Innovation: Qubec innovation goes global
Automation is one, maybe even the most important, element of driving down production costs. After all, no mine can stay in business if expenses exceed revenues.
Now there is a cost-effective, reliable, made-in-Qubec solution to underground haulage automation that the whole world can profit from. It became available last July from Atlas Copco Wagner Inc. through its collaboration with SIAMtec (systme intgr d’automatisation minire). SIAMtec is a limited partnership supported 75% by Noranda Inc., Canada’s largest mining company, and 25% by STAS, a firm that specializes in marketing high tech equipment.
Noranda’s Centre de technologie in Pointe-Claire, Qu., began developing mine automation in 1988 following the design of prototypes at the cole Polytechnique de Montral. Seven years later, Noranda transferred sub-licenses for its technologies to STAS so that the technologies could be implemented, particularly in Noranda’s mines.
Success has been overwhelming. At the Bell Allard mine in Qubec, over 70% of the underground ore is moved using automated loading and remote control haulage technologies on load-haul-dumpers (LHDs). This reduces costs and keeps the mine competitive. At the Brunswick mine in New Brunswick, over 80% of the ore is moved using a completely automated truck haulage level. As well as lower costs, Noranda is enjoying better worker safety and comfort, increased working hours for the haulage trucks, and greater flexibility than before.
The automated haulage system at Brunswick, installed in 2001 on the 1125 level 4 sub, is notable for its simplicity. There are only three main components: communications, safety zone supervision, and the autoguided system on the trucks. Two Atlas Copco Wagner MT-436B trucks (and a third on standby) work the level.
This automated system relies on visual navigation. The truck guidance systems include sensors, an on-board computer, and one video camera on each end. The cameras transmit images of forward and backward movement relative to a strip optical reflective tape fastened to the back. The use of cheap, easy-to-install tape cuts installation time and cost.
The backbone of the system is its communications equipment, which transmits analogue camera signals and bi-directional real-time supervisory signals from the control room. Programmable logic controllers (PLCs) transmit data from sensors in the drift to the operator’s supervisory control and data acquisition (Scada) screen. The screens provide the interface for truck start-up, stops and traffic control, plus the operator has real-time video displays of the trucks. Once automated haulage begins, human entry to the level is forbidden for reasons of safety.
The computer network logs all operating data. Should an error occur in the system, a message is sent, analyzed and displayed on the Scada screen. The status of each vehicle and any alarms are recorded both on the main PLC and on each truck. These records are useful for performance analysis and for improving preventive maintenance.
Reaching the world’s markets
The agreement between SIAMtec and Atlas Copco Wagner is win-win for both of them. Atlas Copco could have picked any automation technology in the world, but SIAMtec’s system was its sole choice as the best solution for its customers.
“We are extremely honoured to be included in this new business opportunity that will increase efficiency and productivity in underground mining,” said Atlas Copco Wagner president John Noordwijk when the deal was announced.
“It allows us to tap into Atlas Copco’s global network,” says SIAMtec managing director Luc St-Arnaud. “They’re in all the major countries we’re interested in. And it con- firms the quality of our products.” Already the innovative technology is earmarked for several large projects in Chile.
The deal makes Copco the exclusive distributor for SIAMtec’s mobile application products. These include SIAMremote, SIAMload, SIAMadr for data acquisition, SIAMguidance, and SIAMpds, which is a personal detection system. Copco also gained non-exclusive rights to stationary application products, notably the SIAMnet wide band communications system. For its part, Copco will sell and promote these products on its Wagner underground trucks and Scooptram LHDs as well as providing service and warranty assistance.
There is more to come from SIAMtec and Noranda’s Centre de technologie. With the success of fully automated haulage, engineers and researchers are working on ways to completely automate the LHD cycle. They will certainly succeed. Then Atlas Copco Wagner will have another productivity opportunity for its customers around the globe.