FLSmidth has launched the latest version of its advanced process control solution , ECS / ProcessExpert ® V8.5 software , which now includes the ability to integrate new AI cognitive technologies and functions
Executive autonomous decisions
Paul Moore spoke to some of the leading players in advanced process control on how mineral processing plants are becoming not just remotely monitored but remotely operated as the industry takes steps towards higher levels of automation
There is no doubt that COVID-19 has fuelled a
lot of discussion on mines , especially remote ones , becoming more autonomous . But in mineral processing , work in this direction has been ongoing for some years . So-called Advanced Process Control is defined by AVEVA as real-time , adaptive control to operate units closer to constraints in real-time and reduce process variability as well as increasing profitability . Remote Operations Centres are appearing with regularity now , including in Chile alone in the past couple of years a new Codelco Norte ROC in Calama , Chile ; plus new Los Pelambres and Escondida ROCs in Santiago for Antofagasta Minerals and BHP respectively , while in Australia BHP recently opened its new ROC for Olympic Dam in Adelaide . The difference with these new ROCs versus those from the early and mid 2000s is that they are largely allowing concentrators to be managed and operated remotely without the need for regular human intervention .
Towards the bigger process control picture
IM spoke to Greg Johnson , Senior Solution Architect in Schneider Electric ’ s Mining , Minerals and Metals Segment , whose role is dedicated to digital transformation in the mining industry . He said that COVID-19 has had an effect in terms of driving activity in the plant automation and remote monitoring space : “ Here in Australia we have a lot of FIFO but also in the Pacific a lot of FIFO to other countries which has created a lot of headaches in terms of quarantines for mining staff . So COVID-19 has really accelerated discussion and actual implementation of projects on remote monitoring of minesites . At Schneider Electric we talk about key technology trends which enable remote monitoring including mobility cloud , sensing , IoT , analytics and cyber security wrapped around all of that . These have all advanced a lot in just a short time period .”
Johnson gave a good example of a type of situation that can happen in a mining process plant where remote monitoring is making a difference today . During meetings that could be on or near site , if there is an unplanned event like a power outage , process plant managers are now still able to
immediately access critical analytics information on the plant via the Cloud on their phone or tablet using technology like AVEVA Insight to check everything was running OK – there is no need to try and call or radio anyone to get that information .
In another example , Schneider Electric was working with a company that wanted everything in their “ data lake ” – an industry term for the raw data
repository storage area . This included all the data from Schneider Electric devices including an MV drive that was in turn controlling power to numerous motors . But they didn ’ t know how to interpret this vast amount of data – and this is also something common in mining – plenty of data but not insight into what that data is telling you . Schneider Electric was able to connect “ Cloud to Cloud ” using its EcoStruxure Asset Advisor remote condition monitoring solution for electrical equipment and identify that some devices were not configured properly which would have led to problems later on .
Schneider Electric is well embedded in mining including its EcoStruxure architecture which is best understood as being organised in three technology stack layers – smart products , ( where there is often a diverse mixture of devices at a mining site due to M & A activity , decisions made by process OEMs and long histories ), in the bottom layer which
would include meters , actuators and sensors , such as energy meters and motor management systems .
Schneider Electric calls this the Connected Products layer . Above that is the Edge Control layer , where all this information is consolidated and directed . This
Edge Control layer gives organisations the critical capability to manage their operations on-premise as well as from the cloud depending on their needs . This includes connected control platforms with remote access , advanced automation and operator override capabilities . Local control and firewall protection is included to maximise the benefits especially for mission-critical applications . Finally on top of this is Apps , Analytics & Services where all the data is brought into a single system – which at the top end includes some of the capabilities miners have been chasing for 15-20 years – a global view of their multiple operations and being able to optimise them in real time to reflect operational and resource to market needs .
“ But miners need not just width in their process control systems but also depth . There are still going to be specialist systems from OEMs for specific process areas like milling or flotation . And Schneider Electric is also an OEM for electrical and automation systems . And specialists will still be involved in helping monitor some of this specific data to ensure equipment health as they know it better than anyone else . But you also need the central view provided by the software element including SCADA solutions ( such as from our partner AVEVA ), MES and supply chain optimisation packages . But this is still mainly just process control . Advanced process control ( APC ) then gives a systematic way of the system itself monitoring , diagnosing and improving process control performance on its own with little or
no human intervention .”
Just connecting process control software to a Remote Operations Centre for example , is relatively easy . Getting the system to truly optimise itself is
Greg Johnson , Senior Solution Architect in Schneider Electric ’ s Mining , Minerals and Metals Segment
International Mining | JANUARY 2021