From pit to port — mining’s digital reframe

ABB recently held a series of online Mining Tech Talks that prepare the industry to digitally transform its mine designs and operations. Here’s our pick of the bunch for Australian mine operators.

ABB’s, Mining value chain: Time to rethink the future? series of five 2020 Tech Talks for the global mining industry was put together by the most acute engineering minds in the sector. They’re now available on-demand. At the cutting edge of digital technology, these experts explain how to integrate cost-saving, productivity-boosting advances into existing mines, into mine expansion projects and in the design of greenfield sites. As Head of Mining, Process Industries, in Australia and the Pacific, I naturally have a view on what aspects of their expertise could have the greatest positive future impact for operators in our region. Three sessions stand out for me.

Optimizing mines for the long term

Enabling high-level visibility over energy consumption, maintenance and production, and optimising for these three aspects of mine operations, allows for the design of the future mine. This webinar has a strong focus on achieving connectivity of assets — using data from sensor points to drive previously undreamed of efficiencies — and on the gains that can be achieved by providing a holistic view of a mine’s electrical system. ABB applies these technologies to create mining solutions that improve operations all the way from site to port, using a powerful integration framework called ABB AbilityTM MineOptimize.

If you’re going to develop a greenfield site, or an expansion to an existing mine, you’ll need power generation capacity, a substation(s), hoists, grinding and other equipment. With a draft of your mine design, ABB can assess its requirements, and because we manufacture all critical electrical components, as well as a wide range of mining equipment, we can, for example, advise on the optimal application of variable speed drives (VSDs) at optimal voltages, or how to deploy multi drives, in a way that reduces CapEx by up to 25%. When you optimise value-chain planning of electrical infrastructure, the time taken to build, and therefore your time to production, is also reduced by up to a quarter.

After CapEx, energy is one of mining’s biggest costs, and optimally integrating electrical services with equipment requirements leads to significant savings in energy over time. Integrated electrical control also lets the plant react to variabilities in operations, increasing recovery and delivering productivity gains, alongside lower OpEx.

Making bigger moves towards autonomous mining

In highly competitive commodity markets, such as iron ore and coal, automation can help miners achieve differentiating factors of efficiency and productivity.

The prequel to automating is all about people — people innovating and collaborating. No single supplier holds the key to automation, so transitioning to autonomous processes is about forming partnerships.

Where you apply automation will depend on where you sit in the value chain. At a greenfield site, automation is of course integrated into the design process, perhaps within the ABB Ability MineOptimize framework.

The road to automation on established sites is best negotiated in small steps; the first is to move to partial automation. Our webinar explains how to apply automation to different processes. An existing mine might implement autonomous haul trucks, but it can equally be applied to blasting, stockyard and other aspects of mining.

Whether integrating automation into new or brownfield sites, ABB starts the process with all-in workshops and a digital maturity assessment, aka the “control-room reality check”, that helps everyone understand what is already in place, and what capabilities need to be added to enable the step change.

One of the distinctions made in the webinar is that autonomous does not mean “automatic”. An autonomous haul truck for example, may be programmed to react in a variety of situations — say when something runs out into its path, it will stop or turn; a truck on autopilot would run the obstacle over — it’s programmed to travel from A to B.

The point is that autonomous technology can be responsive and cost-effectively applied. In my view, it’s best integrated to also respond for electrical efficiency: how can you best automate your electrical equipment to respond to variations in daily processes such that they also best utilise electricity?

Transparent mine with next-generation Short Interval Control

Integrating Short Interval Control and Closed Loop Scheduling into one digital platform such as ABB AbilityTM Operations Management System for mining increases productivity by up to 5-10%.

What we’re talking about here is the software overlays that optimise data flow and data visualisation across all mine operations, integrated process control systems, connected workforce activities and equipment — in real time.

Scheduling software designed specifically for mines is a quantum leap ahead of generic planners and gives mine operators a taste for digital transformation while delivering instantly appreciable efficiencies. It can be applied to virtually any mine operation, and will schedule drilling and blasting across several sites, along with optimal equipment movement and utilisation between those sites, and it plans maintenance in line with incoming condition-monitoring data. Its calculations are based on tonne-per-hour processing targets, and will help you to attain those targets in the most efficient way while maintaining critical assets.

These three webinars provide easy-to-follow introductions to technologies that are transforming the mining industry. At 40 minutes per session, they are time well spent to equip mining leaders and managers to enter the Future Mine discussion and start planning.

ABB at International Mining and Resources Conference + Exhibition (IMARC) Online

ABB will share expertise at the IMARC Online from November 24-27 with speakers outlining the journey to the digital mine.

Register now to attend the IMARC virtual conference and exhibition to explore the latest technology and innovations that are transforming the way mines operate. Technologies that create a digitally-enabled environment that is safe, clean and sustainable, with a workforce carrying out exciting, stimulating tasks.

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About the author

Nik Gresshoff

Nik Gresshoff, in his role as National Sales Manager for ABB's Process Industries division, leads a talented and enthusiastic team of sales and service professionals. A group dedicated to applying ABB's industry-specific integrated automation, electrification and digital solutions to enhance our customers' performance across the mining and minerals, metals, aluminium, pulp and paper, and cement segments. Nik has a wealth of industry experience utilising the latest automation and mechanical technologies, along with a proven track record of improving business performance across global markets including Europe, Africa, East Asia, China, Japan and Australia. His industry experience spans mining, oil & gas, utilities and general manufacturing.
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