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Analysis

Automation Systems No Enemy to Mining Workers

Wed, 10/21/2015 - 13:40

For 20 years, ABSA Sonora has been a trusted vendor of automation and control solutions within the mining industry and beyond. With lines of equipment from the likes of Rockwell Automation, Bosch, and Schneider Electric in its portfolio, ABSA Sonora rapidly extended its coverage to 15 branches in the mining states of Chihuahua, Sonora, Sinaloa, Guanajuato, Zacatecas, and Jalisco. Of all the items sold by ABSA Sonora, those that are most sought after in mining circles are power control equipment, variable frequency drives, soft starters, and motor control centers in low and medium voltage (480V-4160V). However, another aspect of automation and control that has been in rising demand has been the provision of display screens as well as software for monitoring and scheduling processes. “Our products reduce costs by installing stateof-the-art equipment with high energy efficiency and that allow decisions to be made faster. For example, Rockwell Automation’s control systems make processes more efficient by establishing broad communication between all operating systems,” says Arturo Garza, Director of ABSA Sonora. This transparent information management between production systems and information systems help to streamline metallurgical processes.

One of ABSA Sonora’s finest hours came when it was called in to help at Grupo Mexico’s Buenavista del Cobre mine. In 2010, it got the contract to rehabilitate 47 wells across several square kilometers and ensure a supply of freshwater to the concentrator. To start with, a smart soft starter was connected to a PLC via Ethernet, which would allow for the control and management of the flow, pressure, and water level at each pump. Every well was then hooked up to a wireless link, all feeding into a monitoring and measurement control room where display screens indicated energy consumption and the hours each well was working, and would flash up alerts if any of the power or control housing units were tampered with or left open. The soft starter also removed problems of wear and tear, thus increasing the life of motors and various mechanical components. This installation also reduced the risk to human health. Garza explains that, prior to ABSA Sonora’s solution, teams roamed the different wells to make modifications or take measurements. The new telemetric system monitors all wells, feeding the information through a centralized system, thus saving on personnel costs. However, such savings on human capital have led ABSA Sonora to face a criticism that is familiar to all the advocates of automation, that such an evolution costs jobs in mines. Garza dismisses this as stemming from a lack of understanding of how automation changes industrial processes. “In our experience, those jobs that are lost are replaced with higher paying ones. Automation eliminates routine tasks that are prone to human error due to their repetitive nature and the fatigue they cause. Automation removes tasks that people really do not want to do,” he says. “It actually brings a net human capital advantage to companies by motivating employees to get better trained with the promise of higher pay. Automation has boomed in recent years, including in mining, which has created more development opportunities for engineers.” This boom directly feeds into how ABSA Sonora brings new technologies into its fold. The company seeks to stay abreast of technological trends and spots products that are being pushed by manufacturers to meet a real need in the mining industry. It also works under the theory that automation and control systems are more efficient when little training is required, when their operation is simple, and when they are easy to integrate. Although little training may be needed to use such systems, the proximity of the company’s branches to big mines like Cananea are vital for its vendors and specialists to understand every facet of the equipment being sold.