Mechanisation key for sustainability, says ABB exec

13th September 2016

By: Anine Kilian

Contributing Editor Online


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JOHANNESBURG ( – The mining industry is increasingly moving to automation to remove people from hazardous situations, but this also results in higher energy costs, ABB global mining manager Leonard Eros said at the Electra Mining Africa 2016 conference in Johannesburg.

He pointed out that the move to automation led to safety and productivity improvements, but that mechanisation, automation and autonomous machines would consume more electricity in an already energy-intensive industry.

Energy efficiency and management are, therefore, becoming more important.

“The cost of power is rising in many countries globally and it needs to be managed more carefully than a few years ago, when the cost was lower and power was more abundant,” Eros noted.

He pointed out that mines were looking for ways to continue doing what they had always done, but more intelligently, noting that mines should consider control systems, machinery and processes that used power more wisely.

“Mines are looking to use less power for the same results, which can happen through the use of more efficient motors and motor controllers, and control systems that only use power [when] needed,” Eros said.

He explained that, if a pump were to be slowed down, for example, power consumption could be greatly reduced, as opposed to just closing or maintaining a valve.

Eros noted that ABB’s new permanent magnet motors offered a more efficient solution than traditional motors.

He stated that the capital costs for these motors were higher than the standard induction motors, but that their operating costs were much lower.

Meanwhile, he noted that the two biggest costs in the mining industry on a global scale were manpower and electric power.

Eros noted that the demand for commodities was currently low and that mining companies were not in a position to control the price they sold their products for or the demand for their product. Therefore, they had to focus on controlling costs.

“If mines can use mechanisation that helps reduce manpower costs, but increases power costs, there is a realisation that there needs to be more focus on using power more efficiently,” he said, adding that efficient equipment and better energy management tools were key.

Eros noted, however, that there needed to be a transition period for adopting mechanisation.

“You don’t want to be in a position where you suddenly have large numbers of people losing their income and a way of supporting their families,” he said.

Eros stated that the move to mechanisation would result in fewer direct mining jobs, but also better jobs.

“One has to recognise that people can’t be sent into dangerous areas and those jobs cannot be promoted anymore. The transition from man to machine can occur over a managed period of time, and people can be employed [elsewhere] as the transition occurs,” he said.

Edited by Chanel de Bruyn
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor Online



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