Miner in Western Australia accelerates data access

Tiwast is the world's largest integrated titanium minerals production and processing company, with six sites in Western Australia.

One of those sites is a mine in Cooljarloo, 170 kilometres north of Perth, where the company uses two dredges in a purpose-built pond to pump slurried ore at a rate of 2,200 tonnes per hour to a floating concentrator.

To collect data from the three servers that are located on the dredges and the concentrator, the company relied on an in-built corporate historian and archived old files to a corporate file service. As Lee Albert, IS Project Leader explained, finding and viewing historical data was difficult and time-intensive.

"To query five years of history, an engineer would have to go on the corporate network and read through long file names to find each and every archive that spanned that time period. Then the engineer would have to transfer all those files to a specific location back on the server, and use the server software to view the information," said Albert.

Often, the engineers could not navigate the IT infrastructure well enough to access the data themselves, and their requests for assistance sometimes went unmet because the data could not be found.

The searches had to be conducted on one of the dredges in the middle of the pond, and they had to do so using the same software that was responsible for plant operations.

"You have to understand the data is travelling slowly out there," said Albert, "and when you use the same software that's controlling the plant, it can give a performance hit on the server."

The company clearly needed a better way to store and access its historical data, and the solution needed to fit the company's tight budget restrictions. When Albert and the team sought out a better solution, costs were a primary concern — including the upfront cost as well as ongoing costs related to maintenance and training.

"We looked at several products, it was important to us to solve our problems but not to overspend on capital if it wasn't necessary," said Albert.

"We felt like the MatrikonOPC solution gave us the best bang for our buck. It was affordable, and it was easy enough for a relative novice like myself to set it up and get it working."

OPC Hub and Spoke ensures data from each remote location gets delivered to a central database repository despite unreliable network connections.In just months, Tiwest fully implemented OPC Hub and Spoke (pictured alomgside), a solution designed to reliably transfer process and business data from remote locations to a central repository.

At the mine, a Buffer collects data in real time from the three servers that are located on the two dredges and the concentrator.

That data is sent to the central hub, where the Desktop Historian collects the data. Tunneller supports communication between the networked computers and eliminates the headaches associated with DCOM.
Securely and reliably moving the data off the pond to a central location was an important part of the solution.

"The majority of the people who are interested in the history actually aren't down there on the dredge pond," said Albert. "They're up here in the administration building, and now the data is close to them and doesn't have to travel over a wireless link to get to them."

Network outages can be a concern, so Albert worked with MatrikonOPC to design a solution in which the Desktop Historian actually requests and pulls the data from the buffers. Because Albert is familiar with OPC, she said implementing the solution was "like taking candy from a baby."

For the engineers who used to turn to Albert for help completing their searches, the new solution enables faster, self-service queries that may help them identify issues and trends before they lead to large-scale breakdowns. With Excel Reporter, engineers can also access and view the data in a familiar, user-friendly format. 

Albert said, "The research used to take us hours, but now our engineers can just go in, pull the data they want from Excel, put in the time period they're interested in, and it's all done. It's fast, it's simple, and it has made things a lot easier for us."

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