BHP Billiton is one of the world’s premier suppliers of iron ore, with operations in Pilbara, Western Australia and Brazil. The company employs 8,000 people in
Pilbara – approximately 18% of the region’s total population – who work across a complex, integrated system of seven mines, over 1,000km of rail and two separate port facilities.
BHP Billiton is part of a 50/50 joint venture with partner Vale at the Samarco operations in Brazil. This operation has an annual production capacity of more than 12 million tones of iron ore pellets and one million tones of concentrates and includes open pit mines, a concentration plant, two pellet plants, port facilities and a 396 kilometer concentrate slurry pipeline between the mine and the pellet plants.
Currently in a phase of significant growth, BHP Billiton is investigating opportunities in West Africa and India, as well as developing operations in Western
Australia. Through a series of expansion projects, BHP Billiton is set to see production of iron ore in Australia rise from 50 million tonnes to 205 million tonnes during 2011.
To ship the iron ore overseas the material needs to be transported from the mines to the port by train. Due to the vast quantities of iron ore produced, BHP Billiton operates 12 loaded and 12 unloaded trains every day of the year, each carrying over 26,000 tonnes or ore and requiring 6,000 horsepower locomotives.
The iron ore is transported from Newman to Port Hedland in a journey that takes approximately eight hours and with most trains having an average of 208 cars, the total length can reach up to 3.75km – the longest and heaviest trains in the world.
There are two separate single track rail lines operated by BHP Billiton: one running from Port Hedland to the Newman area; and the other running between Port Hedland and the Yarrie mine. The complete railway network covers a distance of 426km and is one of Australia’s longest privately- owned railways.
BHP Billiton’s rail lines form a key part of the iron ore production process and the company’s 114 locomotives and 4,000 cars represent a major investment, with a locomotive alone costing over $6 million. All train movements are managed from a traffic control centre at Port Hedland, with specialised, solar powered computer software and digital communications coordinating the trains and warning about unsafe conditions, while also weighing the ore cars as they pass by.
To ensure complete management over all rail operations, however, BHP Billiton required a radio system that would provide full control over all trains even in the event of a Central Train Control (CTC) Console failure. In such a scenario there would be three different types of radio systems needing control; the Omnibus network on the Main Newman Line; the collector/ distributor network on the Goldsworthy Line; and simple base station links.
These three networks are vital to the successful operations of BHP Billiton. The continuous movements of the trains is the lifeblood of the ore mining and sales business for the company and without a communication channel, trains are susceptible to lengthy delays and are in danger of travelling into unsafe conditions, risking the drivers’ safety and the jeopardising the iron ore.
In order to guarantee that BHP Billiton would always have complete control over all trains, Simoco developed a Disaster Backup Control Console, which offered a
fully switchable radio console system.
Based on the Omnitronics DX64 Digital Console system, the solution for BHP Billiton has touch screen user interfaces and connects radio and display screens across the company’s IP network.
With the system designed to be fully switchable, incoming signals from the three different networks can be monitored individually, so that a decision is taken on each message as to whether it is stopped, re-transmitted or, when required, passed through to console equipment located in the Centralized Traffic Control Office (CTC).
To allow further flexibility, a console operator also has the ability to patch radio users to the company PABX system, divert calls to pagers and cross patch
channels for parallel operation.
Operable by up to five control officers at once, with one operational post able to occur off site, Simoco’s Disaster Backup Control Console system was to be fitted to BHP Billiton’s Facility Tower and Nelson Point, Western Australia.
With the initial concept started in 2009, the system has since been deployed to the two BHP Billiton sites, providing the company with complete control over all trains in any emergency. With a value of approximately $500K, Simoco’s Disaster Backup Control Console system provides total peace of mind to BHP Billiton,
offering guaranteed protection to the 24 trains operated on a daily basis – assets worth over $150 million.
The success of the project to date has led to further variants being developed, which are being added to the mining operations at Pilbara to continue to
develop the quality of communications available to the company in the event of a CTC Console failure.
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