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Automatic benefits

An import terminal has transformed the management of its stockyard in

Wollongong, Australia, with the help of FLSmidth. Carly Leonida investigates

Carly Leonida

19 Mar 2015


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Autonomous operation has transformed the management of the Wollongong stockyard

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TOPICS (select for more information):

bulk handling BulkExpert ports Stacker-reclaimer stockyardIron oreAustraliaFLSmidth

The client approached FLSmidth in 2011 with a view to improving the efficiency of
its primary yard and reducing its operating costs. Following a thorough feasibility
study and several years during which the company assessed a number of different
automation systems, FLSmidth was awarded the contract to bring the facility and its
1970s equipment into the 21st century.
The berth operation at the stockyard unloads mainly cape-size vessels (typical
loads are around 140,000t of iron ore and additives). Depending on the ore quality,
the material is stacked at either the primary yard or the secondary yard. The
secondary yard, which is used mainly for the blending and sorting of ore, is
operated with a conventional automation system and contains approximately
200,000t per bed (it has two beds). The average bed turnaround time is 7-10 days.
Unloading to the secondary yard limits the offloading operation and thus increases
the time the ship has to spend at the berth, so the client was keen to optimise the
operation of its primary yard. In addition, when the secondary yard is full, any
additional material must be stacked at the primary yard, so it was important that the
company had sufficient space and an accurate inventory to accommodate this.
Ole Knudsen, product manager for FLSmidth BulkExpert, explained: We received
the order in January 2014. The client was having difficulty utilising the yard to its full
potential. The facility is relatively small and there are lots of different materials
stored there.
The yard operates two ThyssenKrupp bucket-wheel stacker reclaimers, which were
originally commissioned in the 1970s, and three grab unloaders, the first two of
which were installed in the early 1970s and the third unit in the 1980s.

The machines run for 6-8 hours each day, Knudsen said. The client was primarily
looking for greater efficiency, not greater throughput.
First things first, the stacker reclaimer control systems needed upgrading to
accommodate the new automation package. Each machine was operating the
same way it had since the 1970s when the equipment was installed; everything
was done manually with electrical relay controls, there was no conventional PLC
control system, said Knudsen.
The client converted the machines from relay controls to a Rockwell L73 safety
PLC in early 2014, ready for full automation using FLSmidths BulkExpert
system in November 2014.

Enter BulkExpert
The BulkExpert system was delivered in July and was operational by October, with
final system tests and acceptance complete by mid-November. We had three
people on site supervising the installation and commissioning, said Knudsen, The
client did a lot of the installation work themselves.
The system, which scooped the Mining Magazine 2013 Bulk Handling award,
comprises a 3-D laser scanner mounted on the apex of each stacker reclaimer, and
two high-precision RTK GPS sensors on each machine one on the boom tip and
one on top of the machine. These provide the machines co-ordinates with an
accuracy of 1-2 centimetres. The three unloaders were also fitted with GPS
Using the 3-D scanner and GPS positions it is possible to create a complete
surface profile of the stockyard in a local co-ordinate system. That tells us exactly
where all the materials are with a resolution of around 10cm for the entire
stockyard. We also know where each machine is, based on the GPS co-ordinates,
Knudsen added. The system is scalable, so the customer can expand the
stockyard in the future.
The BulkExpert unmanned control system uses the surface profile data to identify
the stockpiles when executing new orders. This reduces collision problems and
greatly speeds up the pile approach time, since the material location is already
known, even if external work has been done using front-end loaders and dozers.

Immediate results

Since commissioning, the system has been running very smoothly. The feedback
we have from the client is that they are very happy, commented Knudsen. The
system allows them to run simulations before they execute each move. For
example, if they want to unload 30,000t from a ship, they can run a simulation
beforehand. The operator can look at the 3-D map and see exactly how the
machine would place the material prior to hitting execute.
In practical terms, it means that operations can be planned several days in
advance and blends can be optimised before orders are executed. It makes it very
easy for the operational team to plan what goes in/out of the stockyard.
The company expects to see a return on investment in just two years and has also
seen a number of secondary benefits. By automating the machines, operators are
removed from the vicinity of the machine and placed safely in a control room. Even
though precautions are taken to protect operators on machines, mistakes do occur
and things can go wrong, said Knudsen. If an incident does occur, the entire
stockyard must be shut down for half a day while an investigation takes place, so
removing operators from the machines was very important.
Because we also provided GPS collection systems for the unloaders, there were
safety benefits between the unloaders, which are running on the same rails, and
from the unloaders to the stacker reclaimers, Knudsen added. We didnt automate
the unloaders, but when you automate the rest of the stockyard, you need to make
sure the machines dont run into each other when operating.
Thanks to faster ship-unloading times, the company has also seen its throughput
almost double from 10,000t/d to 19,000t/d. Speeding up production has created
more time for equipment maintenance as the same amount of work can be done in
a shorter timeframe, and if problems do occur when unloading a ship, there is
ample time to correct them before incurring demurrage fees.
When no ship is at the berth, the reclaimers move material from the primary to the
secondary yard. Nominal reclaim rates prior to the BulkExpert installation were 1012,000t/24h and following the installation this increased to 18-20,000t/24h.
Another benefit is that the solution allows the client to better control the mix of ore
being reclaimed from the stockyard, because it can operate two reclaimers on the
same conveyor. For example, if SR1 is reclaiming from stockpile A, which is a lowgrade material, and SR2 is reclaiming from stockpile B, which is high grade, then

the client can enter a ratio control to make sure the optimum mix is achieved. They
dont need to do as much mixing downstream, added Knudsen.
He explained that the whole management of the stockyard has changed. They
used to walk around and decide where to place material, and problems could arise
if the material started being placed and then they discovered there was not enough
room. Now all of this can be down virtually before the material arrives. Management
dont need to be as involved with the operation of the stockyard as before. They
dont have to follow it on a daily basis; they can actually enjoy their weekends now!
Knudsen concludes.

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