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Xstrata deploys Simsmart VOD system

March 1, 2012
by Scott Haddow
In: Technology with 0 Comments


Simsmart Technologies Inc. president Michel Massé couldn’t have asked for a better testimonial on the company’s first venture into the mining industry.
For more than 25 years, Simsmart, located in Quebec, has developed software solutions and provided engineering services for 15 navies worldwide. The technology is used to plan, model and control the distribution of liquids, gas, heating, ventilation and air conditioning.In 2007, Simsmart adapted its expertise to the mining industry after being asked by Xstrata Nickel to help improve working conditions and bring down operating costs at its Nickel Rim South Mine in Sudbury.The engagement gave birth to the company’s SmartEXEC (Smart Expandable Energy Control) ventilation-on-demandsystem, which has been operating at Nickel Rim since March 2011.It was a major leap of faith for Simsmart and one that needed instant results.Xstrata Nickel has given the system two thumbs up and produced a YouTube video describing the positive impact it has had on their operation.

“Until a few years ago, our line of business was military and we took on the challenge of going into the mining industry,” Massé said. “The product for the mining industry is derived from our military products. We adapted the strategies to mining and a new product evolved. It is giving fantastic results and it is catching on quickly. Day after day, savings are increasing. I couldn’t have asked for a better endorsement than the video Xstrata made. It says it all. We never knew they were doing it. It is impressive.”

The ventilation-on-demand system operating at Nickel Rim showcases Simsmart’s understanding of how vital ventilation is to a mine. It controls five surface fans, 119 auxiliary fans and 17 airflow regulators. The system is flexible and expandable. It optimizes air distribution on 13 levels. It provides event and schedule-based control for all fans and regulators and is linked to a mine-wide tagging and tracking system. Every minute, the system moves 1.5-million cubic feet of air. It can sense workers and machinery in an area and deliver the proper amount of ventilation required to meet the demand. It can quickly clear a blast area of gases.

In areas where physical airflow measurement is not practically possible, the air can be optionally controlled via ventilation modeling by predicting how much air is needed. The physical airflow measurement and model-based control are synchronized.

“It puts the right amount of air at the right place and the right time and does it efficiently,” said Nickel Rim mine operations technology leader Erik Bartsch. “It is something everyone here is excited about.”

The new system is making an impact in a number of key ways.

“We’re saving 10,500-megawatts a year and that is half of where we will end up. We will get at least twice that once we start optimizing the use of our service fans,” Bartsch said. “Another benefit is it has helped reduce our natural gas consumption. In November/December 2011, the system accounted for nine per cent savings in our natural gas consumption. And it is only the beginning of the savings. It has a big effect on our CO2 emissions and will help us reach our reduction targets. It’s about mining more efficiently, our impact on the environment and providing better working conditions. It’s win-win for us.”

The system has five implementation levels. Level 1 is manual control of everything from a central or remote location. Level 2 defines events that set how the system is run, such as what fans will run at what speed and when they run. Level 3 is pre-set flow control set by an operator or an event. Level 4 is the same as Level 3, but the flow is determined by location of personnel and/or machinery and machinery operating status. Level 5 is the optimization of the surface fan speed and air distribution throughout the mine.

“All five levels have been tested and meet Xstrata’s requirements,” Massé said. “Our system is second to none.”

The technology has been welcomed by Xstrata staff.

“I like the control it gives us,” said Nickel Rim mine systems engineer Ed McLaren. “This mine is limited in the amount of ventilation we get underground. We needed a system to get air where it is needed. This system allows us to do that.”

Xstrata is delighted with big cost savings on power consumption.

“It’s a good example of a bold approach,” said Nickel Rim mine director Peter Xavier. “We’re bringing mining to the next level. Electricity is a growing cost concern and ventilation is a big part of it. Ventilation systems of the past were very rigid. Having flexibility to put air where we need it and when we need it is an advantage.”

Simsmart is tackling the mining market with vigour.

“It has become our passion,” Massé said. “We can do a lot for the mining industry. The potential for growth for us is immense. Theoretically, every underground mine in the world needs this system at some capacity. There are other areas we know the technology has potential in, but right now we’re focused on mining.”

SmartEXEC is also currently operating at Claude Resources’ Santoy 8 Mine in Saskatchewan. The system is also ready to be installed and put into operation at Xstrata’s Raglan operation in Northern Quebec and Vale’s Totten Mine in Sudbury.


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