Driving autonomy forward
Paul Moore spoke to five companies all playing different roles in driving automation in the mining industry forward from robotics to complete mine solutions about the latest technologies , the driving factors and of course how autonomous mining will evolve
Starting with a look at the big picture and applying the latest in autonomous solutions from pit to port , ABB has pioneered some of the world ' s most significant technological advances in mining control systems including automation of assets such as conveyors and mineral processing plants .
ABB Global Product Line Manager Marcos Hillal told IM that mines are becoming increasingly interconnected , resulting in new opportunities for the automation and digitalisation of key process controls : “ Perhaps more than any other large , capital-intensive industry , mining has the most to gain from increased automation in terms of productivity , safety , sustainability and ultimately , profitability .”
As an example , mines are also energy and resource intensive . Reducing CO₂ emissions from mining operations in line with global climate policies and mitigating their impact on the environment and surrounding communities are other key drivers . “ Autonomous systems that can modify their behaviour without manual intervention in response to unanticipated events can help address all of these challenges .”
Inspired by the automotive industry , Hillal says ABB has identified a taxonomy of mining autonomy comprising five levels ( there could still exist a sixth level that represents no automation in place , known as level 0 ). In the automation scale , level 1 would represent the minimum level where some functionalities were automated , but most of the tasks and decisions remain the responsibility of the operator to a full autonomous operation at level 5 where all decision making and actuation is done by the system .
“ The mining industry is poised to enter level 3 , where sophisticated expert systems become more accessible , but is still some way off full autonomous operation in all situations where no
user interaction is required . For this to occur , all the different operational areas of the mine will need to work together using innovative solutions such as the ABB Ability™ Operations Management System , which integrates mine operations and processing plants .”
At the mine , Hillal says OMS connects workforce and equipment in real time to perform production scheduling , automated execution and react to disturbance in seconds . At the processing plant , OMS can provide analytical insights and bridge the complete value chain . Mine operators are looking to technologies like this to harness the power of a large volume of
RCT ' s ControlMaster ® automation technology includes Multi Machine Control ( MMC ) capability and most recently , Multi Fleet Select ( MFS ), which allows equipment operators to control multiple types of machines in the underground mine from a single operator station
data and translate it into actionable information when it is required .
ABB Ability™ System 800xA works beyond a regular distributed control system ( DCS ) platform , that only takes care of process control . It is an integration OT layer that connects multiple automation tasks and information to consolidate data and provide to operations an integrated environment to control the plant in a safe and productive way , by promoting collaboration and avoiding islands of automation . “ The ABB Ability™ Camera Connect is a good example of that , bringing to the plant operator this additional information as part of control levers , something that in the past was handled separately and not associated with the real operational control .”
ABB embeds its video system in its 800xA DCS for more efficient process control , such as fine-tuning the flotation process . Using cameras , it is possible to monitor the entire extension of a conveyor belt , over several kilometres . If the motor transporting ore from the mine to processing trips due to an excess of materials , for example , the problem can be assessed without the need to send someone in a vehicle or on foot .
“ In this way , remote monitoring improves workplace safety by removing personnel from hazardous environments . Rather than sending personnel on site to attend a tripped equipment alarm , the control room operator can visualise the problem on-screen , reducing costly downtime , or ensure that no personnel are present when engineers are powering 13.8kV substations on or off .”
Digital twins – virtual replicas of physical
Operators using ABB Ability™ Operations Management System , which integrates mine operations and processing plants
72 International Mining | SEPTEMBER 2021