Tracking the quantity and quality of resources such as iron ore is essential for the mining industry, with accurate tracking improving the economic viability and productivity of ore extraction. This article will provide an overview of ore tracking technology and some of the latest developments and advantages.
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Improving Ore Processing in the 21st Century
A major advance in mining in recent years has been the utilization of multiple sensors to monitor everything from mine integrity to equipment health and tracking vital assets and resources such as ore.
The diverse sensors employed in mines are becoming more connected, with Industry 4.0 advances such as IoT technologies feeding a wealth of multivariate data streams back to centralized hubs where they are analyzed by trained operators.
The journey of resources from mine to processing plant and eventually to the end consumer is vital for mining companies. Improving information on a resource’s journey through the entire process is one of the goals of mining companies currently. Technologies such as sensors, RFID tags, and centralized data processing play an integral role in this process.
Advantages of Ore Tracking Systems
Improving the process of extraction, transportation, and processing provides several key benefits for mine operators. Safety, profitability, and efficiency can be enhanced by using autonomous systems that rely on sensors and data rather than manual workers. Less labor is required, and a highly streamlined process can be implemented.
Loads can be better controlled over their entire journey from underground to the processing plant and eventually, the customer. Traceability is markedly improved, and indeed a common problem in the mining industry is a lack of cargo identification, leading to unplanned stops and profitability loss due to wrong processing and ore types being mixed in the processing plant.
An automated ore tracking system reduces bad ore management practices, can correctly regulate processes due to accurate knowledge of input materials and provides reliable quality and financial reporting. Ore tracking applications have been implemented in mines and mineral processing plants worldwide.
SmartTagTM has recently been developed by Metso Outotec, which provides sustainable technologies and end-to-end solutions for the global mining, mineral processing, metal refining, and aggregates industries. This technology tracks ore parcels over their entire journey from mine to plant and eventually, the customer.
Custom software and hardened RFID tags are used to achieve this purpose. Using this SmartTagTM, critical ore characteristics can be correlated with operational parameters such as ore loss, ore dilution, energy consumption, and throughput.
The impact of different ores on operational systems and the final product can be better understood by mine operators, meaning that parameters can be adjusted, improving profitability and efficiency.
The system’s ability to track resources from pit to port is especially beneficial for coal and iron ore operations as these typically have complex logistical and marketing needs. The material’s properties can be accurately tagged and tracked, optimizing operations such as sorting and homogenization to maximize final product value. Moreover, the system can be used to monitor and optimize supply chain logistics.
ABB AbilityTM is another recently developed digital ore tracking system from ABB Asea Brown Boveri Ltd. in Switzerland. RFID tags and sensors are central to the company’s solution.
The system has been used by Boliden AB in its enrichment plant in Västerbotten, Sweden, to track cargo arriving at the plant. Boliden has historically faced challenges associated with receiving ore from different mines and processing them in one enrichment plant, including a lack of cargo traceability and identification. This causes interruptions in operations and profitability losses.
ABB AgilityTM has been integrated with weighbridges, unloading sensors, and traffic lights to provide a complete solution to overcome these issues.
Passive RFID is equipped on all trucks that arrive at the enrichment plant, with active readers installed in all mines and the concentrator site. The solution provides order and database management and reporting.
The benefits of the system include enhanced profitability, product quality, and worker safety in the enrichment plant. Ore management is improved significantly by the enhanced process control offered by ABB AgilityTM.
Fully automated interaction between all elements of the arrival, tipping, and enrichment processes in the plant itself significantly reduces the risk of tipping errors and the subsequent interruption of the plant’s operations.
Existing and new technologies are coordinated in the integrated system and have been adapted for the company’s operations. Central monitoring of the entire process reduces the need for workers and improves their safety and that of equipment and processes. The need for expensive and dangerous repairs is circumvented using ABB AgilityTM. Further updates to the system can be easily installed.
The system incorporates several connected steps. When the truck leaves the mine, RFID tags register the load, creating a new order in the system. On arrival, the car is automatically registered and assigned a tip location. When it reaches the tip site, green lights indicate the right location, with red lights indicating the wrong site.
Even if the car has tilted, the system still registers. Finally, reports are generated which identify the location and availability of material and provide vital information if the tipping process goes wrong, which will help avoid future problems at the site.
The Future of Ore Tracking in Mining
Tracking the type and quantity of ore is a key concern in the mining and minerals processing industries. Innovative automated ore tracking systems improve profitability, efficiency, and worker safety, providing a complete end-to-end solution for companies.
As the industry meets the challenges of the 21st century, solutions such as this will be central to continued mining operations.
References and Further Reading
Metso Outotec (2022) Ore Tracking [online] mogroup.com. Available at: https://www.mogroup.com/products-and-services/services/process-optimization-connected-services/ore-tracking/
ABB (2022) Digital tracking system improves ore management for mine [online] new.abb.com. Available at: https://new.abb.com/mining/reference-stories/underground-stories/digital-tracking-system-improves-ore-management-for-mine