What copper-zinc mines in Peruvian Andes are doing to improve efficiency

Posted on October 18th, 2019 in BLOG

From its remote location in the Andes, new technologies are improving the operation’s efficiency and safety, all while increasing the bottom line for the company.

Located 4,300m above sea level in the Peruvian Andes, the Antamina copper-zinc mine is at the forefront of new technologies in the industry, facing challenges which are mirrored globally.

In addition to its core focus, additional minerals such as silver, lead and molybdenum are also produced, with the site upholding responsible mining procedures, including the highest standards in health, safety, social and environmental practices.

Operating Sustainably

For Rafael Estrada, Manager of Information Technology, Telecommunications and Process Control, Antamina Mining, the common challenges facing the industry globally are certainly relevant in South America: the continuous search for efficiency, cost reduction and productivity improvement.

Rafael said, “These objectives are especially important when we consider the particular nature of our deposit, which is of the skarn type and, therefore, the material we extract is highly variable, but at the same time very rich due to its high levels of mineral concentration.

“Hand-in-hand with these important operational objectives, we seek to sustain our environmental performance in conjunction with an adequate relationship with the communities in our area of influence, promoting sustainable development and respect for the environment.”

To meet these objectives, the Antamina team strive to deliver excellent work benefits, health services, communication and recreation facilities, all against the geographical challenges of the mine, with its altitude and remote location, some 200km from the nearest major city.

Incan Roots

Peru has been home to commercial copper mining since 1952, although the region’s mining activities date back to the Inca period, in around the 1400s.

It is known the Incas were advanced metallurgists, with remarkable workings in gold, silver, copper and other metals noted in the history books, both with utilitarian and decorative works.

Rafael said, “It is understood that in those years, mining veins were exploited by artisanal procedures.

“Today we have available various technologies that make viable operations that would be impossible with the procedures of a century ago.”

Current mineral processing technologies and analytical technologies enable large-scale, efficient mining with a diminishing environmental footprint, all while being socially responsible.

Latest Innovations

To keep pace with the worldwide mining market, Antamina utilises advanced systems for data acquisition, monitoring and automation.

These systems allow data to be received from various process variables, such as tonnage, volume, temperature, pressure, flow, operating states of equipment, valve opening and more.

This data is then analysed and visualised in the control stations, which allow operators to have an overview of the process they are responsible for, while also taking a broader summary of the total mine performance.

Rafael said, “As an example, in the concentrator plant, we recorded second-to-second the data of more than 30,000 variables, which in history represents more than 15 trillion pieces of data.

“For an efficient operation, we have implemented several advanced control systems, such as Fuzzy Logic, Multivariable Control, Machine Learning models, and we have adopted optimisation methods from other industries.

“For example, two years ago, we adopted the Bollinger Bands model, which is widely used in the follow-up of shares of stock exchanges; its central algorithms were adapted to optimise a stage of our production process, in an interesting collaborative project between operations concentrator and process control.”

For Antamina, projects can only truly be optimised when collaboration takes place between the different areas of the value chain, including operations, process control and technology.

Rafael continued, “I consider it important to keep in mind that innovative initiatives must always respond to a why and for what purpose.

“Each company has its own particular context and reality, its own strategy, priorities and objectives, and we must start by carrying out this fundamental analysis in our companies and establish the why of the digital transformation initiatives.

“In this way, we will identify the main lines of action to select the best technologies that allow us to sure up the fundamental objectives and thus, implement a successful digital transformation plan.”

From this, the company has identified several important action areas, including optimising processes with advanced control models and machine learning, extended data analytics applications, ecosystem development, and finally cybersecurity.

Therefore, when evaluating new technologies, it is undertaken with a collaborative and multi-disciplinary approach, incorporating the application of agile methodologies in the development of effective solutions.

Engaged Workforce

Like any mine, Antamina facesa fine balancing act between numerous local and international companies when it comes to selecting and integrating new technologies..

Rafael said, “In the ecosystem we find diverse actors, such as the suppliers of services and products, the entrepreneurs and start-ups that are looking to solve challenges and offer solutions for our sector, the universities and institutes that train professionals and do applied research in our sectors, the government entities that promote the development of technical capacities and undertakings in various industries, and finally, the companies in the sector, all acting together under a win-win model.

“We focus these projects as joint work initiatives, among the experts in the processes, the areas of technology and innovation and the workers.”

Typically, Antamina carries out pilot programs in the hands of those responsible for the various operational areas, with the aim of refining the systems throughout tests.

This approach allows the company to develop and refine technological solutions together, incorporating the valuable points of view of all stakeholders involved, consequently allowing the development of buy-in and pride, in the solutions developed together.

Environmental Emphasis

Antamina has a heavy emphasis on environmental management, water management and engagement with local communities.

The business sources over 99 percent of its water for use in the processing of minerals from the water reworked from its tailings dam, while all the water originates from stored rain sources, with zero obtained from rivers or outside lakes or dams.

Rafael said, “Our environmental commitment goes further and that with the water and the excess moisture coming from the mineral concentrates that are transported by our pipeline, we have created the only forest in the coastal desert of Ancash (region in which Antamina operates), this forest is a large ecosystem of 170 hectares.

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