• Improving a mining company’s automation system

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The Collaborative Automation Partner Program (CAPP) works with technology partners who provide essential elements to our overall customer solutions.

Schneider Electric’s Collaborative Automation Partner Program (CAPP) works with Strategic Partners around the world who provide essential components to our overall customer solutions.

This collaboration was exemplified in a mining project delivered by Schneider Electric and Gold Strategic Partner Hilscher.

Schneider Electric is recognized as an industry leader in providing solutions for the Mining, Metals & Minerals sector. In this case, a customer in Argentina enlisted our services for its lithium carbonate plant. Lithium is not a naturally occurring element in nature but is contained in specific types of rocks or within salt lakes. To produce lithium carbonate, this company mines a large salt lake located in the northern part of the country. Its production facility consists of multiple sub-plants located at a high altitude.

The challenge

Prior to this project, the processing plant used third-party controllers to monitor field I/Os and other devices that were connected via a PROFINET communication infrastructure. In order to ensure the proper functioning of numerous sub-processes throughout the plant, this customer was using Schneider Electric’s variable frequency drives (VFD – ATV71) and motor control cells (MCC – M340). These MCCs had a communication front-end that used Schneider’s proprietary protocol to communicate with their I/Os.

The customer wanted to go a step further and establish unified process control to drive the automation system of the plant as well as its sub-plants. To do this, they asked Schneider Electric to integrate a cost-effective solution that would monitor and control the MCC field I/Os complementary to the VFD control. This required help from Strategic Partner Hilscher to translate the proprietary I/O signals into the standard PROFINET protocol used throughout the plant.

The solution

Hilscher provided its NT100-RE-EN gateway from the Hilscher netTAP 100 range, which is specifically designed for demanding conversions. It is a multipurpose and adaptable PROFINET I/O controller to EtherNet/IP adapter that supports slave and master functionality in any combination. Additionally, Hilscher’s product supports the creation of serial protocols with the help of the Lua-based scripting language, netSCRIPT. Schneider Electric was able to use a fully featured development environment which allowed for comfortable and rapid programming of any proprietary serial protocol.

The benefits

This solution was exactly what Schneider Electric’s customer wanted because not only was it cost-effective, but Hilscher’s product was able to synchronize the Schneider communication protocols with the open PROFINET world. It also allows the mining company to continue using the VFD and MCCs from Schneider Electric with proprietary I/O communication while still establishing unified process control from the process control system to the field device level. In addition, the overall solution quickened the system’s implementation.

Commenting on Hilscher’s solution, Schneider Electric’s project leader, Rogelio Hernandez, said, “Hilscher offered a highly flexible solution in a compact format that came with an easy-to-use programming tool for fast configuration.” Thanks to the partnership with CAPP technology partner Hilscher, Schneider Electric was able to deliver the best solution for this customer, meeting its requirements of low cost, fast configuration, and simplified implementation.

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