What Every Miner Should Know About Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs)

Share Post:

3 minute read

In today’s fast-paced, technology-driven world, industries across the board are striving for increased efficiency and performance, and the mining industry is no exception. 

With a global economic climate that demands optimum production rates while maintaining safety standards, Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs) continue to be a key component of many plant automation solutions. 

By understanding how these powerful tools are deployed in mines, we can gain a deeper insight into the future of the mining industry. 

In this article, we will explore the origin, applications, and benefits of PLCs within the mining sector, shedding light on this transformative technology.

A Brief History of Programmable Logic Controllers

The roots of programmable logic controllers can be traced back to the late 1960s when they were initially developed as a more flexible replacement for the complex, hard-wired relay systems used in the automotive industry.

As an electronic device designed for industrial automation, PLCs act as robust, microprocessor-based control systems that allow for real-time monitoring and adjustment of automated processes. Their ease of use, high reliability, and adaptability have since caused their application to spread to various industries, including the mining sector.

Programmable Logic Controller up close
PLCs have several uses in the mining industry (Source: Adobe)

Understanding PLCs

At its core, a PLC is a specialised computing device designed for industrial control applications. It plays a central role in automating processes by continuously monitoring input signals, making decisions based on programmed logic, and controlling output devices to achieve desired outcomes. PLCs find extensive use in various industries, including manufacturing, energy, and, notably, in the mining and mineral processing sectors.

 

Key Characteristics of PLCs

  1. Robustness and Reliability: 
    PLCs are engineered to withstand harsh industrial environments. Their rugged design ensures reliability in challenging conditions, making them well-suited for applications in mining, where equipment is exposed to dust, vibrations, and varying temperatures.

  2. Programmability: 
    The defining feature of PLCs is their programmability. Engineers can use specialised programming languages, often based on ladder logic, to create sequences of operations that control machinery and processes. This flexibility allows for customisation to meet the specific needs of diverse industrial applications.

     

  3. Real-time Processing:
     PLCs excel in real-time processing, a crucial requirement in industrial settings where timely responses to changing conditions are essential. This capability ensures that control decisions are executed swiftly, contributing to the efficiency and safety of operations.

  4. Modularity and Expandability: 
    PLC systems are modular, allowing for the addition of input and output modules as needed. This modularity facilitates easy expansion or modification of control systems without the need for a complete overhaul, providing scalability for evolving industrial requirements.

 

How PLCs Differ from Other Technologies

PLCs vs. Microcontrollers

While microcontrollers are prevalent in various electronic devices, they differ from PLCs in scope and application. Microcontrollers are typically embedded in specific devices and lack the industrial robustness and general-purpose nature of PLCs. PLCs, on the other hand, are designed for broader control applications, offering scalability and connectivity to various sensors and actuators.

PLCs vs. Industrial PCs (IPC)

Industrial PCs share similarities with PLCs in terms of processing power and flexibility. However, PLCs distinguish themselves through their deterministic real-time capabilities. PLCs are purpose-built for predictable and time-critical control tasks. In contrast, industrial PCs may prioritise general computing tasks, making them suitable for more complex data processing but potentially less deterministic in control applications.

PLCs vs. Relay Logic

Before the advent of PLCs, relay logic was widely used for industrial control. However, relay logic systems were cumbersome, difficult to modify, and prone to reliability issues. PLCs revolutionised industrial control by providing a more efficient and flexible alternative. The programmability of PLCs simplifies logic changes, reduces wiring complexity, and enhances overall system reliability.

Applications in Mining Operations

There are several ways PLCs find their place within the mining environment. Some typical applications include:

  • Conveyor control – By monitoring and controlling conveyor belts and various types of material handling systems, PLCs can help ensure the smooth transportation of extracted materials
  • Power load management – By optimising energy consumption in the mine, PLCs can contribute to significant cost savings
  • Ventilation (a vital component for maintaining a safe atmosphere) – PLCs can regulate airflow by controlling air-moving equipment like fans and dampers.
  • Pump control – PLCs can monitor and control pumps which are essential for regulating water levels in the mine.

Benefits of Programmable Logic Controllers

Safety and Risk Management in the Mining Industry

Safety and risk management are crucial in preventing dangerous incidents and ensuring uninterrupted production in mining processes, which are inherently complex and risky. PLCs can assist operators in monitoring and controlling various aspects of mining operations, leading to consistent high safety standards and protecting employees and equipment.

Enhanced Productivity and Efficiency

By automating and optimising various mining processes, PLCs contribute to greater operational efficiency and productivity. They offer better process control and faster response times, allowing mining operations to function seamlessly and optimally. Moreover, the use of PLCs enables mines to work with reduced downtime, as any potential issues are detected and remedied promptly. This improved performance translates into increased profitability and higher production rates for the mining industry.

Progammable Logic Controllers form part of a complex control system

Continuing Evolution and Future Potential

As mining technology advances, the role of PLCs is expanding as well. With the advent of Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things (IoT), the seamless connection, networking, and communication of different devices within a mine, including PLCs, becomes even more critical. Mining operations are also turning to data-driven technologies, such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, which can utilise the real-time data generated by PLCs to further enhance efficiency and safety.

Conclusion

Throughout their journey from humble beginnings as an automotive industry-specific solution, PLCs have revolutionised the operations of mining companies worldwide. By delivering improved safety, process optimisation, energy efficiency and continuous advancements, PLCs are arguably one of the most essential tools in the modern mining industry. As we venture further into the digital age, the integration of PLCs with emerging technologies promises a future of smart, automated, and data-driven mining, unlocking unparalleled potential for the industry as a whole.

Learn more about Mipac’s work with PLCs

Check out our project profiles page to find out how we’ve helped our clients optimise their PLCs.

Subscribe

Enter your details to receive our newsletter

Simply fill out the below form and we will be in touch to discuss the best time for a demonstration.

Request a
Demonstration

Simply fill out the below form and we will be in touch to discuss the best time for a demonstration.

Simply fill out the below form and we will email you a copy of our TCard brochure.

Simply fill out the below form and we will email you a copy of our MPA product guide.

Simply fill out the below form and we will email you a copy of our SMART Tankhouse brochure.

Download our Capability Statement

Simply fill out the below form and we will email you a copy of our Capability Statement.

[contact-form-7 id="7624"]

Download our OT Vision to Delivery brochure

Simply fill out the below form and we will email you a copy of our Capability Statement.

[contact-form-7 id="7623"]

Simply fill out the below form and we will email you a copy of our E-Learning Brochure.

Request a
Demonstration

Simply fill out the below form and we will be in touch to discuss the best time for a demonstration.

[contact-form-7 id="8762"]

Download TCard Case Study

Simply fill out the below form and we will email you a copy of the MIM Case Study.

[contact-form-7 id="8768"]

Register for Webinar

Simply fill out the below form and we will send you the details of the webinar directly to your email.

[contact-form-7 id="8833"]

Request a
Demonstration

Simply fill out the below form and we will be in touch to discuss the best time for a demonstration.

Request a
Demonstration

Simply fill out the below form and we will be in touch to discuss the best time for a demonstration.

Simply fill out the below form and we will be in touch to discuss the best time for a demonstration.

Simply fill out the below form and we will email you a copy of our TCard™ product guide.

Simply fill out the below form and we will email you a copy of our MPA Logsheets product guide.

Simply fill out the below form and we will email you a copy of our Digital TARP product guide.

Simply fill out the below form and we will email you a copy of our Capability Statement.

Simply fill out the below form and we will email you a copy of our ShortMeter product guide.

Simply fill out the below form and we will email you our Copper Monitor™ product guide.

Simply fill out the below form and we will email you a copy of our SMART Tankhouse product guide.

Simply fill out the below form and we will email you a copy of our Alarm Manager product guide.

Simply fill out the below form and we will be in touch to discuss the best time for a demonstration.

Simply fill out the below form and we will be in touch to discuss the best time for a demonstration.

Simply fill out the below form and we will email you a copy of our Copper Monitor brochure.