The mineral-rich Sudbury basin, located in northern Ontario, Canada, boasts extensive deposits of nickel, copper, platinum, palladium and gold. Since 1929, this region has boasted an extensive network of mines, mills and smelters. In 2003, the primary mining company in the region solidified plans to expand its operations in the northeast edge of the basin. Development of the US $840-million greenfield project began in 2004. Built for an annual capacity of 1.25 million tonne of nickel, copper and platinum-group ores, the new underground mine was slated to begin production by 2011.
Historically, the mining industry is particularly vulnerable to fluctuations in the global commodities market. In fact, when prices plummet, mining companies often find that marginally efficient operations are no longer profitable and choose to suspend extraction until the market rebounds. To justify the development of the project, the Sudbury mine's leadership stipulated that the new operation incorporate advanced technologies to enable efficient –and thereby profitable – operation in virtually any commodities market. The mine's operators chose Hatch, an engineering, procurement and construction management (EPCM) firm, to develop the project. Headquartered in Ontario, Hatch is a global engineering company that has served the mining and metals industry for more than 50 years. “From the onset, the end user had a vision to develop an innovative, future-ready mine,” said Josh Lilley, lead engineer, Hatch. “To do so, the company knew it had to exploit the full potential of automation throughout the mining process – both above ground and at depths 1,700 meters below the surface.” In particular, the company hoped to incorporate the latest automation and communication capabilities to optimize productivity, improve process variability – and capture the advantages of mobile technology.
From a systems and process control perspective, the scope of the project was extensive and included: a realtime data management infrastructure; RFID equipment and personnel tracking; the ventilation on demand (VOD) system; automated mine hoisting; and remote static and mobile equipment controls. While each specific application presented unique challenges, energy and resource utilization was a common concern throughout the mine. In specifying a control system, Hatch required an integrated solution that could address a wide range of control applications. “Keep in mind, a mine is also a continuous construction site,” said Lilley. “The selected control solution had to incorporate flexibility to adjust to these constant changes cost-effectively.”
After evaluating a number of control systems, the Hatch team recommended a mine-wide Rockwell Automation solution based on the Integrated Architecture® system.
“It was clear that a Rockwell Automation control solution would match the technology vision for the mine,” said Lilley. “Rockwell Automation offers a consistent, integrated system that would optimize discrete and power control – as well as process applications.”
The backbone for the solution is the communication infrastructure, which consists of a redundant, single mode EtherNet/IP™ network. Via both wired and Wi-Fi transmission, this IT infrastructure handles all surface and underground communication – and enables high-level process and business data sharing on a common, centrally managed architecture.
“We designed our solution based on thin client architecture,” Lilley said. “Rockwell Automation could support all applications throughout the mine within this cost-effective environment and allow us to create a real-time data management infrastructure.”
Rockwell Automation control systems were deployed throughout all areas of the mine. The integrated supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) solution includes Allen-Bradley® ControlLogix® programmable automation controllers (PACs), low voltage and medium voltage Allen-Bradley PowerFlex® variable frequency drives, Allen-Bradley E3 Plus™ solid-state overload relays, FactoryTalk® View Site Edition (SE) supervisory HMI software and Allen-Bradley PanelView™ Plus graphic terminals.
All mining operations require an extensive control infrastructure. To streamline development, the Hatch- Rockwell Automation team designed a standard, DeviceNet™ configuration for all underground substations and employed a modular approach. "Actually, we worked with Hatch to design ‘portable control centers,'” explained Bob DaPrat, account manager, Rockwell Automation. “By designing control capabilities in various blocks related to specific functions, we were able to minimize some of the infrastructure requirements.”
Built to withstand underground conditions, the portable substations were delivered as modular systems. Sling or fork-lift ready, the skidded systems could be moved to provide needed power control as construction progressed throughout the mine – while leaving control for essential functions (e.g. lighting) in place.
To ensure a standard control and visualization environment throughout the operation, Hatch worked closely with an embedded Rockwell Automation engineer to deploy standard function blocks/add-on instructions (AOIs) and faceplates. “The project's goal was to deliver an HMI system based on the best practices of the industry,” said Lilley. “FactoryTalk software allowed us to achieve that goal and provides the end user with seamless systems monitoring and control of mine processes.” In addition, a third-party remote equipment tracking system was integrated into the SCADA solution.
The project was commissioned on schedule and below budget in 2011 – and has been meeting productivity goals ever since.
“The end user planned to create a technology benchmark for future mine development,” said Lilley. “This project allowed us to achieve their goal.”
The Rockwell Automation control solution provides an integrated view into the entire mining process – both above ground and below. And the state-of-the-art power control technologies implemented throughout the mine have been instrumental in helping the mine achieve energy efficient operation.
In addition, the modular control substations have continued to prove valuable as mine development expands at the site.
"The modular substation approach is something we plan to leverage in future mine developments as well,” said Lilley. “These flexible, pre-built systems allow us to achieve underground control quickly – and cost-effectively expand capabilities as needed.”