Modernisation transition made easier

8th October 2021 By: Claire O'Reilly

Modernised plants offer greater resilience when operating under restrictions – which has been evident during Covid-19 in South Africa – and despite technology empowering business, many mines are hesitant to upgrade their control technology, says manufacturer and distributor of variable-speed drives (VSDs) Nidec Control Techniques.

The company is an original-equipment manufacturer and primarily provides the mining industry with VSDs. Nidec Control Techniques encourages the mining sector to look upon continuous technological advancements not as unwelcome adversity but as an opportunity to remain competitive. The company has an experienced in-house team of engineers to help clients with their step-by-step migration process.

“There’s the perception across many industries, including mining, that migrating to newer technology is unaffordable,” says Nidec Control Techniques Middle East & Africa VP Bruce Grobler.

Other challenges include global shortages in components, which forces all manufacturing companies to focus on current product demand to ensure availability, presenting a significant risk, as the focus is diverted from legacy products.

Additionally, there is a perception that modernisation comes with a steep learning curve and major training required, and that a company’s entire facility must change the way it functions to suit new interfaces and functionalities.

Many companies also have concerns about electricity instability, owing to South Africa’s power shortage. In terms of VSDs, this differentiates Nidec Control Techniques from its competitors, as its drives “have a larger tolerance than most for power insufficiencies”, says Grobler.

To assist mining companies in dealing with these hurdles, Nidec Control Techniques has devised a staged approach; a free audit campaign and individual migration plans to help the local mining sector take the next step in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

“At Nidec Control Techniques, a subsidiary of Nidec, we ease our customers through the process by starting with a free audit of our current VSD installed base. “We then structure a strategic migration plan targeting most vulnerable sectors of the plant to keep potential downtime to a minimum and keep production running at optimal levels,” illustrates application engineer Wayne Smit.

Nidec Control Techniques focuses on finding a migration path that is economically feasible for a company wanting to modernise – either as an upfront purchase or as a staged approach to best suit a set budget. Offering technical expertise and services to facilitate a smooth and minimal-risk transition to newer technology is pertinent, says Smit.

To establish a staged approach for a mine’s migration plan, Nidec Control Techniques, together with the client, needs to establish which aspects are most critical and which ones are least critical to an operation. “Then, for example, if there are 30 installed units in a plant, I would strategically target 50% of those units. These would be the most critical units – the ones that cannot be shut down or idled if something goes wrong. These strategic units would have to be migrated and the balance of the units would be removed and used as spares,” explains Smit.

Consequently, critical applications remain operational with new technologies that carry new warranties, while the operating lives of old, existing VSDs are immediately prolonged, as the mines now have direct spares available in case of breakdowns. Nidec Control Techniques then works out a custom timeline for the customer to commit to changing out these units.

It is, therefore, of the “utmost importance” that a sound plan is in place for a mine’s existing installed base; this should encompass not only VSDs but all critical aspects of components in mining, Grobler concludes.