Automation, integrated options key for copper mine's success

Comprehensive automation and power, integrated operations center help Antofagasta’s Esperanza copper mine in Chile reach peak productivity


ABB has supplied power and automation solutions for the Antofagasta Esperanza copper mine in Chile. Technologies include three of the world’s largest gearless mill drives, process and electrical control systems, power quality systems, a substation and an ABB System 800xA integrated operations center that controls all production, including onshore facilities at a purpose-built port 145 km from the mine. Esperanza officially opened in April 2011.

The three huge grinding mills that grind the ore into particles. Each ABB gearless mill drive system comprises a large gearless synchronous motor that is wrapped around the mill like a ring. The power and control equipment of the system is located in a pu

It is reportedly the first large-scale mine to use raw seawater in its metal-producing processes. Water is pumped from the coast through a 145-kilometer pipeline to the mine, 2,300 meters above sea level.

Helping with productivity and efficiency, ABB products and systems drive the huge grinding mills, control the mine, and power the purpose-built port and seawater pumping station on the coast.

Esperanza has a daily throughput capacity of 97,000 tons of ore. After extraction in the open-pit mine, the ore is crushed in a huge 40-foot semi-autogenous grinding (SAG) mill and two 27-foot ball mills; all three are driven and controlled by ABB gearless mill drive systems with power output of 22.4 MW and 18.6 MW, respectively.

The mine’s conveyor belt system is dynamically controlled by ABB medium-voltage variable speed drives. Courtesy: Antofagasta

When the contract for the mine’s gearless mill drive systems was awarded to ABB in 2007, Esperanza was only the second mine in the world to install a SAG mill - and the first to install ball mills – with these capacities and power ratings. ABB has installed larger ones subsequently at other mines, but at the time they were at the technological limit of what SAG and ball mills were mechanically capable of achieving.

The gearless mill drive systems enable the grinding mills to achieve the best possible grinding results and process efficiency by adjusting the speed or direction of the mega-sized mills and ensuring a constant particle size, regardless of changes in the size or hardness of the ore.

The ore is transported to and from the grinding mills by long heavy-duty conveyor belts. The belt motors are driven by  ABB medium-voltage variable speed drives, which provide dynamic control of the motors and enable soft starting and stopping of the belts, thereby saving energy and minimizing mechanical wear and tear.

After processing, the concentrate is transported through the pipeline to the port where it is thickened and stockpiled, ready for loading onto ships. An ABB 110/23 kV substation connects the site and its onshore and offshore facilities to the power grid.

A mine and ore processing plant like Esperanza consumes huge amounts of electric power and requires power quality equipment to maintain voltage stability and a high power factor. The site’s power distribution network is controlled by an ABB supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system and is protected from destabilizing voltage spikes and harmonics-induced power losses by an ABB filter system.

The ABB System 800xA distributed control system integrates all automation systems - process, power distribution, gearless mill drive, motor and conveyor, pipeline, and port – into one control environment and provides interfaces with the plant management and maintenance systems.

The complete process - including the mine, processing plant and dedicated port facility - are monitored and controlled from a single control room, an ABB EOW-x (Extended Operator Workplace) Integrated Operations Center. Courtesy: Antofagasta

Full visualization and control of the whole process (crusher area, processing plant, pipelines and port) is provided by ABB’s EOW-x (Extended Operator Workplace) Integrated Operations Center - a unified and ergonomic control room environment that is designed to maximize operator efficiency. 


- Edited by Chris Vavra, Control Engineering,

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