Canadian Mine Achieves Wireless Efficiency

The Communications Vision Was Infrastructure to Enable Interconnectivity of PLCs, PCs, Video and Voice, as Well as Equipment and Resource Tracking

Two billion years ago, a meteor struck the area that would become Sudbury, Ontario. The meteor appears to have been made mostly of nickel, and the Sudbury Basin has been the source of most of the world's nickel for more than a hundred years.

"The discovery of ore happened in 1884," said Bernie Parisé, the operations representative to the ownership team at Vale Inco's Totten Mine. He spoke at the ABB Group Automation & Power World conference this past May in Houston. "Mining commenced in 1901 by Oxford Nickel and Canadian Copper. In 1935, the mine was purchased by Inco, which is now Vale Inco. So many of the works—including the main shaft—are quite old. In the 1970s, the fluctuations of the price of nickel forced the closure of the mine. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, feasibility studies were done that indicated that the mine could produce economic amounts of nickel. We saw this as an opportunity to do things differently. We decided to change things. We did a flow-sheet redesign, and put together a vision for process control, production management and asset management."

The communications vision was infrastructure to enable interconnectivity of PLCs, PCs, video and voice, as well as equipment and resource tracking, said Parisé. "We wanted cost-effective combinations of twisted-pair, coaxial cable, fiberoptic and wireless technologies; Ethernet connectivity at each of the maintenance garages, control rooms, lunch rooms, refuge stations and other strategic locations; wireless voice capability; multiple wireless communication networks; video on a high-speed network for mobile control; hardwired analog video for fixed monitoring; and RF digital video for mobile applications," he said.

"Our vision for control was to have a central room that would be used to provide complete monitoring and control of all the mine systems. We needed to provide distributed monitoring in key areas of the mine, and we needed to stop having people scattered throughout remote areas of the mine," said Parisé, "so we decided to bring them all to a central control room where we could control the whole mine."

The benefits were high, and the costs were high, said Parisé. "We considered the risks low, so we looked at what we were going to try to do—and we called ABB," he said. "We selected ABB during the pre-feasibility stage to allow for product features to be fully utilized in the mine electrification/automation design."

ABB Canada's scope of supply for Totten Mine includes a full suite of automation and power solutions, commencing at the surface 69-kV substation, relay protection, microSCADA, switchgear, mine hoists, motors, drives, motor control centers and instrumentation throughout the mine surface plants and underground, and the ABB/Simsmart underground ventilation-on-demand system. "This entire scope of supply is seamlessly integrated with ABB's IndustrialIT and System 800xA architecture," said Parisé. "Our strategic objectives are to apply an appropriate level of technology that will help to maximize utilization of men, equipment and production faces, assure the ability to meet production targets and monitor and control all vital systems and processes."

With an Ethernet backbone and the System 800xA, Vale Inco was able to completely integrate the underground business and control systems, fixed plant systems, control center and the surface fixed plant systems, as well as the operations center and the management information system, explained Parisé.

"We provided VoIP telephony and connectivity for mobile operators and wireless Ethernet for mobile equipment and haulage trucks," said Parisé. "We developed a robust asset management framework that can monitor and control all vital systems and processes. We gave ourselves real-time access to production and maintenance data and provided accurate reporting systems for everyone. This infrastructure will allow for continuous action for improvement."

Vale Inco currently is finishing the office complex, the water and wastewater treatment plants and the final development work on the fans and the shafts. The mine will be in operation in 2011.

"Our collaborative arrangement with ABB has resulted in state-of-the-art technology that enhances sustainability, improves efficiency with the project execution aspects, as well as improves efficiency on commissioning and startup," concluded Parisé.