Wireless technology offers mining operations improvements

Wireless technology offers mining operations improvements
Wireless technology
offers mining operations
improvements
W
ireless technology is a hot Emerson’s two-tiered Smart Wireless solution supports wireless field device
topic for anyone involved networks and wireless plant networks. These communications systems intein the design, operation, grate seamlessly with traditional control and asset management applications.
maintenance or upgrading of mines
or mineral processing plants because wireless technologies overcome barriers that have prevented
many useful data inputs. Wireless
communications can contribute to
worker safety, satisfy environmental concerns, support plant security,
track human and physical assets, and
improve equipment maintenance.
The cost structure of wireless is
compelling and users can realize savings — up to 90 percent less installed
cost than wired instruments — since
wireless technology eliminates the
need for expenses associated with
cabling, engineering, construction
and documentation. Many applications previously considered too
expensive have become economically feasible with wireless. Two examples are continuous
Defining wireless
monitoring of safety showers to notify operators when
Wireless technologies can have a dramatic impact on
one has been activated, and monitoring effluents to ensure
mining operations in two broad categories: wireless field
environmental regulations are being met.
networks for sensor and field device applications, and wireIn many cases, wireless transmitters can be installed
less plant networks for business and operations purposes.
where wired devices were too expensive to justify, or
were not feasible due to physical or technical barriers.
Wireless field network (WFN) — Self-organizing
Examples include monitoring temperature measurements
wireless field networks, based on the WirelessHART cominside a rotating reactor or monitoring process variables
munications standard, are easily installed and capable of
in a tough, corrosive environment too challenging for a
delivering measurement data and diagnostics without
wired solution. Wireless also gives operating personnel
the need for investing in a plantwide infrastructure. The
mobility with the ability to communicate from remote or
WirelessHART standard was approved in September 2007
hard-to-reach zones.
by more than 200 member companies of the HART ComAccording to a recent Venture Development Corp.
munications Foundation. It’s specifically designed for use
survey covering radio frequency (RF) of microwave inin process manufacturing, including mine processes. Wiredustrial monitoring and control products, these features
lessHART was named one of the “three top automation
are contributing to the expected nationwide growth rate
trends of 2008,” according to the ARC Advisory Group of
for industrial wireless applications of 19 percent annually
Boston (ARC, 2008).
from 2007 to 2012 (Taylor, 2008).
WirelessHART devices use small amounts of bandwidth,
At the same time, mineral producers have many quesenabling high priority communications. The important chartions about wireless systems including their applicability,
acteristics of security and reliability have been engineered
reliability and security in
into the technology using proven industry techniques. The
this industry. Just what can
self-organizing mesh networks ensure maximum integrity
wireless do? Is it secure and
by allowing the field devices to communicate with each
reliable? Can these instruThis means there is no single point of failure. Every
Ed Schodowski is director, industry ments stand up to the rigors other.
device serves as a network connector, automatically findsolutions, mining for Emerson Process of the industry? Can wire- ing the optimum communication pathway. In the event a
temporary obstruction blocks a direct connection, signals
Manegament, e-mail [email protected] less technology provide
are automatically rerouted by an adjacent device, optimizEmersonProcess.com. the flexibility needed for
mining applications?
ing connectivity and achieving greater than 99 percent data
Ed Schodowski
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transmission reliability.
When planning wireless field networks, there is no need
for preliminary radio frequency site surveys or assumptions
as to what the RF characteristics are going to be like at
any one time. With self-organizing networks, it does not
make any difference. Significantly less communications
infrastructure is required because these networks operate
perfectly well in very dense plant environments.
Battery life is an added dimension that is an important
aspect of the technology. These wireless devices can be set
to a low-power mode to save energy, enabling them to run
for an extended period on one battery. Run times depend
on how often the device is configured to update. Current
battery technology, combined with energy efficient measurement instruments, can extend battery life to 10 years
for many temperature and level applications. The wireless
plant infrastructure allows cost-effective and seamless integration between the field data and the automation system
or asset management systems. Wireless field devices are
often widely and remotely distributed throughout a plant,
across roads and canals, or on mobile platforms like railcars,
barges or trucks where traditional wired data collection is
not feasible. The WirelessHART field devices collect the
process data and the wireless plant infrastructure provides
the means to transmit and integrate the measured data with
the process control system.
Wireless plant network (WPN) – Based on IEEE 802.11
standards, WPN use mesh WiFi technology to build costeffective outdoor wireless networks for plant operations.
The WPN is designed to provide a secure, high-bandwidth,
reliable and scalable way to access fixed and mobile applications, such as process data monitoring, asset tracking, video
surveillance, voice communication, etc. Typically, a wireless
plant infrastructure is constructed from mesh access points,
a LAN controller and network management software.
Security is a crucial factor to consider when considering a WPN. Fortunately, highly secure WPN technology is
available for industrial applications. To prevent wireless
eavesdropping and other external attacks, all data transmissions are robustly encrypted with provision for user
authentication. Security standards and protocols include
802.11i, WPA2 and AES.
Reliability is the other important requirement for a
WPN. An intelligent routing protocol creates and maintains the wireless mesh, providing network self-healing,
resistance to interference and resilience against network
outages. A remote access point determines the best route
connectivity within the mesh, mitigates RF interference
and ensures high network capacity.
Questions/answers
Just what can wireless do? Wireless devices can be
installed quickly and easily where wired devices cannot,
such as in hard to reach locations, areas hazardous to plant
personnel, where power does not exist and where running
wires is not allowed. The retrieved data will enable mineral
processors to respond to equipment problems immediately
and even predict when problems will occur in order to
avoid unexpected shutdowns. Improved understanding of
the process and greater plant availability will come with
this. The ultimate benefit is a combination of lower costs
and increased productivity.
Wireless technology makes it easier to put people in
touch with the information they need to do their jobs more
effectively. For example, workers can access desktop applications and perform tasks wherever they happen to be.
Personnel and physical assets can be tracked continuously
within the plant area. Security systems ensure authorized
plant access and video systems not only patrol the fence line,
but keep an eye on the process. Wireless technology does all
this — easily and cost-effectively – to give personnel better
knowledge of what is happening in their operations.
Can you depend on the data? The reliability of any
wireless system depends on getting the message through,
even if a device fails or a line-of-sight path is blocked.
Unlike point-to-point wireless systems, the mesh approach affords many different pathways for transmissions
to reach the gateway (or receiver), which channels the
communications to a control system or other appropriate
location in the plant. This redundancy yields a high level
of communication reliability no matter what permanent or
temporary obstacles may exist between the transmitting
devices and the gateway. In fact, self-organizing wireless
mesh networks routinely achieve greater than 99 percent
communications reliability.
Can wireless devices withstand the rigors of mines and
mineral processing? Emerson’s wireless devices are operating successfully in controlling oil sands slurries in northern
Canada — one of the harshest environments on earth. They
are also being used to monitor heating elements of a seaside
bitumen pipeline used for ship unloading in Australia. And
they are able to withstand the heat and humidity of a steel
rolling mill in West Virginia. No matter the challenge, their
reliability rating remains higher than 99 percent.
Can wireless provide the flexibility required for mining
and mineral processing? Openness is one of the benefits
of the WirelessHART standard. So both suppliers and end
users can innovate and develop wireless products and applications that add value to an operation. Useful applications
can be developed when mineral processors work with their
instrument suppliers to solve difficult challenges.
WFN applications
Wireless field devices are used today in two main application areas:
• New, must-have measurements.
• Want-to-have measurements.
New, must-have measurements are normally the result
of laws passed for environmental or safety reasons. Compliance requires measuring flows, levels in storage tanks and
the quality of effluents in remote areas. The lawmakers do
not care about the challenges that come with the laws, only
about the compliance with the law.
For example, a refinery in Alabama must monitor the
temperature of cooling water returned to the nearby river.
A single Rosemount wireless transmitter monitors the
return flow to assure compliance with state regulations
and communicates a continuous stream of data to a Smart
Wireless Gateway that connects to the distributed control
system.
Want-to-have measurements are those that could not
previously be cost-justified. Generally, when process plants
are built, a number of proposed measurement points are not
wired, usually due to the cost. Later, operating personnel
find more parameters they would like to measure continu-
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ously to improve plant performance. The inherently low
WPN applications
cost of installing wireless devices is making it possible to
With wireless plant networks, mobile personnel will
obtain needed information from more of these points.
be able to stay connected to the systems and applications
Frequently, remote measurements are fed into onthey need to be efficient and effective. For example,
the-spot chart recorders or data loggers, and technicians
mobile worker applications will enable field operators
periodically make time-consuming “clipboard rounds” to
and maintenance personnel to use ruggedized or classigather the data. This was the case at one mineral processor,
fied PCs or PDAs to wirelessly access process data and
where heat exchangers used to heat digestion slurries had
business applications throughout the site. Field personnel
to be monitored for signs of restrictions due to internal
can follow real-time work instructions to perform operascale build-up. However, the sampling rate was so slow the
tions, use process data or asset data for troubleshooting,
data logger did not capture spikes or establish a meandocument work status, or collect material and equipment
ingful trend. Since wireless pressure transmitters were
bar code information. This can improve plant worker proinstalled to continuously
ductivity and efficiency,
measure the DP across Smart Wireless devices are easier and less costly to install than especially since operator
four digestion slurry wired instruments in remote areas and hard-to-reach locations. presence in the field is so
heater sets and transmit They transmit data and diagnostics reliably regardless of the
common in mining.
that data to an Emerson density of the surrounding infrastructure.
Smart Wireless Gateway,
Location tracking.
no failures have occurred.
Location tracking inteDespite torrential rains
grates multiple visibility
and poor weather contechnologies, using standitions in this area, this
dard WiFi infrastructure
network has proven 100
and advanced location
percent reliable.
engines to track people
Another typical wantand assets in plants. This
to-have measurement
application improves
involves the continuous
personnel safety, envibration monitoring
hances plant security
of rotating equipment
and optimizes the use of
where periodic “route
critical assets in harsh
checks” have been the
environments. If an
only means of gatheremergency evacuation is
ing data for analytical
ordered, personnel gathpurposes. New wireless
ered at mustering stavibration monitors are
tions are automatically
making it possible to
identified and recorded
keep a closer watch on
by wireless tracking. This
a range of remotely operating motors and pumps. This is
same application can provide information on field personexpected to become a prime application area for wireless
nel moving in and out of hazardous or restricted areas.
in the mining industry.
Emerson’s Location Tracking System is designed to
Wireless valve position monitoring also makes sense
work in harsh environments, using a standard mesh WiFi
for mineral processors because so many benefits are to
network as the backhaul to transfer location data in real
be gained. Many operations today have “blind valves”
time. Location receivers, exciters and active RFID tags
that are either manual or semi-automated, providing
work together to accurately monitor the location of peono diagnostic feedback at all. In most cases, cost and/or
ple and assets in mining operations. WiFi, ultra-wide band,
location dictated against enabling these valves to give
GPS, choke-point and RFID technologies are integrated
feedback. Device diagnostics are important since incorin a single network infrastructure. Time spent looking for
rectly positioned valves represent a significant cause of
assets can be reduced, minimizing production disruptions
safety-related incidents.
and delays during major turnarounds, emergencies and
Another reason for giving control valves the comnew construction projects.
munications power of wireless is to obtain performance
Using wireless technology, mission-critical video feeds
information. It is basically impossible to look inside an
can be delivered to the control room, office buildings
operating control valve to determine how well it is actuand other areas in a flexible way that is not possible with
ally performing. For example, valve deviation from the
a wired plant. A wireless, high-data-throughput video
desired position cannot be determined externally. Yet, a
system can be deployed faster and with less complexity
deviation in excess of five percent for five seconds could
to patrol the fence line, or cost-effectively monitor the
be an indication of trouble that can only be detected by a
process.
smart digital valve controller – or tearing down the valve.
Voiceover wireless LAN (VoWLAN) is intended to
For valves in remote or inaccessible areas, wireless
support mobile voice communications over the WPN inis the best and least expensive means of communicating
frastructure. Internet protocol (IP) phones in a VoWLAN
the problems that can cause slow response times and
system operate like cell phones, except that calls made
reduced process efficiency. With up to 90 percent savings
over a wireless plant network use voiceover Internet
over a wired installation, wireless applications are now a
protocol (VoIP).
lot more attractive.
VoWLAN affords greater mobility to field personnel
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and helps workers to be more responsive to work orders
and emergencies. Immediate communication among
managers, supervisors and operators improves coordination during startups and shutdowns, and the time saved
reduces downtime during daily operations. VoIP phones
keep field personnel connected all of the time. In case of
emergency, requests for help are immediate and rescue
teams receive real-time information.
VoWLAN leverages an existing WPN infrastructure,
providing voice and data services – with no monthly
charges. The cost of ownership is lower than other communication options.
Goals/results
Reliability, low installed cost and industrial grade
security based on established standards lead the list of
mining industry requirements for wireless. Their goals
are in tune with other industrial processors, i.e. reduced
costs, improved efficiency for greater productivity and less
unplanned downtime. Specific benefits will be:
•
•
•
•
More and better data from inaccessible points.
Faster response to equipment problems.
Improved understanding of the process.
Lower installed costs by eliminating wire and
cable.
• Reduced maintenance costs.
• Flexibility in response to change.
In the final analysis, quality, throughput and availability go up while costs for operations and maintenance,
safety, health and the environment go down through the
application of wireless technology.
Getting started
Most major instrument suppliers are supporters of the
WirelessHART standard and can be of service to mineral
processors in initiating wireless applications. Emerson is
currently the only major automation system supplier shipping standard wireless products for integration with control systems. This includes not only Smart Wireless field
devices, but the Smart Wireless Gateway, which receives
transmissions from up to 99 transmitters and integrates
that data with automation systems. In addition, the AMS
Suite predictive maintenance software gives plant personnel an easy way to manage assets using device diagnostics
to determine when and if maintenance is required.
To enable potential users to gain experience without
large expenditures for infrastructure or components,
Emerson offers a SmartPack startup kit consisting of
a selection of wireless transmitters, a Smart Wireless
Gateway and instructions on configuring a self-organizing
wireless mesh network. This is all that is needed to create
a functional wireless network. n
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