Acceptance of Automation within Mining is ImprovingWed, 10/21/2015 - 13:36
Automation is as much a part of the future of mining as the global demand for metals. As companies aim to be more efficient, automation becomes increasingly relevant as it allows them to sustain continuous, consistent operations, as well as improve control and productivity, and reduce infrastructure requirements. Automation is becoming so relevant that mining near-Earth asteroids for raw materials through automated robots is already being considered as a viable business model. Yet, before this becomes a widespread activity, companies on Earth need to step up their game and adopt control and automation technologies to improve their efficiency. “Nobody can imagine an efficient, safe, and reliable mining process without automation,” says Arturo Bernal Freydig, Director General of Electro Controles del Noroeste (ECN). Since 1991, ECN has completed more than 600 control and automation projects, with mining contributing up to 50% of its revenue. The first approach, according to Bernal Freydig, is to work during the development of mining projects and add value through control systems in mines. The other approach is to work on the optimization of operating processing plants in order to attain higher recovery efficiencies and standards. “All of these tools can provide information to facilitate decision-making,” he adds.
Bernal Freydig expresses that ECN is aiming to make new investments that will broaden its control and automation product portfolio. “We seek to have a complete range of products, services, and solutions that go hand-inhand with the mining industry,” says Bernal Freydig. “Our offerings range from selecting the meter, instrument, or valve control, to delivering a full control and automation project.” The company is able to provide such complete projects through its strategic partnership with acclaimed automation pioneer Rockwell Automation. Together with post-sales support, ECN works on the proliferation of automation in Mexico and the US through its network of offices. “These offices were opened following the “mineral trace” that goes from Mexico up to Arizona, Nevada, and other mining states in the US. We want our knowhow to be applied in all those places,” explains Bernal Freydig. To strengthen its market position, ECN also places its system design experts on mine sites, which are then supported by ECN’s specialized mining offices. The company’s Hermosillo office is its principal facility but ECN’s team in Torreon is the leading office for mining. “In recent years, Sonora has benefited from the investment of Grupo Mexico with whom ECN has been working. At the same time, Peñoles has been very active and we have been collaborating with them in Coahuila and Zacatecas,” Bernal Freydig explains. ECN has also been a loyal partner the design, engineering, and construction management firm M3, having been involved in most of M3’s projects in Mexico.
ECN’s product range also includes reagent dosing and water management technologies. “One of the patented solutions that we offer is a reagent dosing unit for milling and flotation processes,” exclaims Bernal Freydig. “This system has been well-accepted and has positively affected reagent consumption, which is a sensitive issue for cost and for the environment. It has also made improvements to plant efficiency and mineral recovery.” Such systems, he claims, have already successfully improved the recovery and efficiency of plants in Mexico. Moreover, ECN has supported mining companies with the management of wastewater by providing products and systems that accurately measure water consumption. By calculating this, mining companies are able to assess the efficiency of their plant. “The ideal case is to obtain a fully producing plant with minimal water use. Our systems are used to find out whether specific indicators, such as water consumption, are within or outside normal parameters.” While some mining companies in Mexico have been reluctant to adopt this new technology, large players like Rio Tinto have already started to develop and implement fully automated systems for hauling and drilling. Nonetheless, Bernal Freydig has observed that the technology has slowly permeated down from large companies to smaller players in the industry. “Conventional miners are people who have an instinctive knowledge that leads them to trust what they know. But, as mining operations grow, they need technology to replace these instincts and this will only grow further as solutions are refined over time.”
Bernal Freydig believes that without a proper online IT system, control and automation technologies in mining and metallurgical processes are simply not complete. “By implementing such systems, processes can be monitored online to make the necessary adjustments as they happen and move towards full automation. We started to offer information management solutions to mining companies after they proved themselves useful in other industries like manufacturing and assembly, where every minute counts. ECN is now considered a Main Automation Contractor, able to provide complete solutions for a project, from design and engineering, to installation, programming, and maintenance.