It’s electrifying: ABB launches game-changing technology for the all-electric mine

Dawson coal mine near Moura, Queensland Australia, operated by Anglo American and Mitsui companies

Last week ABB unveiled eMine, its suite of technologies set to transform the global mining sector and accelerate the move towards a zero-carbon mine.

As ABB has been serving the mining sector since the beginnings of electrification 130 years ago, there is no doubt the technology pioneer will continue to do so in future, says the company’s head of mining in Australia.

“In fact, one of our first applications was for an electrical motor we were commissioned to provide to a mining company in Sweden,” ABB Australia head of mining Nik Gresshoff says. “Technological innovation is in our DNA, that’s how we began and it’s who we are – it’s our pedigree.”

It stands to reason that the global leader is well placed to partner with mining companies now and into the future when its technological roots are founded in electricity.

“The mine of the future is electric – that’s what it means for the sector in terms of decarbonisation,” Gresshoff says.

“We started helping mines with the transition to electrical systems 130 years ago and we’ve been at the forefront of technological innovation since then. Who better to go on the decarbonisation journey and towards the all-electric mine than with ABB – a trusted provider of mining solutions for electrification and automation?”

To illustrate his point, Gresshoff reflects on some of the company’s milestones in mining here in Australia.

“I recently asked our team here, ‘what’s the oldest hoist we know of in Australia that we were involved in?’ and the answer came back as Mount Isa in 1961 – a hoist that is still running today,” Gresshoff said. “Fast forward to the present, and we’re leading the way with a complete mine hoist mechanical and electrical system using ABB Ability Safety Plus for Hoists at Newmont’s Tanami gold mine, a SIL3 certified application.”

ABB has had a long tenure with the mining sector, having worked with almost all – if not every – major mining company in Australia.

“From grinding applications in mills, to hoisting and electrification, we’ve helped every major player in the sector with their production, costs and technology,” Gresshoff says.

“And because we are an electrical technology company first and foremost, we understand what is required for electrification and automation.”

Gresshoff cites an example with an Australian mine export terminal.

“We redesigned the voltage levels of their conveying systems,” he says. “Our knowledge and expertise in electrical systems enabled us to achieve this, and by optimising the voltage, we significantly reduced their capital costs.”

Gresshoff’s enthusiasm for the sector and the role that ABB has and will continue to play with eMine is evident – especially when discussing the industry’s trajectory towards sustainability.

“The pressure on mining companies to become more sustainable has intensified,” Gresshoff states. “Every company is asking the question: how do we get to net zero emissions? And they’re showing strong commitment to these targets, which is both exciting and encouraging for the industry as a whole.”

According to Gresshoff, the path to sustainability and electrification is synonymous.

“If we’re talking about decarbonisation, we’re only going to achieve that by reducing CO2 emissions such as diesel trucks and diesel power generation and transfer to an electric mine,” Gresshoff iterates.

“That move is not going to happen overnight, however, ABB can assist with our eMine™ tailored solutions from vehicle charging systems, trolley systems, traction motors for trucks to electrical infrastructure required to transition to an all-electric mine.”

Likewise, the road to decarbonisation is intrinsically connected to automation and digitisation.

“The pandemic has been a catalyst for both of these. Certainly, we’ve become more comfortable and accustomed to using virtual methodologies, which is driving the infrastructure around it,” Gresshoff explains.

“To automate equipment you have to digitise it, and you have to create connectivity between your equipment and systems.”

ABB is both a leader and collaborator in this area – a case in point being the Gold Fields Granny Smith mine in Western Australia.

“This is a fantastic example of digitisation in one of the largest and highest producing gold mine operations in the country,” Gresshoff lauds.

“We’re working with Gold Fields to connect and coordinate their mine operators, workforce, equipment and all mining activities in real-time, from face preparation to crusher. It’s truly a great example of a mining company taking that dive into the digital journey across their production and operations and linking them altogether.”

Moreover, there are cost savings and efficiency gains to be made along the digitalisation way.

“An excellent illustration of immediate benefits that can be seen from digitising and connecting a mine is the case of the Boliden Kankberg gold mine in Sweden,” Gresshoff references.

“By implementing ABB technology to optimise the ventilation in the mine, they were able to achieve ventilation energy savings of 54 per cent.”

ABB Australia head of mining Nik Gresshoff.

The technology Gresshoff is referring to is the ABB Ability Ventilation Optimiser, ABB’s ventilation-on-demand solution.

“We provide mining operators with a suite of digitally connected solutions, products and collaborative services to unify and optimise the life cycle of a mine,” he expands.

“Importantly, it’s about having access to the right information at the right time – that’s the key with digitisation.”

Data-driven decision-making not only makes operations smarter, but safer too.

“Safety will always be a top priority and the connected mine is innately safer,” Gresshoff says.

“When you digitise operations, you can remove people out of dangerous locations. When you automate processes, such as blasting or drilling, you’re also taking people out of hazardous situations.”

Returning to his earlier point, Gresshoff reiterates the gains that can be achieved in the digitisation journey.

“There is a swathe of remote services that mines are already taking advantage of, such as the condition monitoring of machinery,” he explains.

“As we move further into Industry 4.0, there are many ways to reduce costs and increase productivity, including the move to predictive maintenance, which will be hugely impactful.”

Having both global reach and resources to draw from, as well as highly experienced people based in every capital city in Australia, ABB provides peerless solutions and services to its customers.

“Around the globe we have some of the most highly experienced experts for hoisting, grinding, electrification, digitisation, material handling and automation to support the mining sector,” Gresshoff says.

“We’re also a manufacturer of equipment and a solutions provider, so we’re genuinely able to help mining companies on their digital journey and on that pathway to interoperability.”

Significantly, ABB is not about prescribing what the future looks like for each mining company but prefers to partner with organisations to brainstorm and develop ideal solutions.

“It has to be a partnership. There needs to be a willingness and an openness to trying new ideas or ways of doing something, such as how we have approached the digitalisation project with Gold Fields,” Gresshoff advises.

“We’ve also got to be responsible as technology leaders and assist our customers in providing ideas, such as how we could reduce their electrical consumption on current assets, or how we could substitute equipment or componentry with a more sustainable option such as a permanent magnet motor on a conveying system – there are a plethora of ways in which we can collaborate to improve operations and make them smarter, safer and greener.”

While Gresshoff is passionate about the future, he is realistic about the steps that need to be taken.

“I believe we will see an all-electric mine in Australia by 2030,” he states.

“That’s going to take some investment with existing mines – they’re going to have to outlay the capital to make the change.”

However, Gresshoff notes the considerable investment mining companies have made into renewable energy sources is proof that they are committed to their sustainability goals.

“We’re also seeing companies transitioning whole sections of their mines to electric, as well as all-electric vehicle fleets. It’s an exciting space to be in,” he concludes.

“And as we started out as an electrical company, we will continue to help mining companies in their journey towards the all-electric mine with eMine. We’re well positioned with our products, solutions and expertise to be a partner with the mining industry now and into the future.”

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