Industry: Metals & Mining
Major real-time SCADA upgrade at Lonmin – and who know it was happening?
Lonmin’s Marikana complex is one of the largest and most significant platinum mining and processing operations in the world. Upgrading its extensive process control operations which, in this case affected all seven of its concentrators, was no casual exercise which demanded guaranteed results and zero downtime.
Lonmin’s Marikana operation spans an area of 33 X 13 kms near Rustenburg in the North-West province of South Africa and is in the business of mining and processing platinum group metals on a 24/7/365 basis. The complex consists of 14 shafts, 7 concentrators, a smelter and a base metals refinery.
The Marikana operation uses 5 ArchestrA Galaxy Repository (GR) servers, 43 ArchestrA Object Servers (AOS), 42 view stations and 14 Wonderware Historian servers. Of this, the Concentrator Galaxy (figure 1) consists of 16 AOS, 16 view stations and 9 Integrated Development Environment (IDE) stations monitoring nearly a quarter million tags across 68 PLCs. The rest of the system is used for the shafts, services, smelter and metal accounting.
“This was a project involving the upgrade of Wonderware’s System Platform 3.0 to release 3.1 involving all the concentrators,” says Lonmin’s Automation Specialist Johan Louw, “While upgrades are normally routine affairs, this one bears mention because each of the concentrators involved operates individually and has its own shutdown schedule making it impossible to arrange for a full concentrator shutdown. The upgrade would have to be done live during full production but with no plant downtime or loss of production.”
Lonmin has defined an operating environment for its concentrators which, for security purposes, has a DMZ which isolates the control VLAN (PLC connection) from the production VLAN (viewing, development, etc.) (figure 2). The Historian is also standardised for each concentrator. A viewing station and its backup are included as well as an ArchestrA IDE station. This makes each Concentrator a self-contained production unit with a standardised architecture but individual control.
- Implement upgrade with no plant downtime – Production stoppages would not be tolerated yet any upgrade normally requires installing new software and restarting the system. So a way had to be found to work around this problem.
- Operators to have visibility into the plant at all times – Once again, this precluded any system downtime.
- Improve system performance – The magnitude of the concentrator complex demands highly optimised approaches if system performance is to be improved.
- Get buy-in from users – It’s not unusual for system changes to be viewed with some degree of scepticism and the success of the project would largely depend on empowering users to take ownership of the new solutions.
How it was done
“Fortunately the sites were designed to each run 2 AOS servers (1 backup – see figure 2) and this architecture supported what we wanted to do,” explains Louw. “With the help of Wonderware Southern Africa, we introduced an additional upgraded Galaxy Repository (GR) Server to form a parallel galaxy. We then upgraded the backup AOS servers. This could still be done with no downtime. The next step was to upgrade the view station and the IDE, so that two view stations were running the same applications on two parallel galaxies.
Once each IDE was upgraded, users could start doing development on the new galaxy. Any new development on the old galaxy would at this stage be lost. The next step was to change over the Historian and finally the old AOS. After all the sites were done, the old GR was decommissioned and prepared for the next upgrade. The result was a major system upgrade with no downtime and no loss of visibility into the plant.”
Since the rollout wasn’t done on a full-time basis and was interlaced within normal day-to-day activities, it took about 3 months. “This also gave us time to implement best practices and to validate our existing GRs,” says Louw. “What impressed us most is that, with ArchestrA, engineering and configuration time is sliced in half. Another notable feature is the ability to manage the software from a central point, as well as enforcing standards across the business.”
According to Louw, the most impressive aspects of the system architecture include:
- Scalability. “We were able to do load sharing on areas where a lot of processing power was required.”
- The ability to enable redundancy on critical areas.
- Distributed architecture which simplifies the process of backups and restore. This reduces downtime in the event of hardware failure.
- Major system upgrade with no downtime and no loss of visibility into the plant
- Improved system performance
- Development of a risk-free method for implementing future upgrades
- Improved user confidence in the capabilities of the system and its upgradeability
“What impressed us most is that, with ArchestrA, engineering and configuration time is sliced in half.”
– Johan Louw, Automation Specialist, Lonmin
A seamless upgrade of this magnitude goes to show what can be done with modern technologies and ingenuity – and that’s how it should be. Systems are there to help monitor, control and improve production – not to stop it dead in its tracks for a routine software upgrade. Marikana’s six historians log 350 million readings a day (4050/sec.) in the Concentrator galaxy alone and to have this continue in real-time during a plant-wide system upgrade with nobody noticing and without missing a beat is impressive for two reasons: it’s a great example of merging inventiveness with technology and it’s now become routine rather than a career-defining moment.
Lonmin is a primary producer of Platinum Group Metals (PGMs). The company creates value through the discovery, acquisition, development and marketing of minerals and metals. Lonmin:
- Is the world’s third largest primary platinum producer
- Has four mines in South Africa (Marikana and Limpopo complexes) from which ore is mined and concentrated before being processed through a smelter and refineries to deliver finished metals to the market
- Has a primary listing on the LSE and JSE
- Employs more than 25000 people
- Produced 663 101 ounces of Platinum in concentrate form and 682 955 ounces of Platinum to make a total of 1.3m ounces of PGMs. This entire output was sold by the end of September 2009.