ASARCO Ray Mine is a well-established, large open pit copper mine – with historical underground operations dating back to the 1880’s. The Ray Operations consist of a 250,000-ton per day (tpd) open pit mine equipped to support both a 30,000 tpd concentrator and a 20,000 tpd concentrator. The operation also includes a 103-million pound per year Leach solvent extraction/electro-winning (L-SXEW) operation and all the associated maintenance, warehouse and administrative facilities. The ASARCO Ray Mine is located close to Kearny, Arizona. The company ships its cathode copper to its ASARCO Amarillo Copper Refinery and outside customers.
ASARCO Ray covers an area of about 21-sq. miles, a coverage area roughly three miles wide and seven miles long. The site is located in a valley, with a staggering 2,400 ft. deep pit that presents a major challenge for implementing any type of mine-wide wireless network. Space constraints and little to no line-of-sight are additional hurdles the site geography presents. Due to the site’s geography, the vast majority of the mine haulage operation involves lifting material out of the pit to the dumps or crushers (vertical hauls up to 1,800 ft.). The elevation change adds an additional complexity that must be accounted for to support communications, due to its depth. As a result, communication with trucks, shovels and other equipment can be difficult. The private legacy wireless network did not help matters. In the beginning, its main purpose was to support the computer aided fleet dispatch system. Then additional demand for wireless communication increased as a result of increased use of new technologies. As a result, the legacy network did not work as required. The network could barely support a fraction of its designed capacity of 8 megabytes per second. The ability to collect complete and accurate data is critical to the company’s success. The team evaluates the performance level of drills on rocks and also uses data to determine the best scenarios in which to employ different methods, such as crushing and blasting. While the organization had multiple systems collecting data, the company’s ability to collect accurate and in-depth data was called into question. That uncertainty eroded trust. No one wanted to make decisions based on faulty data. Plagued with an inability to prove it was collecting all the data needed to make critical business decisions, ASARCO Ray invested the time to ascertain the cause of its communication issues. Senior technology Engineer Bob Wingle solved the mystery in April 2013: The operation’s wireless network was the culprit.
The mining company’s primary concerns were coverage, throughput and dealing with its challenging geography. During the period ASARCO Ray spent shopping for a new wireless network, it discovered that Rajant had a proven track record of success implementing Kinetic Mesh networks at other operations facing similar needs for scalability and mobility. As officials evaluated Rajant and other providers, decision makers at ASARCO Ray discovered positive reviews from Rajant’s current customers. Rajant’s wireless BreadCrumb® nodes enable voice, data and video communications to “hop” from node to node with very little administrative overhead burdening the network. Workers at the mine “chase” the ore, while advancing as efficiently as possible. The network infrastructure is a key component required to support this strategy. For this reason, finding a way to avoid network disruptions was paramount. The team was impressed by the way the Rajant network could rebuild and “heal” itself based on whatever wireless nodes were available. The fact that the network intelligence is distributed across all BreadCrumb nodes, rather than relying on a single controller node to drive communication, was a significant differentiator from other mesh vendors that ASARCO had evaluated. BreadCrumbs, coupled with Rajant’s InstaMesh protocol, offered stability in even the most rugged environments and the flexibility to transmit and receive data through a myriad of connectivity solutions including LTE, satellite, point-to-point wireless or wired networks..
“We found Rajant’s solid track record in military operations reassuring. Its mesh networks have delivered many benefits in those rugged, dynamic environments,” Wingle said.
Based on these factors, ASARCO Ray selected Rajant and deployed its network in May 2014, using solar trailers to accommodate the expansion. Technical leadership divided the mine into three sections during implementation so that two sections ran on the legacy system as the third section went up. Rajant replaced the existing 30 nodes in nine days. Seven of the nine days were spent monitoring the two systems’ simultaneous operations. The remaining two sections of the mine were implemented over the final two days. Currently, ASARCO Ray has deployed 159 BreadCrumb nodes and is the first to use Rajant’s “N” standard BreadCrumbs with MIMO antenna configurations.
ASARCO Ray’s investment has already paid off. The Rajant wireless network has allowed the mining operation to overcome their geographical challenges, such as terrain and interference, to collect complete, reliable data from 14 different source systems with confidence in its accuracy. In fact, the Rajant network has fostered a more favorable view of the process control systems across business units. Those outside of the technology team are now lauding its effective utilization of the new technology. “We were not able to trust all of the data we collected until we implemented the Rajant network,” said James Stewart, Technical Services Manager at ASARCO Ray. The company also has accomplished a highly beneficial feat in the mining industry – managing material movement from the mining phase to the mill. Rajant’s wireless mesh network has allowed ASARCO Ray to elevate its mine-tomill process oversight to an entirely new level. Officials can now track the amount of energy it takes to drill, helping the organization determine the best ways to blast and process the rock. ASARCO Ray has achieved significant value from its new Rajant network.
“The ASARCO Ray team has reported that Rajant’s mesh network is far superior to its previous network, and that it has exceeded expectations. For example, we had guaranteed it would perform at a minimum of 24 megabytes throughput, and it is performing well above that,” said Carlos Torres, Technology Account Manager at SITECH-Southwest, the project integrator. The Rajant private wireless network has been up and running for nearly a year, steadfast in its support of ASARCO Ray’s operational initiatives. Furthermore, the Rajant Kinetic Mesh network has enabled ASARCO Ray to consider other advanced technologies for the organization. In fact, vendors such as Caterpillar are testing their technologies on ASARCO Ray’s network. A local university is evaluating data analytics based on its network, as well. ASARCO Ray is looking at an innovative future. Leadership has become proactive about considering additional solutions to further enhance business now that the operation has a robust network infrastructure. In addition, the advanced nature of Rajant’s network has given the organization a competitive edge.