Mining Case Study: Receiving the right date removes the guess work

Los Pelambres mine.

Los Pelambres mine.

At Los Pelambres, a copper mine located in Salamanca, Chile and owned in part by Antofagasta Minerals 55 Komatsu mining trucks transport more than 365,000 tons of copper through 50 square kilometers of uneven terrain. In an effort to maximize asset utilization, the mine adopted a fast refueling system to reduce refueling time from 25 to about 5 minutes. Unfortunately, the rupture of the factory-installed fuel sensors due to pressure offset the intended goal. Without a working fuel sensor, drivers had to guess when it was the right time to refuel and could only estimate how much fuel actually needed to be added back into the tank.

Guessing rarely paid off. Drivers sometimes went too long before refueling. This led to air leaking into the empty tank. This repair added five additional hours to the refueling process as air would need to first be removed. Moreover, when the tanks were filled, maximum capacity was hit only 0.6% of the time, which ended up significantly increasing the number of refueling stops.  Because no one could optimize the refueling schedule, drivers often travelled to the same refueling center at the same time causing long lines and delays.

Los Pelambre mine's challenges include transporting more than 365,000 tons of copper is every year through 50 square kilometers of uneven terrain. 

These issues and the ensuing consequences not only negated the intended benefits of adopting the new refueling method; they actually increased down time and negatively impacted revenue at the mining site.

To address the issues created by the fast refueling system, Los Pelambres invited several companies to submit proposals to solve multiple issues. The solution chosen would need to equip the trucks with a ruggedized fuel sensor that would withstand the pressure from the fast refueling system and have the capability to relay fuel level and truck location data back to a centralized application over cellular or satellite depending on network availability to ensure uninterrupted connectivity. In addition, the solution would require an application with a user-friendly graphical interface that displayed the position of trucks and tank levels in real-time. The application would also need to allow the control center to monitor alarms based on user-defined thresholds.

Los Pelambres chose the solution developed by Tarco LTDA, a Chilean integrator that specializes in developing custom tracking and monitoring solutions for the mining industry. The PCR 1000—Tarco’s state-of-the-art remote fuel monitoring system—constantly monitors tank levels and transmits tank-level data as well as other vehicle telematics data back to a centralized application in real-time using ORBCOMM’s SkyWave IDP-782 terminal.  Since mining trucks operate in remote areas, satellite connectivity is a must to ensure the timely and consistent delivery of data.  The SkyWave IDP-782 transmits data over the cellular network when available and automatically switches to the IsatData Pro satellite data service when cellular is down for uninterrupted connectivity. The ruggedized, fuel monitoring system is capable of withstanding extreme environmental conditions, including heat, cold, water, dust, altitude and vibration.

To solve the refueling issues, ORBCOMM’s SkyWave IDP-782 dual-mode terminal continuously collects, processes and transmits data from the truck’s fuel sensor. When it comes to managing alarms, the terminal is programmed to identify user-defined thresholds and send only relevant information over the air to minimize data transmission costs. The PCR 1000 remote fuel monitoring system gives the control center complete visibility into refueling operations and an easy to use interface that displays truck location and tank level in real-time.

With data received from the SkyWave IDP-782, the control center’s operator is able to leverage the application to easily identify trucks with 10% fill levels and quickly dispatch the driver to the most efficient refueling center. Historical data and advanced reports are also available to help operators identify fuel consumption patterns and implement more efficient refueling practices.

The PCR 1000 remote fuel level monitoring system has had a sizable effect on the mining operations. For example, the number of stops per month has been reduced by 10 for each truck. This adds approximately four additional hours of work time over the same period. With this additional time, trucks process an additional 4,000 tons of copper. All of this impacts the company’s bottom line.

Los Pelambres’ centralized approach to the refueling process provides greater visibility into the trucks, improves efficiencies and maximizes profitability. According to Pablo Gonzalez, EDT Manager Product Support Group for Komatsu South America, the PCR 1000 is a viable alternative for managing the refueling process as it seamlessly attaches to the trucks’ tanks without posing any risks or limitations to their operation.

Furthermore, the vehicle telematics data collected and transmitted via the SkyWave IDP-782 provides a way to streamline service scheduling and support preventative maintenance practices. This helps prolong the life of the vehicle by reducing wear and tear and ultimately translates into operational savings.

The solution also supplies valuable data for asset utilization. Upon analysis, mine operators were able to identify that the same amount of minerals could be processed with fewer trucks. And, because operational costs are quite high for each truck, this provided a way to improve the company’s bottom line.