The reliability and efficiency of the train load out process at coal mines can be a ‘make or break’ when it comes to meeting production timelines and profitability.
Anglo American is the world’s third largest exporter of metallurgical coal. The company uses the latest technology to run their operations in the best possible way and strive for continuous improvement at existing assets.
Train loading stations are often considered a bottleneck, as these facilities are typically operated manually resulting in variable performance, wagon over or under loading and poor reliability. As a result, companies are often faced with heavy fines and in some cases substantial costs to obtain additional trains to meet required throughput.
MRA Electrical & Automation Engineering (MRA) was initially involved in the first automation of a train load out (TLO) in Australia more than fifteen years ago. As such, the company has a detailed understanding of the systems required.
At that time there were some limitations in the technology that resulted in some shortcomings of the early systems. These limitations culminated in issues with accuracy and environmental conditions. To address this, MRA conducted extensive research and development, using the latest technologies to overcome these shortfalls and develop an efficient and reliable automated TLO solution.
When Anglo American tasked MRA with automating their TLO process at the German Creek coal mines, the result exceeded expectations and provided an intelligent and intuitive system that not only improved efficiency and reliability but also delivered a state of the art solution with an unrivalled return on investment.
Clever control technology
Initially MRA investigated primarily vision based systems, but were subject to accuracy issues as a result of changing environmental and weather factors such as sun, rain and fog. As laser and sensing technologies advanced, they provided a more reliable alternative that is not as vulnerable to the effects of these often harsh mining environments.
According to Stephen Mount, general manager at MRA, “We built the robust automated TLO system on the fundamentals of train speed and position to improve the accuracy of the process. The raw data is filtered and moved into our system to perform the correct analysis to overcome any issues with environmental conditions.”
There are three major components to the system, the first being the sensors in the field, the laser scanners and RFID tag reader; the second is the PC-based server that performs all the filtering and analysis of data prior to communicating to the PLC, the third component of the system.
“The system architecture of this TLO demonstrates the power of the ControlLogix platform for data processing and integration as well as control,” said Geoff Irvine, mining industry manager, Rockwell Automation.
The Allen-Bradley® ControlLogix® PLC is programmed to provide centralised control for the entire TLO process. The MRA system has been engineered to integrate seamlessly with the controller via Ethernet/IP communications using point to point networking via a Stratix™ switch.