Mine control system commissioning scheduled for year-end

3rd April 2015 By: Dylan Stewart - Creamer Media Reporter

Industrial automation and information solutions provider Rockwell Automation is to commission the primary control system for miner Swakop Uranium’s Husab mine, near Swakopmund, in Namibia, by the end of the year, says Rockwell Automation MD Barry Elliott.

Rockwell Automation is designing, testing and engineering the automation equipment for the opencast uranium mine, having been awarded the tender to supply and integrate the control and visualisation hardware and software in July last year.

The control architecture consists of some 5 500 input/output (I/O) points over an 8 km network. All plant areas will be controlled through the Rockwell Automation PlantPAx process automation system, which enables complete plant automation, from visualisation to controller and device layers, through a fully integrated Ethernet/Internet Protocol network.

Most of the I/O points are concentrated at the 1 500 t/y sulphuric acid plant, with a cogeneration facility to monitor and control electrical motors, pumps and conveyor systems to complete chemical processes.

The system’s control and visualisation software development is based on the ISA 88 standard, which enhances the batching management process in the leaching plant.

In addition to its previous experience in and complying with the ISA 88 standard for developing software, Elliott believes Rockwell Automation’s successful bid was due to the company’s standardised approach to operational implementation with regard to control system projects.

“Swakop Uranium’s awarding the tender to Rockwell Automation would have had less to do with its products being specifically suited to uranium leaching plants in particular and more with the reduced risk of delivery failure and downtime owing to the reliable record of Rockwell Automation’s products and its high degree of implementation certainty,” Elliott asserts.

He explains that the company reduces risks through a portfolio of products that are standardised in the way they are engineered, used and maintained. This standardised approach, in tandem with one of the largest teams of control system engineers in Southern Africa, provides clients with a high level of certainty that a project will be completed on time.

Elliott asserts that, in terms of the control system, implementation certainty is uniquely important because it is the last component to be installed at the mine. Therefore, any delay in commissioning will subsequently delay the start of mining operations.

He adds that Rockwell Automation also has experience in the automation of uranium mines and the specific implementation methods required, having been responsible for similar control projects, including the control system at Areva’s Trekkopje uranium mine located in the same area.

Although the control system is due to be commissioned at the end of the year, Elliott states that the bulk of the work to be done takes place before the system is transported from Johannesburg to Namibia for installation.

About Husab
The high-grade, openpit, load-and-haul mine is 76 km from Swakopmund. At full production, up to 7 000 t of uranium oxide (commonly known as yellowcake) will be produced every year, says Swakop Uranium CEO, Zheng Keping.

When the project was approved in October 2012, the focus was on earthworks and concrete works, but is now shifting to structural steel as well as mechanical components and piping, he states.

The mine has a life span of 20 years, during which it is set to create 1 200 permanent jobs, the majority of which will comprise processing operators, mining operators and artisans. An additional 6 000 jobs will be created during the construction phase. A 4 000-bed Husab contractors village was completed in 2014.

More than half of the N$20-billion of the project budget has been spent and total investment in the mine has exceeded $5-billion.

“Swakop Uranium is positioned to develop and construct the second-largest uranium mine in the world,” Keping explains. “This will more than double Namibia’s uranium production and will elevate the country past Niger, Australia and Canada to second place in the world, behind Kazakhstan, in uranium production.”

Keping believes that this will boost the country’s exports by 20% and boost government revenue by at least N$1.2-billion a year.