Mining Digs Deep for Automation Help – by Aaron Hand (Automation World – December 14, 2016)

When it comes to remote operations, process industries have some of the remotest, toughest conditions out there. Take that a step further—or higher or lower—and you’ve got mining. Control engineers are trying to get mining operations up and running high on mountain tops, out in the driest deserts, amid political unrest, or a mile or more below ground, struggling with connectivity or even power lines.

When trying to commission a new mine or upgrade an existing operation, chances are you want to make extra sure you get it right the first time.

Red Chris Mine is an open pit copper and gold mine in northwest British Columbia, Canada, owned by Imperial Metals. It’s a remote location on top of a mountain, near Alaska. Spartan Controls, the integrator that worked to get the mine up and running about a year and a half ago, is based in Vancouver, B.C. To get to the operation from the southern part of the province requires three flights followed by a two-hour bus ride.

“There are a lot of challenges around logistics,” says Andrew Yick, technical specialist and lead process engineer at the Red Chris project for Spartan Controls. “If something goes wrong in a junction box, the consequences of that can be pretty serious. It can be an entire week of delay.” In a situation like this, testing everything beforehand was an essential aspect of commissioning.

Mines already are no small feats to bring online. But engineers at the Red Chris Mine found themselves under more pressure than usual when another mine in the Imperial Metals family had an environmental breach and had to shut down. “That plant was the main cash flow provider,” Yick says. “This put a really big stress and compression on the schedule for Red Chris.”

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