Power distribution networks at mining sites present multifaceted challenges, with safety during operation, equipment reliability, and sustainability being top concerns. Warren Utteridge, a seasoned professional with over 35 years of experience in electrification and Sales Manager for Mining - Electrification at ABB Australia, underscores the importance of safety in the sector.
"Safety is our utmost priority in this industry," emphasises Utteridge. "In medium voltage substation environments, the meticulous planning of substation layouts with the correct application of switchgear is essential to managing risk. As is the training of personnel in switchgear operation and maintenance procedures."
However, Warren acknowledges that achieving zero harm in Australian mining is still a work in progress. Recent incidents, such as an electric shock incident in a Northern Territory mine in September 2022 and five electric shock incidents reported by the New South Wales resources regulator in 2020, highlight the potential hazards posed by electrical equipment in mines.
"Until we eliminate injuries entirely, there is room for improvement in terms of risk control associated with switchgear in mines," he asserts. "There are solutions available that can mitigate these risks in the design, including products with passive safety features and the option to overlay active safety measures that create secure operation zones."
While achieving zero harm is the priority, Warren emphasises that reliability and sustainability are interconnected challenges. This because the condition of equipment can serve as a predictor for operational reliability and power availability, which will dictate maintenance schedules.
"While there is a focus on maximizing mine production output, condition monitoring is inextricably linked to safety by determining when and for how long maintenance personnel will engage with switchgear," he explains. "Remote operation and condition monitoring also contribute to keeping personnel out of harm's way."
Leveraging their 130 years of electrification experience in mining, ABB offers solutions to address these challenges. ABB's medium voltage switchgear and compact secondary kiosk substation solutions are engineered to protect operators and effectively manage overpressure, especially during internal arc faults.
"Although these events are rare, they can be extremely destructive and cause serious bodily harm to personnel," he explains. "The key is to interrupt the fault as soon as possible to maintain safety and limit potential equipment damage or downtime."
Utteridge highlights ABB REA arc detection units and the TVOC-2 arc guard system, which provide rapid trip signals to circuit breakers in 2.5 and 1 millisecond respectively. Moreover, ABB's Relion series offer protection relays by using light detection inputs, issuing trip signals in 7 to 10 milliseconds.
"These measures considerably improve operator safety and will minimise equipment downtime," he says. "The detection speeds are faster than traditional production relay output times, speeding up the interruption of current significantly."
Utteridge stresses the importance of collaboration among suppliers, mining customers, and stakeholders to ensure correct product selection and application for critical plant operations.
"The best outcome is achieved by using type-tested products that are correctly installed to maintain the safety of the type test certification and are validated from design to operation," he says. "The next step ABB promotes is familiarisation training around the operation and use of our products."
According to Utteridge, training for safety and reliability is all the more important in the face of a labour shortage and an increase of contract workers.
"Maintaining a level of experienced and trained personnel on site is a key challenge for mining organisations today," he says. "ABB take this responsibility seriously as a global manufacturer and local market supplier of electrification solutions. We can support the industry by providing training."
In addition to training, digitalisation plays a pivotal role in upholding safety and reliability, enabling the remote monitoring of switchgear. ABB's ZS1 air insulated switchgear can be equipped with the SWICOM condition monitoring system, converting real-time sensor data into diagnostic information. This proactive approach enables mine operators to plan inspections and maintenance optimally, reducing the risk of unplanned shutdowns.
"The ABB SWICOM condition monitoring system digitally communicates switchboard health, including compartment temperatures, partial discharge and circuit breaker condition in real time," he explains. "SWICOM provides data visualisation on local or cloud-based systems using IEC 61850 connections."
In terms of sustainability, ABB's digital switchgear solutions offer a reduced structural footprint for substations. By employing current and voltage sensors instead of conventional instrument transformers, weight reduction of approximately 20% can be achieved, translating to fewer materials used in manufacturing and construction.
Furthermore, digital switchgear enhances safety by incorporating remote functionality. Utteridge provides an example where ABB's ZS1 switchgear was supplied to a major Australian mining company, offering exceptional safety, sustainability, and reliability benefits.
"The ZS1 air-insulated switchgear solution we provided was fitted with remote circuit breaker racking, remote open and close of circuit breaker and motorised earth switches - all of which can be operated from a simple remote-control console," he explains. "Operation of the ZS1 switchgear is error-free due to the electrical, mechanical and digital interlocking. And the remote operation console is positioned safely outside of the high voltage substation room."
In conclusion, Warren emphasises ABB's commitment to partnering with miners to achieve zero harm and sustainability objectives. ABB offers comprehensive electrification solutions, from low voltage to medium voltage distribution levels, enabling safer and more reliable mining operations through connected digital solutions.
To explore ABB's medium voltage solutions in detail, please visit this website.