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Mining industry: real benefits from simulators

The power, oil & gas, and chemical processing industries have been using real time dynamic process simulation for decades and now the minerals processing industry can follow suit.

Process simulators are by no means a new product on the market but considering the recent developments in simulator technology, especially in control systems, they might as well be. The capital cost of developing a process simulator is now lower than ever before and this is widening the market potential for what used to be a specialised and expensive product.

Process simulation has come a long way since the advent of modern computer technology. It is now possible to develop incredibly accurate, real time dynamic models of virtually any process.

Not only has computing power increased to the point where hi-fidelity simulation models can run in real time, but they can now do so on nothing more than the average PC. These developments have revolutionised the process simulation industry by vastly reducing the capital and running costs of a simulator.

At the same time, process control software has been going through its own quiet revolution. Over the past ten years, the concept of a virtual controller has been developed to reduce reliance on dedicated controller hardware.

The most important feature of a virtual controller is that it runs exactly the same software package as the real plant system and uses exactly the same configuration. This allows the virtual controller configuration to be transferred to the real plant without modification, making the virtual controller the perfect test environment for the control system.

When the virtual control system is connected to a hi-fidelity process model it becomes a virtual plant (see diagram below), which is ideal for developing the control system and for training operators — an important advantage as more and more experienced staff reach retirement age and leave the workforce.

To the eyes of the operator, the control system appears to be totally identical to the real plant with operations and alarm events requiring identical attention, making it a very useful training tool.

Another significant benefit of utilising a virtualised control system with a process simulator is in the development and design of the control system. The simulator can provide such a realistic representation of the plant that the control system is not only tested on the simulator, it is commissioned on the simulator. Typically, after the simulator commissioning phase is complete, most of the work required on the control system software is simply fine tuning it to the real plant processes. This can reduce commissioning and start-up costs quite dramatically.

Overall, the addition of a real time dynamic simulator results in the plant control system being fully tested in both normal and abnormal operating conditions and plant operators can be trained in every aspect of the plant’s operation. These effects then flow on to a reduction in plant downtime and significant savings in operating costs. Plant design improvements can also be thoroughly test prior to implementation.

The minerals processing industry is now able to benefit from real time dynamic simulation. Yokogawa has been creating simulators for decades, through its TechComm and Omega Simulation subsidiaries.

In Australia, the focus has historically been on the power generation sector, but more recently a mineral processing simulator has been developed in conjunction with a NSW gold mining company. This tool has enormous potential to reduce operating costs and downtime, optimize processes and increase throughput.

• Will Hamilton

Yokogawa Simulations

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