Automation: the future of mining

With ever increasing pressure on mine operators to dig more ore out of the ground and ship it, automation and control technology is rapidly finding a home in the mining and resources sectors.

THIS is a transcript of a podcast on The Unearthed Report on Australian Mining.

With ever increasing pressure on mine operators to dig more ore out of the ground and ship it, automation and control technology is rapidly finding a home in the mining and resources sectors. And with mine operators wanting more information about their site in real time, it’s easy to see why. In this interview, I spoke with Schneider Electric Sector Manager Mining West, Anton Bekker, about the rise and rise of automation and control technology in mining.

AUSTRALIAN MINING: Anton, how has automation and control in mining changed in say, the last 20 years?

BEKKER: Process control systems has become considerebly more technologically advanced which lends to it being far less people-dependent, end users can now more reliably remotely access and monitor their assests and their mining applications. This change supports a leaner workforce but requires a much higher skilled individual. The focus has shifted to managing the PCS equipment more critically in order to optimise performance of the overall asset. Operational excellence by managing quality and cost management in todays competivite market demands a process control system that’s cheap yet reliable to ensure ROI.

AUSTRALIAN MINING: You touched on a few of those interesting points there Anton, but how can today’s automation and control solutions benefit mine operators?

BEKKER: Vendors like Schneider Electric are required to be more in tune with the various mining processes and as such have developed equipment accordingly to offer a pit to port solution. Combining our experience across the mining sector, we can offer an automation solution tailored to suit the needs of the operator. Engaging a single source vendor with the capabilities to offer the mine operator a total packaged solution reduces total engineering time resulting in overall cost savings.

AUSTRALIAN MINING: What are mine operators demanding in automation and control solutions today?

BEKKER: Real time monitoring and control. They want to see what’s happening with the process. Operators demand fast and accurate flow of information in order to make the necessary changes to optimise the process. Reliability of systems, proven technology and performance with economic migration powers to upgrade systems as technology becomes available. Good technical support and training. Vendors now are required to offer more that just selling black boxes — 24/7 support with continious operator training is major aspect in vendor selection. Vendors are now seen more and more as strategic partners.

AUSTRALIAN MINING: Anton, there appears to be a trend towards packaged automation and control systems. I mean why is packaging automation and control solutions a better option?

BEKKER: Packaging up automation control systems requires less engineering, more reliable implementation, less testing, which offers a major cost benefit. The level of efficient integration between two environments, the automation and control is critical in achieving a system that can guarantee high reliability in safety and performance. Historically, issues arising in the process and plant design lead back to poor integration between different vendor packages which can occur at the hardware, communications and software level.

AUSTRALIAN MINING: What are some of the latest automation and control systems that would interest mine operators?

BEKKER: With Schneider’s acquisition of Citect we can now provide a better level of integration between the SCADA and our Modicon PLC platform as well as our other control devices such a our intelligent motor protection relay. Look for systems that offers Faulty Device Replacement. This is an automatic system reporting of failed devices and facilitates replacement of the faulty device by Auto configuration of the device. Finally an Integrated control and MES systems. Plant data to the business systems —being able to seamlessly interrigate between the control or monitoring device to a corporate reporting system

AUSTRALIAN MINING: And just finally Anton, what advice would you have for a mine operator seeking automation and control solutions? What five tips could you offer a mine operator looking at the automation and control space?

BEKKER: Consider how you will deliver data from the plant floor to your ERP or management system. Similarly, consider how you will optimise the planning/scheduling process from the ERP to the plant floor and back. Look for a vendor, such as Schneider being a global leading supplier, with broad based industry application support that recognises the customer asset investement and can provide strategies to support and maximise that investment for the customer for many years to come. The ability to interface and handle multiple communciations protocols from instrumentation systems, protection systems, energy management and safety systems. Implementation technologies for low-cost resource-limited applications. Plug & Play features and automatic reconfiguration. And finally, good technical support and training. Scheider Electric offers the services our highly competent staff. We operate close to our customers responding to their demands and offer a high quality after sales service.

AUSTRALIAN MINING: Anton Bekker, Sector Manager, Mining West for Schneider Electric, thanks very much for your time.

BEKKER: Thank you Jamie.

Anton Bekker

National Sector Manager Oil & Gas, Mining (West)

08 92409112


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