Oil Sands Automation Conference 2010

The 7th annual Oil Sands Conference concluded one week ago in Fort McMurray, the heart of the oil sands and it was evident that automation will play a significant factor in the continuing development of this important hydrocarbon resource. Topics covered at the event include how automation and control will be a factor in improvements to the process and environment including such diverse areas as:
•    Robotics, Vision Systems and load monitoring/control in mines
•    Once Through Steam Generation (OTSG) and water hammer control
•    Tailings management, especially Mature Fine Tails (MFT (clay solutions))
•    Project updates on the new projects completed and recently announced
and reliable measurement/signals.

It should be no surprise that with all the mobile equipment used in Mining and Tailings operations that wireless communications also play a role in the oil sands. Richard May, President of Myotis Wireless networks http://www.myotiswireless.com/ made an interesting presentation on CHIRP based radios they are developing. Richard pointed out that with Northern Alberta having an average of 2 – 3 hours of sunlight/day from November through January there is little solar power for arrays to power your system. CHIRP radios reduce the energy required for the radio from 6 mA to 75 microAmps and therefore the sensor now becomes the largest power consumer in the measurement cycle and the radio itself can now operate on a single D cell battery for up to 5 years.

The conference also demonstrated that the line between traditional factory and process automation is continuing to blur since the 3 mining vehicle (400 Ton trucks and 100 Ton/load shovels) applications blend robotics with process sensors. The robotics presentations provided examples of autonomous vehicles being used in open pit mines in other parts of the world while vision systems are being used to estimate the size distribution of the material in the shovel as well as the wear and status of the teeth on the bucket itself. Strain gauges on the shovels can not only insure that oversize loads are not being made but also provide real time feedback to the operator on ‘extra’ strains being made on the equipment so that equipment life can be increased and shovel loading mechanics optimised. Wireless communications between the sensors, improved computing power, and thinking ‘outside the box’ make these applications possible.

The above is just a sample of the exciting work underway in the Oil Sands industry that will make it possible to recover more than the 10% of the 1.7 Trillion barrels of bitumen in the oil sands that can be economically obtained with today’s Best Available Technology – and that is what this conference is all about.

If you are interested in participating in next year’s event scheduled for March 8 & 9, 2011 (always held the second Tuesday & Wednesday in March) please contact myself and I will be sure to put you in contact with the organising committee.