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Power quality in mining productivity

The mining sector is fundamental to the growth of the global economy. For every job created in mining, a further two to five are created in other sectors.

|Jul 24|magazine9 min read

The mining sector is fundamental to the growth of the global economy. For example, the International Council on Mining and Metals (ICMM) predicts that for every job created in mining, a further two to five are created in other sectors. As many economies and jobs depend of this industry, engineers should consider how to remove any risks to productivity. Here Juan Chavez, vice president of surge protection specialist Energy Control Systems, explores the role of power quality in mining productivity.

Most mines across the world are located in areas with harsh climates and engineers must operate in inhospitable conditions — from heavy rain and storms to high temperatures and drought. Engineers adapt processes to avoid disruption to operations and continue to provide resources and economic support. Mines often introduce more advanced technology to the site to increase this uptime. However, more equipment on site means more opportunities for breakdowns that can jeopardise productivity.

Electrical protection

Every process in mining, from drilling and excavation to transportation and processing requires a complex network of electrical equipment. Whether it’s shuttle lines transporting the extracted materials, motors and variable speed drives or the lighting, heating and ventilation systems, there are a variety of electrical loads in operation. As well as this vital equipment, plant managers are introducing safety systems, control systems, devices that increase connectivity and more to increase efficiency. 

To protect this equipment, most maintenance engineers rely on devices such as surge protection devices (SPDs), lightning protection equipment and harmonic filters that address common power issues. However, we believe that these devices do not have the capability to protect from every power quality issue that could be causing downtime in a facility. 

Small but mighty

Poor power quality is one of the main causes of costly downtime that engineers must prevent by investing in surge protection. Poor electrical grid infrastructure can cause issues such as intermittent supply or blackouts that interrupt the flow of electricity travelling to the facility. Mineral mines are also located far from cities and at high altitudes, such as those in the Andes in South America, increasing the likelihood of power fluctuations impacting supply.

However, engineers often approach us because downtime still occurs after installing SPDs. That’s because traditional surge protection systems will only detect voltage spikes that exceed the highest and lowest parts of the sine wave. Once detected, the system will eliminate the excess voltage, leaving residual transients that can still damage equipment. 

One short, transient surge will often go unnoticed and will not lead to downtime. Yet, regular false-zero crossings from transient surges will cause microprocessors to trigger prematurely. Over time, this leads to software confusion and engineers will begin to see reductions in performance of computers, control systems and other sensitive equipment. 

Until recently, these transient events were not a concern, because older microprocessors ran at very slow speeds. However, microprocessors found in sensitive equipment now run at gigahertz speeds on millivolt chips, so the smallest disturbances will eventually damage computer chips, leading to potential data losses and lapses in productivity. 

How SineTamer helps

We developed SineTamer to help eliminate false zero crossings and voltage spikes that traditional equipment cannot detect. SineTamer protects from all forms of transient events more accurately by following the curve of the sine wave. The units then eliminate any fluctuations to fundamental frequency that could impact microprocessors.

Mining continues to be essential to employment and economic growth across the world, so, engineers must do all that they can to maintain productivity. Preparing for unpredictable and harsh weather conditions is vital to keeping the industry running, but engineers should also look inside the facility. While regular transient surges may seem small compared with a storm or flood, if inappropriately managed, they could be the cause of significant disruption and damage.

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