OPC UA Companion Specification Mining Automation and Digitalization in Mining OPC UA as the key to interoperability.
Automation and digitalization of machines and processes is absolutely vital in the mining sector and is driven by the growing requirements regarding productivity, reducing the environmental impact and increasing acceptance in society. Concepts for the digitalization of machines and processes therefore offer great potential for solving existing and future challenges. One challenge for operators, suppliers and system providers is the heterogeneity throughout the machine systems used in mining to implement the processes. Interoperability in the area of machine-to-machine communication is therefore a key technology that will enable the automation of processes in this sector beyond just individual machines, as well as harnessing wide-spread optimization potential and creating new business areas for the supplying industry. The interoperability of the various systems requires a standardized approach to guarantee the cross-machine data exchanges necessary for cross-manufacturer automation and process optimization. [1,2,3]
Automating processes with heterogeneous machines demand the definition of a uniformly specified, manufacturer-independent, open and standardized “machine language”.
Manufacturers in the Mining Trade Association have agreed on the use of “Open Platform Communication – Unified Architecture” (OPC UA) as a communication standard.
Already in use in the manufacturing industry, this standard is platform-independent, is not biased towards or against any manufacturer and uses Industry 4.0 architecture. OPC UA is also described in the IEC 62541 series as a standard concept in IEC Mechanical Engineering Standards. Experts from the Mining Trade Association participated in a workshop and additional meetings, during which they agreed on the use of this standard.
Under the guidance of Dr. Fiona Mavroudis from Eickhoff Bergbautechnik GmbH, the international working group decided to take on the task of describing the communication methods between the machines involved and between the superordinate systems, in order to provide the information required for automation and optimization. The working group is supported by the Institute for Advanced Mining Technologies (AMT) at RWTH Aachen.
The goal is to develop a platform-independent and manufacturer-neutral Industry 4.0 standard based on the existing, standardized OPC UA as a key technology for mining. This will enable machines and systems to be integrated with each other, as well as the realization of “plug and produce”, and is therefore a pioneering step in the automation and digitalization in mining.
“The VDMA OPC UA working group is creating an important base for the sector-specific digitalization in the mining sector. Simplifying communication of machines by standardizing data and interfaces will reduce costs, increase efficiency and significantly boost flexibility and security. OPC UA as a “common language” is paving the way to the future, ensuring cross-manufacturer interoperability and practical implementation of the widely discussed Industry 4.0.”, Dr.-Ing. Fiona Mavroudis
Within the CS Mining structure, manufacturers and users are collaborating in small groups to develop targeted sections of the specification and implement those components that are relevant for their use case. Experts from machine manufacturers, software providers and operators are working in the small groups to define the information provided by the involved machines and systems in an application-oriented manner. The individual tasks supplement each other here.
Small groups have generated results in the areas of conveyance, longwall mining and mobile machines. Furthermore, the existing content from the IREDES standard (International Rock Excavation Data Exchange Standard) is to be integrated into the Companion Specification (CS), resulting in a cooperation with the IREDES initiative to this end.
Another cooperation exists with the Global Mining Guideline Group (GMG). The GMG combines interest and expertise in developing specifications for superordinate systems to control, assess and optimize extraction operations. An initial joint approach is the transferal of the Time Usage model into the OPU UA Mining Companion Specification. In addition to the Canadian participants, the working group also counts representatives from Australia and Russia among its active members.
To date, 60 companies, institutes and organizations have been involved in the creation of the OPC UA Mining Companion Specification. The active participation and support from the Ost-falia University of Applied Sciences, the Institute for Distributed Systems and the Institute for Mining and Special Civil Engineering at the TU Bergakademie Freiberg deserve special mention here.
The work was performed and coordinated in the OPC UA Mining working group. The group is also supported by the VDMA Forum OPC UA and benefits from the expertise for general questions and topics
The OPC UA communications standard provides the potential for machines and components to become part of a decentralised communicating and interacting system.
Outlook bauma 2022
The common goal of the involved companies and the AMT is to present the Companion Specification Mining and the initial implementations as demo applications and presentations to visitors of the bauma Forum at the trade fair of the same name in 2022. All involved parties are aware that it will not be possible to cover the entire Mining sector by the time bauma 2022 begins, however, the joint goal is to complete a number of profitable application cases for demonstrations. These application cases can be expanded upon request.
At bauma 2022, the intention is to implement the networking of the different machines and systems in the application, present it live at the booths, and demonstrate an idea of the potential of digitalization and automation of machines and processes using the OPC UA technology.
 Bartnitzki, T. (2017): Mining 4.0 - Importance of Industry 4.0 for the Raw Materials Sector/Bergbau 4.0 - Die Bedeutung der Industrie 4.0 für den Rohstoffsektor. Mining Report Glückauf 153 (2017) No. 1, pp. 25 - 31.
 Darling, P. (Ed.): SME Mining Engineering Handbook. Third edition, Vol. 1, Society for Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration, 2011.
 Sörensen, A.; Nienhaus, K.; Clausen, E.: Smart mining - Today and Tomorrow - Smart mining - today and tomorrow. Mining Report Glückauf 156 (2020) No. 3, pp. 214 - 218.