Sustainability, Technology

How mining, minerals and metals power and process convergence drive higher sustainability operations

Most of today’s mining, minerals, and metals production facilities require multiple electrical devices (improvised explosive devices on switch-gears/transformers, power quality metres) and complex process control systems to keep running production.

However, with global warming as an overriding concern, output and quality priorities now compete with sustainability targets.

Regulators, shareholders, and customers are demanding that mining, minerals, and metals organisations:

  • deliver production quality and emissions quantity metrics
  • allow for benchmarking of efficiency gains
  • enable reporting of carbon emissions
  • combination of optimisation of production outputs  and minimising of associated energy consumption.

Integrating power and process systems effectively reduces energy usage (and associated carbon emissions) while optimising production.

Once regarded as two separate worlds, using new digital technologies to exchange critical information between power and process automation systems enables staff to coordinate and manage these assets as a single converged system.

Use case 1: Motor management at steel blast furnace operations

How does power and process convergence work in a real-world scenario? Consider a steel plant using powerful fans and electric motors to help limit the emissions levels of blast furnaces. The fans push furnace emissions through filters before expelling them through exhaust ducts.

Overworked motors lead to downtime, resulting in high costs and added emissions from restarts. To avoid this, operations teams need an efficient maintenance strategy to measure and balance fan motor running hours.

When motors approaching their runtime limits are taken offline for maintenance, a replacement within the motors pool must quickly pick up the slack. This transition should be seamless to:

  • minimise interruptions of airflow treatment
  • avoid releasing extra emissions
  • keep production at optimum levels.

When assessing the efficiency of the fan/motor network, facility personnel need to ensure the availability of sufficient medium-voltage substation power during startup and steady-state operations.

Do not exceed upstream electrical infrastructure voltage and frequency thresholds to avoid overload and possible electrical protection equipment trips, causing lengthy plant restarts and downstream plant disruption.

Managing this electrical transition is often a mistake-prone manual process involving various power and process operators monitoring and sharing information via non-automated methods.

This is where a converging power and process management approach makes sense. EcoStruxure Power and Process is an information management strategy combining electrical field device power load and status information (from protective relays and power monitors) with process variables such as time counters, negative pressure set points, and real-time negative pressure values.

Both motor/fan unit and plant power quality constraints and motor production and maintenance key performance indicator (KPI) data become part of the operational decision-making analysis.

Artificial intelligence further assists operators with power recovery, material inflow reduction, and short production situations. This way, the facility reduces excess environmental pollution or an unanticipated plant blackout.

Use case 2: Conveyor and material movement control in mining

Consider a mining operation with variable frequency drive controlled conveyors, which move raw material toward downstream process equipment (DPE) such as a crusher or mineral separator.

In this case, a converged power and process information management system combines control-related information (such as belt speed, rate of volume moved per hour, weight, and material density) with electrical parameters (such as active, reactive, and apparent power, and power quality measurements) to optimise the overall production efficiency, safety controls, and uptime.

A DPE setpoint determines the conveyor belt speed control, avoiding equipment underutilisation or material spillage while optimising energy consumption to avoid energy waste.

The converged systems can now evaluate how much energy is consumed to move any production quantity. Then, comparing the current KPI with historical values, the system can alert the operator if a variable has changed in the conveyor, affecting conveyor efficiency.

Schneider Electric’s Industries of the Future concept embodies unique solutions driving the next generation of more efficient, resilient, and sustainable industries.

To learn more about this transformative vision, visit the Schneider Electric website.

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