Fresh energy for an old mine

Buenavista del Cobre copper mine in Mexico has reduced downtime by 60 percent and costs by 50 percent. At the same time, safety and security have increased. Customized control technology to manage and administer the mine’s power supply networks have made these achievements possible.

Buenavista del Cobre S.A. de C.V., a subsidiary of Grupo México, runs one of the largest open-pit copper operations in the world. The mine – Buenavista del Cobre – was established in 1899, making it the oldest active copper mine in North America. Located 40 kilometers south of Mexico’s border with the United States, and southwest of the city of Cananea in the state of Sonora, the mine is almost a city in itself: its 9,000-plus workers produce over 200,000 tons of copper a year.


Like all mines, Buenavista del Cobre is a huge consumer of energy. And even more so as it grows. After a recent extension of the mine, electrical demand runs around 500 MW. Seven substations, including one switching substation, were constructed to receive energy from the grid and distribute it at 230 KV. Control of the system is through a distributed control center (DCC) from Siemens.

Specific wishes


When Grupo México looked to Siemens for the DCC, the order was quite specific: a smarter grid that would allow operators to automate data acquisition and create a more proactive maintenance approach without having to halt running operations for any reason. Naturally, any errors during construction, point-to-point testing or commissioning of the system had to be avoided. Other key priorities were adherence to Buenavista del Cobre’s high safety standards and to a strict timeline.


The solution Siemens came up with was a custom-designed, state-of-the-art DCC that fits perfectly within the designated space. It included the energy backup, a data network (with four compact Sicam RTUs combined with Ruggedcom 1500 APC communication devices), installation of Spectrum Power™ 5, and the configuration of Buenavista del Cobre’s substation control systems using Sicam PAS technology.

The Siemens team had just seven months to execute all construction and monitoring activities. Installation was completed within the scope of the annual major maintenance shutdown in October 2015, with final monitoring of production-related energy consumption implemented by December 2015.


Complete panorama


The benefits of the overhaul have been manifold. Simply by automating network monitoring, Buenavista del Cobre has reduced its downtime by 60 percent and running costs by 50 percent – radical results for a project that took just months to complete.

“This project has put us in a better technological position, and we have a lot of flexibility for operating the system too,” states project manager Alberto Arriaga from Grupo México. Maintenance scheduling has improved, while operating errors and major maintenance outages have come down.


Transparency has increased too. “I now have a complete panorama of how all the electric substations are doing,” says Doris Salomón, supervisor at Buenavista del Cobre’s DCC. Salomón and her colleagues can easily assess the quality of the energy delivered by Mexico’s Federal Electricity Commission and adjust energy models accordingly. This frees them up to focus on more value-added tasks and on activities that help boost productivity and energy efficiency. 


Safe, smart, scalable


“The system’s most important benefit for the mine is the safe and secure administration of electricity,” says Tomás Reyes Sánchez, business unit manager at Siemens Mexico. As such, Siemens was able to fulfill the high-level priority of decreasing risks for personnel.


Continuing the mine’s 115-plus years of operations with a solid and dependable power management system in place gives everyone piece of mind. It also provides Buenavista del Cobre with a solid foundation from which to further expand. And expand it can. Spectrum Power™ is based on international guidelines that are globally applicable as key standards for viable smart grid solutions. Its medium-voltage capacity is also scalable. With a safe, smart and scalable power control system, Buenavista del Cobre can adapt anew when the time for more radical changes comes its way. What’s more, with intelligent electricity management in place, Buenavista del Cobre has made a significant step on the path to intelligent mining.


Heike Onken

Picture credits: Siemens AG


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