Industry Q&A: Ampcontrol Discuss Smart Mining and Fostering Innovation
Ampcontrol is an excellent example of an Australian METS success story. Starting from humble beginnings in a small shed in Newcastle in 1968, their 50 years in operation have been characterised by technological firsts, growth, global reach and a solid foundation of innovation.
Ampcontrol will be a lead sponsor at the upcoming Austmine BHP Smart Mining Networking Event in Newcastle on 18 October. Ahead of this event, we caught up with their CTO Tim Wylie to discuss what ‘smart mining’ means to them, how to foster an innovative culture and what the keys to Ampcontrol’s success have been along the journey.
1. Innovation is a common term in the mining and METS vocabulary now, but what does an innovative business look like?
Creativity, invention and innovation are often considered to mean similar things, but they are in fact markedly different. Individuals can be creative, individuals can be inventive, but true innovation requires an integrated team. That is because innovation takes a novel idea and blends it with commercial reality to make a product, service or system that solves a customer problem in a unique way. To do that, an innovative business needs access to all of the resources to not only identify an alternate or novel solution to a problem, but the ability to design, manufacture, deliver and ultimately support that solution in the field – that requires scale, geographic diversity and a vertically integrated team.
2. What does the term ‘smart mining’ mean to you? How is this delivered in practice?
“Smart mining” is about taking the data most operations already have access to, and turning that data into useful information. Data for the sake of taking data and recording it is wasted effort – data is only useful once distilled into information that allows or enhances the process of decision making or initiating an action. Most mines already have access to a wealth of data, but don’t distil that data into a useful form. We have a couple of practical examples which I’ll show briefly in a presentation at the smart mining event around video analytics.
Human viewable video is extremely data intensive, but relatively useless as an input to a control system as it is information poor. We’ve done a number of analytic overlays for real time video feeds that are able to detect and quantify ore spills (as one example) at a loadout facility or conveyor transfer. The analytic overlay distils the data intensive video feed into a simple signal (so the information) a traditional scada system can then use.
3. Ampcontrol were recently recognised at the Hunter Business Awards for Excellence in Business. How have you been able to maintain success and continue to improve the business along the journey?
Ampcontrol maintain a number of high level documents that are key to annual budgeting, entity business plans and longer term strategic objectives of the Ampcontrol Group. Those documents are reviewed and updated on a routine cycle and guide all longer term investments around R&D, capital expenditure, diversification and acquisitions. The process of structured planning and re-vectoring as market conditions change is key to maintaining more optimal outcomes and overall success. We don’t set out to win an award for excellence, it comes as a consequence of those planning outcomes.
4. Safety is rightfully the top priority in the mining industry. How is this managed for power generation and electricity distribution in the complex underground mining environment?
In reality, requirements and necessary outcomes for the safe provision of electrical power underground are no different to surface applications. What’s different is the relative weighting of particular risks and how the necessary outcomes are achieved in the unique constraints of an underground environment. For example, the need to control touch potential to reduce electrocution risk under fault conditions is no different above or below ground.
However, the difficulties around earthing in an environment where the electrical infrastructure is moved regularly means techniques routinely deployed in surface applications do not result in risk outcomes as low as reasonably practical in an underground environment. Similarly, underground electrical techniques deployed in metalliferous mines, are often not immediately suitable for deployment in Group 1 hazardous area (coal) mines. Ampcontrol and the underground mining industry generally has evolved techniques and specific electrical protection products that achieve the same safety outcomes as required for a surface application within the risk profile and environmental constraints underground.
5. Ampcontrol boast a number of technological firsts in the mining industry. Can you delve into some of these innovations? What is your technology focus moving forward?
Ampcontrol has a proud history of engineering innovation and we’ve been lucky enough to have many of our achievements independently recognised. Our 11kV longwall solution, our emergency response mobile substations and the technology around management of earth leakage current associated with variable speed drives on underground networks are all projects that won engineering excellence awards from Engineers Australia. We’ve recently delivered Australias highest power Group 1 zone 1 variable speed drive project, and have a new suite of products targeted specifically to underground metalliferous power distribution applications. We have new development projects in remote area power centred on
renewables and have recently been awarded an ARENA grant to commercialise an innovative solution for water and waste water applications.
6. Is there anything else you would like to add?
Myself and a number of colleagues will be attending the Austmine Smart Mining Event in Newcastle and am looking forward to the main presentation and learning about smart applications implemented by others.
For more information on innovation and what it means to Ampcontrol, view their video below.