Álvaro Rendón
Director ECN Scientific
ECN Automation
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ECN: The Mining Industry's Partner for Full Automation

By Alejandro Ehrenberg | Tue, 12/15/2020 - 14:40

Q: What stages does a mining company undergo to achieve full automation?

A: The company has to provide an analysis called "critical investment route." It involves having a database that includes at least three months of operational results. If the plant is not yet automated, then we would work primarily with laboratory data. Once we have this analysis, we can understand what actions could have the most impact. Then, we set up a plan and relate every step of the plan to the anticipated ROI.

The first step is to stabilize the process with the correct instrumentation and process control strategies. Soon after, we can start the optimization phase, which is related to advanced analytics. Once we are at that point, with plenty of quality data at our disposal, our services can have a dramatic impact.

ECN can start creating digital twins of crucial aspects in the plant. We also offer optimization as a service. If a client needs to optimize a grinding circuit, they should not have to make a CAPEX investment up to US$300,000; instead, ECN can lease the equipment to them, meaning smaller, periodic OPEX expenditures. 

Q: How does your ImpactFinder® solution help miners reduce costs?

A: Impact Finder is a sound signal analysis and processing system for steel ball impact detection, fill level estimation, it consists of an intelligent sensor that uses sound and prevents fractures from occurring on the mill liners. We have installed 10 ImpactFinder® systems in Mexico, Chile and Peru. Their use is to enlarge the useful life of the mill’s liners. Impact Finder provides data that can be incorporated into the mills’ control strategies. They also let you determine the maximum speed of operation, while optimizing the new ball loading strategy.

Q: How does ECN’s capacity as Main Automation Contractor allow a mining operation to perform more effectively?

A: ECN’s extensive experience in instrumentation and automation projects in the mining industry has resulted in the company having the capabilities to be qualified as a Main Automation Contractor in mining projects. Our objective is to achieve complete solutions that allow early startups, well-functioning instruments, well-designed and stable control and field communication networks, as well as tailored control systems, control strategies that allow the best benefits in production, lower cost and ease of maintenance and standardization of parts and life cycle services to preserve optimal performance.

We team up with the EPC contractor and take responsibility for everything that pertains to instrumentation and control. Instead of having a number of different vendors scattered all over the plant, the client can now see everything in one single control platform. We homologate the installed base and make design engineering much more effective.

Q: What issue do your integrated package systems solve for miners?

A: When we did four projects related to crushing plants in one year, we realized that we could offer the solutions we delivered in each of these projects in a single package. We could determine unitary costs in a simple way and achieve a standardized method to control conveyor belts and crushers. By implementing our packages, we can homologize the whole project and deliver it in such a way that costs and commissioning are optimized. We have already installed a grinding system at Grupo Frisco’s El Coronel project. ECN did the design and provided a comprehensive crushing package.

Another package we have is a system for reactive dosing. It is called UD-Line®: a robust dosage system that integrates the measurement of the reagent flow, allowing the recording of statistical data of the dosage and enabling the operational intelligence necessary for the progressive optimization of the flotation process. We have installed this solution in the US, Mexico and Peru. The last project was Grupo México’s project in Toquepala, Peru. The dosing equipment that we have there has reduced time and costs. The company has a better rate of recovery at that plant than it does at a similar plant that did not install the equipment.

Q: How can ECN help mining companies in a situation marked by reduced mobility due to COVID-19?

A: Not being able to travel freely has been a challenge. We have developed digital twins and virtual simulation, which have come in very handy. For example, when a mill is thoroughly instrumentalized, we can create a model of the mill that can be monitored and serviced at a distance. We can do this with many critical parts of a mining operation. We presented advances of this technology at a congress in Chile called Automining last November 2020.

ECN Automation is a technology company focused on automation, information, optimization and security process solutions. The company has offices in Mexico, the US, Peru and Chile. ECN is recognized by its business practices of social responsibility, its human factor and innovation. Its value is in generating greater competitiveness for its customers with process technology solutions through a high-performance team.

Alejandro Ehrenberg Alejandro Ehrenberg Journalist and Industry Analyst