Codelco is a state-owned Chilean conglomerate. It is the world’s single biggest copper producer, controlling about 20 percent of total global reserves. Codelco’s Chuquicamata Division, by 2012, still operated an open-pit mainly copper mine, one of the largest in the world of its kind. It is currently undergoing a relevant process of transformation. In 2019, a new phase started aiming to move the operation to underground output entirely.
The Stacked Mineral Treatment Plant (PTMP) area consists of two leaching grounds, measuring 1,200 meters by 400 meters. The mineral stacker operates assembling the new stack with the ore from the post-crushing stage. Simultaneously, the bucket wheel that extracts the material from the leached pile sends it through conveyor belts to the gravel area, to be finally deposited by the gravel stacker or spreader. The presence of people in the heap leach vicinity poses a significant risk to employees’ health. There are direct effects of the acid, such as burns and irritation on the respiratory tract caused by acid vapours, and indirect effects through accidents caused by moving structures.
Codelco’s goal was to reduce the risks to personnel’s health and safety while handling both the spreader and the bucket wheel of Chuquicamata and improve productivity.
- Design and implement a turnkey solution to make remote stacker and bucket wheel operations viable. The project had to be carried out while the machines were in operation. Therefore, the time restrictions for intervention were very significant.
- Design and deploy an innovative solution for the stacker’s teleoperation and the bucket wheel excavator of the Stacked Mineral Treatment Plant (PTMP), taking out workers from the machines’ direct operation. The entire system would be operated from the teleoperation centre, which had to be designed and built to relocate workers.
Development of a customized teleoperated operations centre to provide safety and quality of life to the personnel, taking out the operators from the stacker and bucket wheel excavator. The project includes:
- Remote operation consoles.
- Multiple cameras, a high-definition video system
- Wireless network for data transport that used both mobile machine structures to define topology and redundancy.
- Development and integration of remote control and security routines into the native control devices (PLC) of the machines.
The turnkey project redefined the control logic of the device. It involved constructing telecommunications networks with low latency, high availability, and a bandwidth capable of transporting multiple high-definition video signals. The hardware choice was consistent with demanding conditions like high solar radiation, gusts of wind and dust, and considerable thermal oscillation and acid atmosphere.
Furthermore, the stacker structure suffers significant vibrations during its operation, so devices had to include vibration resistant features and connectors. Finally, a special resistant corrosion epoxy paint was applied in mounting supports, and all connections had to be sealed.
- When the project was completed by November 2012, these Chuquicamata systems became the first teleoperated machines of their kind in the world: a milestone in the global mining industry.
The customized project of the teleoperated bucket wheel and stacker helped to change many operational and cultural paradigms. It improved radically both safety and productivity, gaining rapid adoption and praise from all the people directly involved.