Case Study Info

Longwall Portal Upgrading

The Challenge

Over the past forty years, Nepean has grown from a small mining technology business in rural Australia to become one of the industry leaders, with an integrated network of manufacturing companies in engineering, mining, and capital equipment solutions providing goods and services across the world. One of its best selling products is their longwall mining system.

Longwall mining is a form of coal mining in which a coal face is mined in a single slice and has been around since the 17th century. The modern approach to this methods employs enormous pieces of equipment which move underground, simultaneously excavating the coal seam, moving the freshly dug coal away from the excavation site, and supporting the roof immediately behind the site of excavation. It comprises the shield, which is a series of hydraulic jacks which hold the roof of the mine up during the mining operation; a shearer, which physically tears the coal seam down; and an armored face conveyor, which moves the freshly cut coal away from the site so that it can be transported to the surface. These enormous pieces of machinery can be several hundred meters long, weigh many thousands of tons, and can drive through a coal seam at speeds of up to 30 meters per minute.

Nepean’s largest project involving longwalls technology is the installation of a semi-automated longwall for a Vale Australia mine in central Queensland Australia. Here, a 300 meter long longwall installation is mining a continuous coal seam which is between 1.9 and 2.5 meters thick and contains an estimated 200 million tons of coal. The vast piece of mining machinery is fully automated. It is controlled by two servers mounted in the machines which constantly monitor the functioning of the machine, making control system inputs where necessary. The servers have a client interface which allows engineers to make changes to operating parameters when necessary. These servers write back to a MySQL database on a Windows 2003 server located in the mine’s control center on the surface.

The underground servers control two separate automation systems. The first is a system produced by Tiffenbach, the German mining engineering company. Their system controls the shield holding up the roof some 400 meters underground and which pushes itself forward to keep up with the shearer which cuts the coal. Parameter changes are written to its on database on the MySQL server. The shearer is controlled by another automation system, this one produced by another German mining equipment company, Eickoff. The Eickhoff shearer writes changes to its own MySQL database on the same server as the Tiffenbach.

The problem is these databases only allow the mine’s engineers to make simple queries of the database, and this is complicating their task in managing the mining operation. So Vale Australia asks Nepean to provide additional functionality to the system on the site by increasing the functionality of the databases and the breadth of queries that their engineers could make of the system. Nepean turns to Softage to assist them with the development and reconfiguration of the systems. The project begins in May 2012.

Solution Overview

Our team of highly skilled and widely experienced .Net developers are able to design and implement an improved control system meeting all of Vale Australia’s needs. The improved system displays data from both databases on a single web page. It generates reports with list variations between sets of data based on user, time, control parameter, or work shift, and can then save those reports as templates and their results as PDF files or Excel spreadsheets. Once the detail of a report has been set, it can be run every day and a copy of the report emailed everyday in a particular group, either as a PDF or as a link to a site within the system.

Our improved system also allows for various tiers of users. Administrators are granted limited administration functions, such as the ability to add and remove users, set passwords and back up databases. Engineers are able to generate reports, produce change request forms and approve changes to the operation settings. A User is able to set the criteria of and generate reports.

Tools & Technologies

During this project our team are called upon to use their experience and skill with a variety of applications.  These include ASP, .NET, MVC3, SQL Server 2008, EF 4.1, EPPlus, jQuery, NLog, MySQL, Ninject and Quartz.NET.