mill drives (GMD) and gearless conveyor drives (GCD) have already become differentiators when combined with advanced digital services. These two technologies have become an ideal and futureproof solution for our industrial customers. We delivered the world’s first gearless mill drive to Lafarge Cement in France in 1969, and the 6.4 MW machine is still in operation. But what are GMDs and GCDs? Let’s delve deeper into their functionalities.

Decoding GMDs and GCDs

GMDs are the most powerful mill drive system on the market and are used to power semi-autogenous (SAG), ball and autogenous (AG) mills. These motor systems require no gearing or direct contact transmission. As a workhorse for grinding operations, they have a robust, service-friendly and fit for purpose design to provide the highest throughput, reliability, and availability at processing plants. ABB has pushed GMDs further by supporting the drives with big data that lowers costs by using preventive and predictive maintenance capabilities while reducing manual errors.

The gearless conveyor drive (GCD) system eliminates the gearbox from the drive and is one of the most energy efficient means of transportation for bulk material. It uses electric energy and allows almost CO₂ free transportation with a low carbon footprint. A full example is available here. ABB’s GCDs are supported by automation solutions and big data that helps mine operators to move materials across tens of kilometers and ascend steep gradients. Mining companies often want fewer transfer stations between conveyors for increased reliability and lower maintenance, which may require wider and longer belts. ABB’s GCD technology powered by low-speed drive capability delivers an efficient and reliable solution to the mining companies.

Chuquicamata copper mine in Chile. Commissioning of the world’s most powerful gearless conveyor drive system.

Our longstanding association with Swedish mining company Boliden is an example of how ABB’s gearless drives have increased productivity at its Aitik open-pit copper mine. We have provided two large GMDs of 23.4 MW for the AG mills. These solutions have enabled Boliden to double its production capacity to 36 million tons of ore per year. Energy efficiency has also been improved for the grinding circuit.

But how to get the most out of your GMD and GCD?

A gearless mill drive is a major investment for a plant and as the beating heart of the production process is essential. Thus, having knowledge of how to make most of your GMD is crucial. The following advanced digital service can enable optimized productivity at the highest level:

  • ABB Ability™ Predictive Maintenance for grinding
    ABB has developed this state-of-the-art digital remote diagnostic service aiming to enhance availability and efficiency of mills while delivering operational excellence. ABB Ability™ Predictive Maintenance for grinding ensures that GMDs run continuously by avoiding unscheduled shutdowns and system failures. The operator can call our system experts via ABB SupportLine to receive rapid support. Our engineers will guide on-site teams to solve a problem or will troubleshoot directly using the remote secure connection – wherever the mine is located. ABB Ability™ Predictive Maintenance for grinding assures peak asset performance. Based on the actual condition monitoring, the solution provides easy access to GMD system parameters and visualization, looking into the past, considering real time data in the present and assessing the future. Very soon, this service will include improved analytics, fully customized dashboards and a mobile app with push notifications supporting the reliability of our customers’ assets and excellence in their operational performance.

GMDs offer ore producers unrivalled availability, efficiency and durability, while reducing OPEX.

GCD optimizes your production process

Due to decreasing ore reserves and deeper mines, continuous belt conveyors are becoming more and more important. Even in global supply chains of raw materials, storage locations with belt conveyors and conveying equipment have a great influence on the efficiency of the entire transport process. The following advanced digital services for GCD help optimize the production process:

  • ABB Ability™ Asset Vista Condition Monitoring for mining
    ABB Ability™ Asset Vista Condition Monitoring for mining offers mine operators user-friendly real time dashboards and reports with a complete overview of the condition of their production assets. Moreover, the expert recommendations enable faster repairs and the elimination of unnecessary maintenance that might expose personnel to safety risks.
  • ABB Ability™ Performance Optimization for mining
    With ABB Ability™ Performance Optimization for mining we identify and tackle the challenges, and eliminate shift to shift variations by permanently controlling plant processes at optimal levels – at all times and in all situations.

ABB has a long history of providing cutting-edge automated solutions to the mining and industrial sectors that are ramping up their efforts to implement advanced digital solutions while improving their environmental footprint. With ABB as a technology partner, it enables and eases the transition to build a sustainable future.

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About the author

Lars Brännström

Lars Brännström is the Strategic Account Manager for Boliden Group. Together with colleagues around the world he works to transform the way mines operate to achieve a more productive, sustainable future. Lars joined ABB in 1995 and has worked in the mining industry for more than 35 years. During his career, he has held various positions in engineering, project management, service, sales, account management and business development.
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