The next generation of DCS for mining

The recent fall in Australian commodity prices over the past months and the impact on mining companies’ profitability has drawn media attention. Yet most mining companies have been facing the additional challenge of reduced margins for far longer.

This difficult environment is leading mining companies to maximise operational performance by focusing on improving productivity and ensuring the longevity of their assets and resources. One of the areas in which mining companies are looking to invest in order to improve performance and overcome their many challenges is in the next generation of distributed control systems (DCS).

Addressing the challenge of integrating systems

The traditional DCS also known as a process control system (PCS) has had the responsibility for interfacing with and controlling the many devices, equipment and applications found across mining operations.  Due to the diverse nature of mining and minerals applications the DCS/PCS doesn’t act alone and is required to interface with other systems such as PLCs which are better suited for some applications.  This has led to the existence of different control system tools, networks and standards across the mining operation, resulting in large amounts of effort to engineer and maintain the quasi integrated system.  In addition to this, the traditional DCS/PCS has been very much based in the operations domain.  With an ever-increasing requirement for more information from the devices, equipment and applications, into the Information domain, there is a need for the control system to be able to manage this requirement as well.  As a result mining companies are looking to the next generation DCS to address their new requirements.

Future-proofing technology

The next generation DCS is not a completely new beast.  It would be unwise to overlook the experience of over 40 years of work in this field.  The next generation DCS is based on a combination of proven and future-proof technologies blended with functionalities that will address mining companies’ requirements now and into the future. The next generation DCS will be based on field proven hardware and open Ethernet technologies that will extend from the device level, through the control and supervisory levels and provide the means by which information is exchanged with higher level operational systems.  By doing so, the next generation DCS addresses the requirements of having a system which is able to address the needs of both the operational and information domains using a standard recognised in both worlds.

Connecting diverse applications

In addition to using open Ethernet technologies, the next generation DCS must be able to offer architectures that are flexible enough to cover the diverse range of applications found within mining operations.  From discrete machine type applications to the most complex continuous processes, the next generation DCS will be able to deliver the results required by using an integrated engineering, maintenance and operational environment.  This integrated environment allows engineering personnel to develop and modify the next generation DCS in a way that ensures efficiency and security. All devices, including instruments, drives or control devices that are connected into the next generation DCS, are integrated and configured from within the same environment; improving engineering quality while at the same time maintaining the standards across the mining operation. 

Easier maintenance

Maintenance personnel also benefit from the integrated environment of the next generation DCS in the ability to view maintenance information at any time from the runtime system.  By simply selecting an object in runtime, information such as control strategy, interlocks, drawings and other relevant information can be viewed dynamically providing greater visibility and simplifying the maintenance functions.  In addition, diagnostics allow potential issues to be identified early and corrected before impacting the operating system.  These functionalities are inherent within the next generation DCS and don’t require any additional engineering effort.  

Improved decision making and safety

In order to enhance the situational awareness for operations personnel, the next generation DCS provides services and functionalities such as advanced graphics, and system navigation combined with powerful alarming and trending.  Through this heightened situational awareness operations personnel are able to make better decisions to ensure that the process operations are operating as efficiently and productively as possible. It also provides the ability to integrate CCTV within the runtime environment providing the ability for operations personnel to directly monitor mining operations remotely which not only further enhances visibility but improves safety.

Combining process control and energy management

Energy efficiency improvements have been an ongoing driver of the mining business for many years. As mining companies continue to move into an era of optimisation, the adoption of new technologies has contributed to better environmental outcomes, as well as increased process efficiency.

In addition to addressing the needs of improving efficiency and productivity, the next generation DCS also helps companies improve their sustainability.  By having energy management functionalities at its core, as standard, the next generation DCS combines active energy management with process control to ensure that the mining operations are meeting the requirements for productivity and sustainability.

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