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Mining, Minerals & Cement Forum: A Rich Vein of Automation Innovation

Nov. 21, 2014
BHP Billiton Streamlines Conveyor Isolation; Arrium Expands Steel Streams; and Anglo American Standardizes Continuous Process and Batch Controls
About Jim Montague
Jim Montague is the Executive Editor at Control, Control Design and Industrial Networking magazines. Jim has spent the last 13 years as an editor and brings a wealth of automation and controls knowledge to the position. For the past eight years, Jim worked at Reed Business Information as News Editor for Control Engineering magazine. Jim has a BA in English from Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, and lives in Skokie, Illinois.

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In the mining industry, dramatic drills and diggers get much of the credit. But it's the unassuming lifters, conveyors, crushers, concentrators, furnaces and smelters that do most of the work. To give these essential material handling and processing applications some much-needed support, three mines in Australia and South Africa recently implemented several different process control and safety upgrades. The three presented details of their projects at the Mining, Minerals & Cement Forum this week at Automation Fair in Anaheim, California.

For example, Mike Lane, managing director at Remsafe, reported that maintenance staff at BHP Billiton's iron ore mine in Port Hedland, Western Australia, had long been forced to waste hours isolating and de-isolating sections of its conveyor system to perform maintenance, make repairs and avoid potential arc flash hazards at the same time. To move ore from the mine to the port for shipping, a
16-mile-long, crescent-shaped conveyor had previously surrounded the port. To streamline ore movement, the company built a tunnel under the port's main channel between Finucane Island and Nelson Point. The P702 conveyor in the tunnel can move 8,000 tonnes per hour and has already transported 2.2 million tonnes since it was commissioned in early September.

However, despite its improved infrastructure and performance, Lane added that the P702 conveyor's section in the under-harbor tunnel was still causing delays because it took 90 minutes for operators to isolate and lock out/tag out (LOTO) one section of the belt and then drive to the other end to isolate it. To overcome this problem, the mine installed Remsafe's field isolation stations and remote isolation panels, which also protect against arc flash. Remsafe uses GuardLogix and ControlLogix controllers and POINT I/O components from Rockwell Automation.

"In his weekly notes, the mine manager reported that, 'The installation and commissioning of the remote isolation system will reduce isolation time from 1.5 hours to just 3 minutes. This will not only save the business time, but also significant money each time the belt is isolated,' " said Lane. "The manager added that the financial savings will be generated as BHP Billiton is able to keep production going without the conveyor's former interruptions. He also said isolation is one of the catastrophic risks for the port, and the new isolation system has allowed the mine to reduce associated risks inherent in the conveyor. This system was commissioned on a Monday and paid for itself by Thursday."

"This system was commissioned on a Monday, and paid for itself by Thursday." Remsafe's Mike Lane on the outsized returns achieved with the application of Rockwell Automation technology.

As a result, Remsafe is exploring more isolation-enabling projects for BHP Billiton involving conveyors, car dumpers, crushers, mills, pumps sets, ship loaders, stackers and railroad turnouts. "They also want to use our Remtranet remote isolation network for shutdown functions," added Lane. "We say that Remsafe is a safety system that generates revenue."

A little further downstream conceptually, Arrium Mining and Materials runs two ore streams, magnetite and hematite, at its facilities in Whyalla, South Australia. The company's raw materials come from the nearby Middleback and Southern iron-mining regions, but while Arrium also owns and operates the area's rail and port facilities, it outsources the mining work to six major contractors. Arrium has 420 employees, and the contractors have more than 1,000 employees.

Jonathan Delaou, principal control system engineer at Arrium, reported the magnetite process at Whyalla uses crushers, concentrators, filters and flux to produce pellets for making iron and steel products. The hematite process produces ore and pellets for export. Arrium and its contractors run 17 pits, six crushing plants with 10 fixed and two mobile crushers, two ore beneficiation plants, one concentrator and one pellet plant.

Arrium sold 12.5 million tonnes of iron ore in its 2014 fiscal year and was on track to produce 13 million tonnes per year (Mtpa) through the first quarter of its 2015 fiscal year. However, the firm's already been planning a larger plant and 30% production expansion to 18 Mtpa, and Delaou said it needs updated control systems to make it happen.

"We're implementing new plants and migrating old ones, so we need supportable and scalable controls for our fixed crushers, concentrator and 66 kilometers of pipeline, which make the ore into slurry and then filter cake and pellets to feed the blast furnace," explained Delaou. "To meet all these needs, we've standardized on FactoryTalk View software and other Rockwell Automation solutions because they give us process control functions, allow us to track what's being mined where and can link to our MES business systems. These new controls are fully integrated, give us visual inputs and let us share information between different facilities."

In addition, where Arrium previously used DeviceNet and ControlNet networking protocols, it now uses EtherNet/IP, segregating its operations into separate virtual local area networks (VLANs). "These new controls are easier to maintain than our previous ones, and we're also using FactoryTalk Historian Site Edition and PI software from OSIsoft," added Dolaou. "This process control system allows better collaboration because it's more closely connected and cost-effective. It's enabling us to expand and will help us as we aim to double production in the next five years or less."

Finally, Hermanus Du Preez, control technology specialist at Anglo American Platinum, reported that his company's precious metals refinery in Rustenburg, South Africa, recently needed to upgrade the controls on its mine, concentrator and smelter operations, which produced more than 2 million ounces of platinum in 2012 along with palladium, gold, copper and zinc. These operations include about 400 different process areas, which now are monitored and managed by about 20,000 I/O points, 200,000 tags and 20 ControlLogix 1756-L64 PLCs.

"Our previous controls relied on specialized knowledge programs to maintain sequencing, but they were proprietary and increasingly obsolete," said Du Preez. "We wanted a single, vertical, commercial,
off-the-shelf solution because we can only shut down for about eight hours per month. We looked at more traditional DCSs, but they would have required us to add a second fiberoptic network, which would have tripled our costs."

"So when Rockwell Automation launched PlantPAx in 2010, we decided to go with it." The facility's automation infrastructure now features 40 new ControlLogix 1756-L75 controllers, two redundant HMIs, 10 redundant data servers, 45 operator stations and 14 engineering stations. "We're two years into this project and have two and half more to go, but these new tools are allowing us to follow the ISA88 implementation structure and libraries we wanted to use,” he said. “These controls and new SCADA screens also have let us adopt grayscale displays, which are more efficient at alerting operators about tasks that require action. We also have batch report faceplates that show operations in ongoing sequences and streams, which can even be edited and reprioritized if needed. All of these tools are giving us much stricter control over our continuous processes and batches."

About the Author

Jim Montague | Executive Editor

Jim Montague is executive editor of Control. 

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